Once you load up the game for the first time you're likely to jump straight into the Dirt Tour, which is the main single-player mode in the game. You're greeted by the voice of your business agent and chief mechanic who give you some quick pointers and with that you're off to the track. The Dirt Tour comprises four seasons which you'll have to complete sequentially, but the Cups and events within each season can be attacked in any order once they've been unlocked. There is plenty of variety in the races, with Rally, Rally Cross, Trailblazer, Land Rush and head-to-head racing available almost from the outset. Rally and Trailblazer are point-to-point events while Rally Cross, Land Rush and head-to-head are races.
On the road you'll be given as much or as little help as you need. There are all sorts of driving assists including braking, steering and stability control. If you're new to rally driving these assists will come in very handy as it's not easy to stay on the track without them. With the assists turned on the game is more of an arcade racerl, while turning them off makes it much more like a simulator. There are seven difficulty settings to choose from and between this and the driver assists every player will find a difficulty that suits their experience level. Cars can be tweaked prior to a race, and while there isn't a Gran Turismo amount of depth here you can adjust things like the gear ratio, downforce, suspension and brake bias. By default this is handled automatically so you don't need to delve into it if you don't want to, but veterans will appreciate having the option to fiddle.
Like any racing game DiRT 3 has crashes, but unlike many games crashing isn't always the end of the road. That's because of ‘flashbacks' which allow you to rewind time a few seconds to a moment before you crashed and restart from there. Using flashbacks decreases the amount reputation earned in any given race but that seems a small price to pay for uncrashing your vehicle. Avoiding crashes is obviously a much better idea and turning on the all new dynamic racing line should help you do just that. The line provides the best path through the track as well as indicators for when you need to brake. Sticking to the line also keeps the back end of your car from swinging out – some of the time at least.
Another way DiRT 3 breaks up the action is by giving you access to the Battersea compound, an industrial area with bulldozers, empty train cars, scaffolding and other bits and pieces for you to explore. There is no pressure of a timer or rivals in here; you simply drive around, perform the odd Gymkhana trick and maybe locate the few hidden packages littered around the area. There are some objectives and you'll get trophies for meeting them, though the real lure of Battersea is in its pressure-free environment.
Once you've won a number of events for a specific race type you'll unlock the world tour for that race type. There's a world tour for each of the race types – rally, rally cross, land rush, trailblazer, head-to-head and gymkhana. The competition in the world tours is fierce, and you'll earn every victory.
For most games it's easy to come up with a laundry list of faults or areas where the game could be improved. That's not the case with DiRT 3 however, and I've only come up with a couple of minor issues. The first issue is that every stage in rally events is very short, some clocking in at a little over a minute. It would have been great to see a few longer stages in there, particularly in the world tour events. The other issue, which ties in with the first, is that the load times are a bit long. There are times when you feel like you spend more time loading than you do racing, and while that is an exaggeration the load times do aggravate occasionally.
Visually the game is impressive in every area. There are plenty of cars in the game and they all look great. They may start out shiny but it's just a matter of time before they get covered in dust, mud and snow. Cars also take damage which looks realistic and you can find yourself driving some very beat up cars, particularly after ten or so minutes at Battersea. There are a number of camera angles to choose from and each of them is perfectly functional. The viewpoint from inside the car (in some cars) limits your view, but it felt reasonable and added to the challenge rather than becoming frustrating. Whichever view you choose you'll get the feeling of speed that you want when tearing down roads and around tracks at top-speed. The in-car views do the best job of it but they all work well, and you'll have a real fight on your hands to keep your vehicle steady and under control.
In terms of sound the game gets another tick. The music is mostly limited to menu screens but there is some variety and it suits the game well. During races engines rev and roar with varying degrees of power; they grumble when forced to drop gears, and scream when you're speeding away. There are some crunching sound effects when you collide with objects like trees, houses (I hope they have insurance) and other cars. During rally events your co-driver will yell out information about the upcoming twists and turns of the track. There is a male and female voice to choose from, and they can provide simple or (slightly more) complex information for you. Whichever you choose your co-driver is invaluable, and while they do occasionally get a bit ahead of themselves you'll come to rely on their input.
DiRT 3 is an excellent game that is polished in all departments. The presentation is silky smooth, the graphics are excellent, the sound is solid and the gameplay is remarkably good. There are plenty of driver assists and difficulty levels to choose from; ensuring everyone from novices to veterans will find a level they can compete at. The Dirt Tour is deep and varied, and Gymkhana is a welcome addition. There's plenty to do online and it runs smoothly too. Basically if you're at all interested in rally driving then DiRT 3 is a game you should check out, while fans should add it to their collection without hesitation.
Review By: Mike Allison