Name: DiRT 3
Genre: Rally driving sim
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
While hurtling around a narrow country lane in a rally car would fill me with utter terror in real life, everything about doing it in DiRT 3 makes burning rubber while caked in mud a total thrill. DiRT 2 was a fine game when it was released in 2009, but with all the added content on show in this sequel, it's quickly obvious that this is far more than just an incremental update.
Of course a driving game lives or dies by the quality of its in-car handling, and DiRT 3 totally nails this crucial fundamental. Cars bounce along the bumpy roads with an excellent feel for suspension, as well as dynamic feedback supplied by the rumble helping you judge just when your car may be about to lose control. Each car is pitch-perfectly weighted, with noticeable improvements between the entry-level cars and more desirable higher-tier vehicles you later unlock.
Rally games are notoriously tough, and just like previous DiRT games, DiRT 3 can be a real challenge to master for beginners. Thankfully, the game pops in all manner of helpful assisting functions that allow players of all abilities to enjoy what's on offer. From the "Flashback" rewind controls that let you go back in time and re-take a poor corner, to more direct handling assists, as well as tips from your male or female co-driver, even those with no prior experience with rally games stand a fighting chance. There's even a brand new driving line function, familiar to fans of Forza or Gran Turismo, that shows you just precisely where the best route through a track is. All these additions are of course optional, giving more seasoned players a gruelling challenge if they're up for it.
The majority of the single-player mode is made up of the DiRT Tour, which comprises four seasons across a variety of disciplines. Whilst each season must be completed in turn, the many races and challenges within can be faced in any order. All manner of off-road pursuits must be mastered, from rally cross to trailblazer across 100+ tracks. Add in reverse runs and the significantly different challenge of driving at night time or while bombarded by all manner of weather conditions and there is an immense amount of content to get through here.
Racing for different teams in the DiRT Tour unlocks a variety of different bonuses in the form of reputation points that give you access to greater challenges and better vehicles. There are over 50 vehicles to play about with including the new Ford Focus, and while customisation options take a back seat this time around, you're still able to tweak and tinker with many tuning settings for your cars.
Those looking for a challenge that's less about point-to-point racing and more about show-boating will find much fun to be had with the gymkhana mode. These are like assault courses for cars, where you pick up points for clearing jumps, doing wheel spins and donuting around cones. It seems a daunting exercise at first, but superb tutorials hold your hand through all the skills you'll need to succeed.
The influence of this thrilling and zany new mode can be found in online multiplayer too. While there are all the regular race modes you would expect online, there are also innovative party modes, including an infection/tag mode that sees the last man not to be hit by an infected car (turning the whole screen a deathly colour) crowned the winner.
It's also the first in the DiRT series to feature split-screen local multiplayer, which completely matches the performance of the single player mode despite the added strain of two players racing simultaneously. It's a mode too often overlooked these days, and there is still an undeniably more satisfying thrill to beating a real-life competitor sat in the very same room as you.
All this is presented in an incredibly slick way. From the geometric menus that fly from car wheels before each race to the damage incurred by the realistic car models, Dirt 3 is stunning. Rain reflections, falling snow, scrapes and bumps all add to the gritty feel of the game, totally in-line with the nature of the sport, while tracks themselves, dotted liberally with fleeing spectators, are so lovingly recreated that you'll wish you weren't flying through them at 100Mph. This attention to detail is carried over into the sound design; each car has it's own audio quirks, but all roar into life satisfyingly as they tear around the courses on offer.
DiRT 3 may have dropped Colin McRae's name from the title, but his memory lives on and with some style here. DiRT 3 refines upon its predecessor in almost every way. Catering for skilled and casual drivers in equal measure, it's a visually gorgeous ride with enough innovative multiplayer options to keep you playing long after the single-player career has ended.