Developed by Codemasters, the Collin McRae series of racing games have been around since 1998, and they've been getting better and better with each game. And although DiRT 3 is the first in the series to drop the Collin McRae moniker, it carries on the tradition of fantastic rally racers. With tons of tracks, vehicles, and race events, so far, Dirt 3 is the best racing game of 2011.
As a rally racer, Dirt 3 doesn't really fit into either of the two most popular subgenres of racing games: arcade and simulation. The game does have realistic car handling and physics, but not to the extent of the hyper-realism of something like Gran Turismo. And although you can do things like drift at insane speeds, it's certainly more realistic than something like Need for Speed. The end product is something that is pretty unique in the racing world, and tons of fun to play. Thanks to the game's ultra responsive controls, every vehicle handles like a dream, making each race more fun than the last.
Unlike some racers, Dirt 3 is extremely accessible to newcomers to the series thanks to an assortment of driver assists players can turn on or off. For example, on the casual difficulty setting, you have assists like throttle management, corner breaking, and auto steering enabled. The dynamic racing line also makes a return, which shows the best position for your car on the track, and how fast you should take corners. Vehicle damage can also be set so that it's only cosmetic, in case you're one of those drivers who likes to use walls to help turn.
The career mode of Dirt 3 is called the Dirt Tour, which is comprised of four seasons. Each season contains four championships, with each championship containing a number of different race events. As you race, you earn progress points which unlock further events and championships. You also earn reputation points throughout your racing career, which is used to attract the attention of new teams in order to use their cars. Reputation is gained by doing well in race events, by not using your flashbacks in a race, and by completing bonus objectives. Bonus objectives change from race to race, but usually are things like reaching a certain speed, or completing a lap in a certain amount of time.
The Dirt Tour will take a long time to complete, and it is a lot of fun, but it could've been even better. For one thing, there isn't anything to do outside of the races. Something like being given the option to choose which team I want to race for, instead of just having teams choose me once I reach a certain level of reputation, would have been interesting. Also, the Dirt Tour's announcers, although well-voiced, don't add much to the experience. For new players, they may have some solid advice about when to increase the difficulty level, but other than that, they are just kind of there. And by the fifth time they tell you to upload your race clip to YouTube, you'll probably want them to stop talking.
The video sharing capabilities of YouTube that are incorporated into Dirt 3 are great in theory, but limited in practice. You can only upload 30 seconds of a race, which is fine if you want to show off a crazy trick, but obviously not good for showing off a perfect race you just finished. Add in the fact that you can't save entire replays at all, and the YouTube functionality really seems lackluster.
Perhaps the best part about Dirt 3 is the sheer amount of race events available. You have your typical Rally, which is essentially a "Point A to Point B" time trial. Although simple, these events are definitely my favorite, as it's just you and the road. In this event, you also have a co-driver who will tell you about upcoming turns and such. At the lower difficulty settings, the co-driver isn't really needed that much, but by the time you have the dynamic racing line disabled, the co-driver is a godsend. When you're driving 160 km/h on a dirt track while it's raining, you absolutely need someone to say in your ear "medium left, over tarmac, into hairpin right" to keep in control.
Other events include Rally Cross, which is your standard circuit race, Land Rush, where you race with trucks and buggies, and Trailblazer, where you're essentially racing super cars on dirt rally courses. The variety of game modes is expanded upon even more with the addition of the brand new gymkhana mode. Gymkhana is a timed-freestyle event where you get points for doing tricks, like drifting, doing jumps, and smashing blocks. You gain a multiplier for keeping the crowd interested by performing different types of tricks and chaining them together. It's a fun event that adds some variety from standard races, and is really satisfying once you get good at it.
There are over a hundred tracks in Dirt 3, from real world locales such as Kenya, Aspen, Finland, and Norway. Tracks are composed of all different types of terrain, from dirt, to tarmac, to gravel, to snow. Weather effects have also been added in Dirt 3, meaning racing in a full-on blizzard is an eventual reality. Nighttime events have also been added, which adds even more variety.
As far as multiplayer goes, Dirt 3 surpasses its predecessor in nearly every way. In addition to online multiplayer, spit-screen is available to race with your friends offline. There are also new Jam Party Modes, which contain non-standard events like capture-the-flag games. Add in the ability to compete in gymkhana events with other people online, and you've got tons of content to keep you busy after you've completed the four seasons of the Dirt Tour.
Graphically, Dirt 3 is incredible. The vehicles, whether cars, trucks, or buggies, all look fantastic, and take realistic looking damage. Mud and snow splatters all over your bumper as you race, and environments look beautiful as they whizz by. The lighting effects are particularly stunning, whether from the sunlight streaming past your car, or the shine of your headlights as you attempt to race in the pitch black of night. The sounds of the cars are topnotch, and the game's soundtrack is fittingly intense.
Overall, Dirt 3 is nothing short of stellar. The sheer amount of variety in race events, tracks, and vehicles makes Dirt 3 a racer that you'll keep coming back to again and again, long after you've completed the Dirt Tour. Whether you're a fan of sim racers, arcade racers, or heck even Mario Kart, you should definitely check out Dirt 3.