DiRT 3 Review

Dan Webb

Despite loving DiRT 2 for what it was – a sublime off-road racer – I moaned about it a lot. I could be often found skulking in dark alleys at night screaming “Where’s all the traditional rally!?” at the top of my lungs whilst knocking back as much whiskey out of a brown paper bag that I could muster. If you were unfortunate enough to be nearby when I was reviewing the last iteration, chances are you caught the brunt of this. I moaned at my parents, who thought I’d had a stroke... “What the hell are you talking about!?” they’d query. I moaned at the milkman who said, “Sorry sir, me no speaky good English.” And more importantly, I moaned at you. But when moaning to you, I at least felt like you knew what I was talking about... well, barely that is. DiRT 3 then promised a return to its traditional rally roots and fortunately for my sanity, my parents, my milkman and you, Codemasters have delivered. Well, almost.

"DiRT 3’s off-road racing is the game’s shining light."

In short, our biggest gripe with DiRT 2 was that racing trucks and buggies was as painful as sticking our testicles in a vice; it’s as mundane as watching snails on speed race one another – clue: they die, so you’re staring at dead snails; and it’s as pointless as Hannah Montana. Fortunately, it seems as if Codemasters have dialled down their prevalence for the sequel – quite why they’re still there, I don’t know – but instead, there seems to be an added focus on playground stunt tricking known as “gymkhana.”

How quickly you take to the gymkhana could ultimately affect how much pleasure you take out of the title and at first, chances are you’re going to feel out of your depth. There are a few disciplines you’ll need to master before you can take any joy out of it. These skills are taught at the end of the first season in the newly restructured career mode: spinning on the spot, controlled donuts, drifting, jumping and smashing carefully placed objects.

During the DiRT 3’s career then, the game will take you around of variety of different gymkhana courses around the world – from LA to Monaco – performing in a points face-off against other well-known racers. The key to being successful is building up your combo meter and linking together a number of moves, but be too hasty and clip the various objects littered around the playground and you’ll lose that combo. This can be something quite difficult to grasp at first and is definitely a case of more haste, less speed.

Making them a key requisite of progressing through the career might upset a few traditional rally fans who were hoping that the Americanisation of the franchise wouldn’t affect their enjoyment. Those fans will be happy though that there is more traditional point-to-point rallies, rallycross events, head-2-head races and trailblazers than ever before, and this is where DiRT 3 shines at its brightest. The whole risk versus reward racing at high speeds across deadly and unpredictable surfaces is what makes DiRT 3 a sheer unadulterated pleasure. For those that might not be capable of multi-tasking your co-driver’s navigational orders with the fast pace of these events will be happy to see Codemasters have included a racing line for those who still want to give it a go. Of course, and there’s the Codemasters trademark flashbacks, which for non-racing purists makes DiRT 3 that much more forgiving and accessible.

"Racing in snow is an off-road experience worth savouring."

The handling for the most part doesn’t seem to have changed much from 2 to 3, but it’ll be the new night rallies and the new weather system that’ll be the biggest game changer. The new night rallies are terrifying in their own right and offer a thrill-seeking experience that the franchise maybe missed, but racing in the snow and rain definitely wins Codemasters the most points. It might not change the handling as much as one had thought, but after listening to the snow crunch under the weight of the car and seeing yourself slam into advertising boards because you broke too late, you realise the differences are there, no matter how subtle.

As mentioned supra, the career mode has been newly restructured and although the slick menu interface proves Codemasters are the kings of menus, the structure to us feels a step backwards. Instead of travelling the globe in your RV, you now click through a bunch of triangular prisms. With 4 events in each of the game’s 4 career years – culminating with the Super Series in season 4 – there is definitely enough to keep you occupied, but clicking from one event to the next in a bid to accrue reputation points to proceed is hardly what we call fun... It’s a good job the core mechanics are so solid and it’s as beautiful as it ever then – the weather effects, lighting and car renders are top notch. Oh, and of course the soundtrack is as brilliant as ever. Chase and Status anyone? Epic!

DiRT 3 has an interesting approach to vehicle selection this time around too, offering the higher levelled drivers – based on their ‘driver reputation – the quicker cars, but also offering different classes per-race. In all honesty, there really doesn’t feel like much of a difference between any of them, leaving you free to pick the sexiest livery. To earn reputation points all you have to do is perform well in an event, with drivers able to pick up bonus points for flashbacks left over and for performing mid-race secondary objectives – like reaching a certain speed. If you happen to perform a mighty lap or sick crash as well, having the ability to upload your videos straight to YouTube is both easy and a welcome addition.

If by some miracle you get sick of racing through the game’s rally events though, you can also take to a series of open-world gymkhana arenas, where you’ll have a ton of challenges to sink your teeth into and a checklist to work through. It’s the perfect base to perfect some of those gymkhana skills that you can take forward into the career. The better you perform and the longer you stick with the career, the more events like this will open up for you.

"Spinning in circles is considered fun in gymkhana."

Aside from the career and your standard time-trials and single races, DiRT 3’s online is where it’s at. From going from barely passable in DiRT 1 to impressive in DiRT 2, it’s commendable to see that DiRT 3’s online is another step forward. DiRT 3 offers the usual array of jam sessions, with rallycross, traditional rallies and much more to tuck your teeth into, but the new angle to the online is its selection of amusing and frenetic competitive party games. Whether you’re playing a friendly game of: Outbreak – infecting other players by bashing into them; Transporter – which is a points based affair with points gained by driving through certain targets and lost by hitting others; and Invasion mode – which is capture the flag. These new modes allow players to break away from the intensity of one-wrong-move-and-you’re-screwed racing and sink into something a little more unpredictable, frantic and fun. It’s bite-size action at its best and is a great new leg to stand on for the franchise. If that’s not for you, then being able to choose which discipline genres you want online (point to point, circuit, gymkhana, etc) allows for a much more tuned online experience. The netcode can be a little iffy at times with regards to ghosts and when the action on the track is crowded, but otherwise a superb experience.

The achievements are all over the place in truth. There’s some insanely hard ones, a few too many multiplayer achievements and too much focus on gymkhana if you ask us. It lacks structure and seems to be more by the numbers rather than anything else – complete so many of this, win this, win that... *sigh* More creativity and variety would have been nice. If you rock at gymkhana though, these should mostly be attainable for you; otherwise you’re in for a frustrating time. I suppose you do have to hand it to Codemasters though, that for the third game in a franchise, they are still trying to mix things up and haven’t recycled that many from DiRT 2. We’ll give them a few bonus points for that.

DiRT 3, like DiRT 2, is a step in the right direction, but we can’t help but think that Codemasters are trying too hard to offer variety and steering against the game’s strongest aspects. Sure, the gymkhana is an acquired taste and they scaled back those pointless Land Rush events, but they still don’t hold a candle to the true rally-car racing events. It’s like sticking a piece of coal in a chocolate bar and expecting whoever wants to devour it not to be pissed off that the coal doesn’t taste as good as the chocolate. That said, this is the best DiRT game that Codemasters have created and it definitely has more direction than years gone-by. Just not quite enough. B+ Codies, B+.



The constant jabbering of your agent and Christian Stevenson can get a tad annoying, but the roaring of the cars, the sound of the snow crunching under tire and the soundtrack are so good that you can blank out the mild annoyances.

Codies are the undisputed king of slick menus and combine that with some superb lighting, weather effects and some of the most beautiful cars ever created in a video game. It’s not quite up there with Forza’s level of beauty, but you don’t get to see your pristine cars get hammered to hell and back in Forza. DiRT 3 has probably the best damage model in a racer we’ve ever seen.

The term “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind. Yes, it handles a lot like DiRT 2, which is a good thing, but throw in a few subtle differences when you’re racing on snow or in the rain, and you’ve got a pretty perfect package.

More rally than ever before, but still, it’s tainted by the inclusion of the almost pointless Land Rush events. The gymkhana will be fun for some and a chore and a distraction for others. The career structure has definitely taken a step backwards.

Too many gymkhana achievements, some ridiculous tricky ones and a distinct lack of originality. Very much by the numbers, but extra kudos to Codies for not copy and pasting the lists from either DiRT 1 or DiRT 2. Touché!

DiRT 3 is Codemasters’ finest attempt to totally obliterate the competition in the off-road racing genre, but it seems once again that the title suffers from a lack of direction and concentration at... Ooohhhhh, look! A rainbow!

Game navigation