If we had to sum up Dirt 3 in one word, we would probably opt for ‘capable’. This is a game that ticks all the expected boxes for both the series itself and the publisher, which has come to dominate this corner of the market. It’s fast. It’s pretty. It’s got cars that go vroom.
If we had to sum up Dirt 3 in more than one word, however, we would label it as ‘capable, but unsurprising’. Dirt 3 may tick all the expected boxes, but it only rarely musters the ambition to step beyond these parameters. It’s a fun racing game, but it plays almost painfully by the numbers in terms of the wider experience – a fact most brilliantly summed up by the idiotic chatter spewed at you by your faceless managers.
‘Being the fastest driver is a great strategy for success in these races,’ says one of these disembodied morons. ‘The best thing you can do now is try and win as many podiums as possible,’ says another. No wonder gymkhana legend and new Dirt 3 celebrity, Ken Block, sounds so fabulously bored; he’s surrounded by personality vacuums.
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Ken and Co. do add a healthy bit of variety when it comes to the gymkhana stages they introduce, however. One of Dirt 3’s biggest new features, these stages involve putting your car through strings of simple stunts, mixing donuts into drifts and braking from jumps into spins. Conceptually it’s nothing new, and the influence of games such as Tony Hawks is clear, but it does bring appreciable variety to the proceedings. The change of pace alone elevates the gymkhana stages above most of the singleplayer content, which is still bogged down in unskippable monologues, despite the more streamlined menu system.
Dirt 3 does pull a few tricks to make it seem like there’s more variety on offer than you would think, however. Many of the event-types are little more than rebadged or slightly tweaked races, for example. Rally Cross, Landrush, Trailblazers; these are all essentially race events when you get right down to it, and the alterations will only matter to ardent fans. Casual racers will be hard pushed to spot the difference.
That said, catering to both ends of the audience spectrum in terms of gameplay is one of the areas where Dirt 3 truly excels. Both the pre-set difficulty settings and the more involved assistance options let you tailor the experience to suit your skill level. Those who just want to drop in and dash around the track at the highest speeds can summon racing lines to trace around the laps, and trust in the safety net of braking assistance. Those who are more confident of their abilities can turn Dirt 3 into a punishing ritual of automotive grace, spinning off at the merest flinch.
Regardless of whether you’re an old pro or a total newcomer, though, it’s likely you’ll still end up making use of the returning flashback feature, which lets you rewind your errors and then replay the events as if you never messed up. It’s a brilliant way of allowing players to recover without having to repeat the entire race, and Codemasters has only sweetened the deal by letting players upload their crashes straight to YouTube from within the game.