Codemasters' Dirt franchise monopolized the rally racing subgenre. Each game is more impressive than the last, and Dirt 3 keeps up what's becoming a tradition. When it comes to anything off the track, however, it's an intolerable mess. Bring a pair of headphones and some patience, and Dirt 3 is a killer sequel with much-needed multiplayer enhancements.
- The core driving is still stellar
- Multiplayer finally hits its stride
- Gymkhana and weather effects are top-notch new additions
- Absurd amount of irritating in-between stuff
- Assists, while helpful, neuter driving
- YouTube integration is rough all around
Dirt 3 Review:
Oh my god, shut up.
Sorry, not you. I just couldn’t take any more blah-blah-blabber from Dirt 3. Honestly, it’s nonstop with this game. All I want to do is hit the track and I’m stuck waiting and listening. Let’s put this in perspective: After the first ten hours with Dirt 3, the stat tracking indicator for my time behind the wheel read just over five hours. That’s nearly half the play time spent waiting to get to the good stuff—and Dirt 3 has plenty of good stuff to go around. After cozying up to the driver’s seat and throwing my finger on full throttle, everything surrounding the stellar racing seemed to slip away.
The in-between irritations really are worth noting this emphatically. The three announcers, each equally annoying with their bro-that-was-sick attitude, propagate an inordinate amount of intrusive audio/video. Starting a new set of races? Instructional video. Unlocked another competition or track? Lengthy discussion. Unlocked a new season? Accessed elite tournaments? Raced particularly well? Audio, video, audio, video. Don’t forget the loading screens speckled between them. The interruptions seem unending, and they appear consistently throughout the career. Guidance is good, but Dirt 3 needs it in smaller doses in a big, bad way. Quiet down, go away, and let me get in a car.
Independent of everything around it, that “time behind the wheel” part of Dirt 3 is, as has become the franchise norm, phenomenal. Codemasters continues to walk the fine line of arcade and sim racing expertly, giving Dirt 3 just the right amount of speed, aggression, and power beneath the pedal to counterbalance the rigid set of simulation rules.
Braking and control assists, which compensate for crummy driving, add a greater degree of control as they’re deactivated. Cars are consequently tougher to maintain and quicker to react to the terrain’s features. The convenience of assists is a great way to get a feel for a different type of racing than the city streets and tarmac tracks have taught us, but they don’t do anything to teach. They strip away driving nuances newcomers may not know Dirt had, and the only real way to discover the strategy of nailing certain corners is to take the training wheels off yourself. Learn to brake on your own, and move up the control chain as quickly as you can—it’s where the terrific default driving gets great.
Defensive Driving, Offensive Driving
Rain and snow add another dimension to this complexity. Rally cars and dusty trails have a naturally slippery relationship, but new weather effects change Dirt 3 in a genuine way. Weather, over the course of an event, changed the way I went about driving. The first back-to-back races may have conditioned me to hit the same corners the same way, but heavy rainfall would throw me off on the third. Braking on a particular bend might cause the car to hydroplane and smash into a tree. Snowy courses (prevalent during the Winter X-Games, naturally) are a different beast altogether. Snow causes skids, and accelerating out of a turn at the wrong time could mean missing a jump and messing up an engine.
These wrecks make for the best replays, of course, which Dirt 3 allows you to save and upload to YouTube directly from the game. It’s more of a novelty than anything else, since Dirt doesn’t allow editing, a key element in, say, Skate’s video uploading, and the clips cap at 30 seconds. The end result isn’t anything pretty, either; videos are grainy and gross-lookin’. Worse, the process is anything but elegant—each second of gameplay takes about a minute to upload. But hey, my stuff is on YouTube now, and that’s pretty cool.
The second major addition to Dirt 3 is gymkhana. Competitors of the motorsport subgenre earn points based on tricks—grabbing air, drifting corners, spinning donuts and smashing barriers. Again, Dirt 3 does a poor job of explaining how things work, and this is a particularly taxing, time-based event. Lining up a spin in just the right spot takes patience, and that’s after you’ve mastered its rhythmic brake-gas-brake-gas execution. When a gymkhana round clicked, and my car breezed gracefully from one marked trick point to the next, I felt like a god. Achieving divinity took time and patience, though.
Gymkhana is a radical shift from the rally racing norm, and is one of the best multiplayer modes. Urgency caused me to panic and crash in the dying seconds of a match multiple times, causing me to lose my multiplier. Tension is higher here, too, as rounds are quicker than most races, and competitors are on an equal playing field—neck-and-neck finales are frequent.
Multiplayer in Dirt 3 sees similar attention to the single-player, which has been the, ahem, driving force of the franchise (and Grid, Codemasters’ other not-F1 racing series) since the start. The first Dirt lacked any online oomph, and its sequel’s valiant attempt to improve on it only brought it to a basic, unremarkable level. This, however, is where the series is hitting its stride.
Competitive team-based multiplayer modes, including a cat and mouse, and smash-and-grab capture the flag variant—it’s much more exciting with cars than it is space marines—are terrific with small groups, never mind a full room of eight. Conceptually, racing to smash cardboard cutouts of robots sounds trite and lazy. It might be an easy way out of creating something truly unique, but it works. Friends get loud (and profane) when someone drifts through a bunch before they can get to it. Regular races also earn players higher ranks, which add to single-player’s leveling process, too. It’s fun to spin in circles and break stuff with other people. Dirt 3 has plenty of it.
At its atomic level, the visual and mechanical cores of Dirt 3 don’t take the same steps forward that Dirt 2 took from the first game. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” certainly applies here, and the new race types, with the addition of weather effects, add plenty. Nothing major about Dirt 3 stands out as excellent, but its enjoyable idiosyncrasies make it something special again. The smaller individual pieces amount to a whole that’s greater—or at worst equal to—the sum of its parts. And that (not the fact that my race rocked, bro) is worth yammering on about.