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DiRT 3 Review (Xbox 360)

Game Review: DiRT 3
Release: May 24th
Genre: Rally Racing
Developer: Codemasters
Available Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed Version), PlayStation 3, PC
Players: 1-2, 2-8 Online
MSRP: $60
ESRB Rating: T (Lyrics)
Website: http://www.dirt3game.com/

 

 

 

My Toyota Tacoma pulls up to the starting line in the dirt, a red tinted landscape lays behind it. A race is about to begin in Kenya, and the Tacoma I’m driving barely resembles the ones you might see on the road. It has been stripped down and supped up for entry in a Trailblazer event, a rally race featuring the harshest courses and fastest cars. The co-driver that would normally accompany me is absent, for the purpose of reducing weight as much as possible, so I’m going to be driving blind through this course.

The red lights tick down and turns green and the race begins. My Tacoma, packing 800hp, bolts off the line hitting 60mph after a few seconds – its tires shredding through dirt and gravel roads.  A paved section of the course is littered with potholes which I bottom out on and sparks erupt from the car as it scrapes the tarmac. I slide the Tacoma through a wide turn, hitting the apex perfectly. This technique of drifting is essential to rally racing and allows you to save vital time through each turn. As my truck continues to kick up gravel as it traverses the course, I get distracted by the landscape. A burning red sun obscures my view completely, the bright light reflects off my hood filling the windshield with glare. A small series of hills blocks the light a bit, and reveals a boulder meters from my car that I avoid at the last second.  The rough environment almost seems to be conspiring against me, trying to wreck my car.  Still, its beauty is amazing; the sun glowing in the dusk paints the rocks and everything else with a red tint. Kenya has not been previously explored in the DiRT series, however that didn’t stop Codemasters from creating a completely immersive collection of tracks.

As I divert my eyes back to the track and away from the savannah I pull around one of the last turns, a sharp hairpin, to unexpectedly see a spun-out racer trying to get back on the track. As I narrowly avoid him and cross the finish line I sit back and am amazingly satisfied with this game.  It feels like Codemaster’s hit the mark with the newest entry in their rally series.

That’s when everything goes right; when the impressive car handling combines with the environment and the unpredictability of rally racing. However far too often that is not what happens. After three entries in this series I hoped to see a bit more polish and consistency with DiRT 3.

Any long time fans know that the game has changed a lot from each entry. The first DiRT was hardcore, offering long courses, detailed mechanical modeling, and consistent damage throughout stages.  However when DiRT 2 came about, an unexpected change had been made. DiRT 2 had you making friends with the bros of rally racing such as American stars Ken Block and Travis Pastrana. Gone were the legendary courses like Pikes Peak and the essential rally cars, instead of driving a 19 80’s Audi Quattro you were behind the wheel of a …. Pontiac Solstice?

DiRT 2 was the teenager of the series, rebellious and pompous it was entertaining to watch, but was troubled. Codemasters tried to move back to a more classic rally experience with DiRT 3, but they seem to have gotten a bit lost along the way.

They have brought back many classic cars and the game represents the 60s to the present. For the first time, infamous Group B cars have been included, and the game focuses more on straight rally then before. However Gymkhana racing – made popular through viral videos on the internet featuring Ken Block – is also included.

DiRT 3 is a mash-up of old and new. On one hand driving through the forests of Norway in a Group B Ford RS200 is amazingly satisfying. But then the next event throws you into a Ford Fiesta covered in Monster Energy Drink stickers on a Rally Cross track that looks like it came from a hot wheels set, and I’m left wondering what exactly Codemasters was thinking.  Claims have been made by Codemasters that this is “the biggest DiRT yet”, but when I drive through the courses I often see a lot of repetition, and if you examine the course maps you can see that a significant portion of the content overlaps across the locales which makes races seem repetitive.  On top of that DiRT 3 only features four areas – bringing you to Kenya, Norway, Sweden, and Michigan for its rally stages – whereas DiRT 2 had more than twice the number . Unfortunately Eastern Europe, Japan, and Australia don’t make any appearances (though some of those areas might come in later DLC).

I feel something I didn’t expect, and it’s a feeling of longing for DiRT 2. Sure it was a bit too arcadey, and the cars looked like they came out of the latest Fast and the Furious movie – but Codemasters nailed it. DiRT 2 wasn’t my cup of tea. I prefer black tea, where DiRT 2 was more of a green tea, but it was a damn fine green tea. Whereas DiRT 3 is a black tea, but it’s a 20 cent bag of Lipton black tea. It will satisfy you when you have a craving, but it’s not something you sit back and relish.

Polish is lacking everywhere from big things down to the smallest details. The collisions no longer feel real, instead every time I veer off course and hit a tree or run into a ditch it feels more like a child ramming his toy Tonka truck through a bunch of leftover cardboard then like being behind a real steering wheel. The buggies and stadium trucks drive worse than ever, slowly trudging through the tracks;  and the entire Michigan environment looks like I’m racing through an old junkyard. These big problems which I had hoped would be eliminated the third time around (or for some reason were done better before) made me notice smaller things.  For instance, the new snow weather effects shift after every turn so the snow fall is always in the direction of my car. Or that my reliable co-driver has been replaced by his slower cousin, who all too often gives me directions once I’m already half way through the turn.

The replay system has once again seen almost no improvements. It is still impossible to save replays to your hard drive, change the cinematic camera angles, or view other cars. Codemasters has added the ability to upload your replay to Youtube.com, but its capped to about a 30 second clip and 480p video quality, and can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes to upload – during which time you have to just sit and watch the progress bar slowly tick up.

However there is one thing that shines brightly in DiRT 3, and that is the multiplayer racing.  The basic modes have all racers starting off the line at the same time (versus staggered starts as in the Single Player) and everyone is a ghost car and you compete for the best time (which is whoever crosses the finish line first since everyone is racing simultaneously). The multiplayer offers a nice mix of goofy and competitive options, offering incredibly fun modes such as Invasion and Outbreak, both which take place in the car equivalent of a playground. Invasion has a group of racers driving around trying to hit foam targets spread around the map for points. Outbreak is very similar to the popular Zombies gametype from games such as Halo; one car starts as “infected” and has to hit other cars to turn them “infected”. The most realistic mode forces an in-car view and no assists, and many options exist in between, from point-to-point and circuit races to Gymkana and team racing.

Invasion Mode in Multiplayer, from GameTrailers.com

The most important addition in multiplayer is the perfect integration of flashbacks. Very prominent in single player, flashbacks let you rewind the last few seconds of time to avoid a crash or wrong turn. In multiplayer they act as a redo, triggering one instantly puts you back on the track and rolling at a decent speed, allowing you to recover from errors with just a small penalty.  This solves the problem that most racing games have where the multiplayer favors the most experienced and a crash leaves you far behind the pack and stuck there for the rest of the race. Codemasters instead has decided to make multiplayer racing as player friendly as they make their singleplayer.

Despite DiRT 3’s flaws it is not a bad game. It’s lost in its genre, unable to decide if it’s a hardcore rally game or a friendly off road racer. However the amazing car physics still remain, the game is still very much fun and it’s the best rally game on the market. What DiRT 3 is, is a lazy game. Codemasters could do better and I really wish they would have. Three games into this series and it hasn’t made as much progress as expected and basic polish that’s missing makes me think it was rushed. If you love the feel of GRID and the past DiRT games you will love this game, and the multiplayer alone will keep you coming back over and over. But it will drag a bit through the singleplayer, which hopefully will be made a bit more fresh by the promised DLC packs.

 

  • Tracks are not very varied
  • Wide selection of cars from many decades
  • Amazing multiplayer! Best online racing Ive played in years.
  • A hybrid of DiRT 1’s realism and DiRT 2’s arcadey style.

7 out of 10

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