July 13th, 2011

Reviewed: DiRT3

Over the last five years the world of rallying has seen a dramatic change. Gone are the days of fans hiding in the woods with anoraks, Thermos flasks and bobble hats, rally fans of 2011 wear baseball caps backwards and have highly caffeinated drinks injected into their blood stream – don’t ya’ know.

With rallying becoming an all-together cooler form of motorsport since being adopted under the Americanised ‘extreme sport’ banner, rally fans have been calling for a modernisation of rallying within the digital world. DiRT3 goes some way as to drag the new world of rallying onto your HD TV and into your front room.

Unlike the old WRC games, where you progressed through the game in a very linear fashion, DiRT3 adopts the very ad-hoc and modern form of cross discipline rallying. Players compete in a four season tour and get to choose from different styles of rallying; your traditional stage rally, Rallycross, Gymkhana, Land Rush and Buggy racing but you get to choose what events you do and when.

As a driver, you progress through the game as by gaining reputation points, which are earned after every event. You score points for podium finishes, for not using your flashbacks/cheat button, and for completing any team-specific goals.

But driving for a team in DiRT 3 sees you with shorter contracts than Karun Chandhok. As you gain more reputation points you are offered more liveries and cars to drive, but this seems to happen after most races. What is more annoying is that you are urged to drive for certain teams with a car which you may not like because you’ll gain more points in doing so. What should really happen is that you should be able to choose a car you like and then be approached by sponsors to slap their liveries all over it.

That gets me on to the car collection, and it is a good one. There is plenty to choose from as the developers wanted to cover five decades of rallying. You can jump from an old Opel to an Abarth, into a RS200, slide around in Paddy Hopkirk’s old Mini and the get straight into the new Countryman WRC car and finish off in Rhys Millen’s Pikes Peak Hyundai trail blazer. This all happens within the space of a few races and the great variety and addictive handling of the cars means that it is hard to get bored. What annoyed me is that you never actually acquire a car but merely race for a team’s livery and earning ‘rep’ is not as gratifying as having a new piece of metal in your garage.

So what are the cars like to drive? In one word? Brilliant. The new-age S2000 and mental rallycross cars are the most appealing because with their short-wheelbases and looney horsepower mean you can reverse enter drifts and just pull yourself our with your lead right foot/finger. With intuitive feedback through the controller you can really feel what the car is doing and when you are on the edge of a cars potential. This matched with a fantastic sound design, where car nuts can pick up the spooling of the turbos or the sound of your alignment being knocked out, makes for a really engaging drive.

Within simulation games the thing that makes the difference is the details. DiRT3 is full of tiny details that really bring the game together. Whether it is the cooling fans of the rallycross car changing speed, the accuracy of the weather or the little avatar that swings around in the cockpit, Codemasters have really tried to nail the details of rallying. The cockpit view is one of the best in class as the driver reacts to his controls accurately. To get the best out of the game you need to turn  off all of the nanny controls and make it as realistic as possible because this is when you get the most out of the game as a player.

The only real disappointment of the game was the lack of tracks. There are six main destinations; Finland, Michigan, Norway, LA, Kenya, and Monaco but you re-run many of the tracks just in different weather conditions or in reverse. Other than that and the lack of car acquisition, the game is pretty hard to fault.

Even the Gymkhana aspect, which I started to play with cynicism, is actually a load of fun. With 600hp on tap in a Fiesta you do actually feel like Ken Block when shredding tyres around your personal playground – Battersea power station. The developers have captured zeitgeist of modern rallying by giving players the ability to upload their replays and ‘epic skids’ straight to YouTube and creating more online and multiplayer modes.

DiRT3 brings rally videogames right up to speed with the real thing. Being so versatile that casual gamers can pick it up and play it like an arcade game but also being exciting for enthusiasts, it really is ‘Rad’ … or is it ‘Gnarly’?… or is it ‘Sick’? In a nutshell, it is very good.

Words: Rowan Horncastle