As many of you know, we're huge fans of Rallisport Challenge 2 on the original Xbox and DiRT3 is similar in many ways. Whilst itís not all peachy, Codemasters have come tantalisingly close to perfection in this iteration.
The problem that designers of rally games are faced with is that there arenít that many pure point-to-point time trail rally fans and with previously huge rally manufacturers dropping out of the WRC, an audience must be found to actually make money. DiRT has approached this by lumping together many different alternative rally disciplines so that thereís something for everyone. Whilst itís easy for rally fanatics to wish there was more focus on pure rallying, itís important to remember that without the variety, a game with this level of polish wouldnít exist at all. So letís go with it.
The menu system has been stripped back so whilst there are still too many menu items unfolding and flying around for it be navigated instantly, itís a vast improvement over previous iterations and still allows a degree of ďhow cool does this lookĒ for those that get off on that sort of thing. A happy medium then that caters for all successfully.
Time Trial, Career and Multiplayer await, with the usual online options. Leaping straight into career and youíll be presented with various rally stages or circuit events, be it in rally-cross or head-to-head races. DiRT3 has gone all out to impress visually. The framerate never drops, although at 30fps youíd hope so. Whilst 60fps would have been great, itís blessed in that it never leaves you wishing it was more. The attention to detail in road surface, car models, trackside objects and horizon is astonishing, with lavish amounts of love and attention for which the developers should be commended. The hardcore in-car view is fantastic in terms of realism, but ultimately a bit restricted - changing back to a bonnet cam gives a better view of the road ahead (and the wonderful scenery), as well as a higher sense of speed and danger, so is more fun.
The courses now include snow and rain which is incredibly welcome to make fresh and different driving experiences. The track designs are well thought out with some great corner combinations. If only they were a little bit longer, because the majority of the rally stages are over too soon. Right at the end of the career mode, in the DC Superseries (everything is sponsored!), suddenly three minute stages appear and they are an utter joy. The circuit races are all about right though.
The handling model is absolutely first class, taking a while to grasp and then just when you think you have it nailed, you realise that with the newfound speed further changes are needed to go even faster. Then you go online and realise that extra skills are needed to win races where you have to avoid similarly skilled players mid-corner. Itís skittish but controllable on the edge, leaving you absolutely positive you can be better on the next run and is the main reason DiRT3 is such a great game.
The only race type that fell short for me was the Gymkhana. An exciting sport for sure, but it hasnít translated well into a video game Ė the controls that are so precise and intuitive in the rest of the game are completely changed to a wildly handling beast that doesnít seem at home in either 1st or 2nd gear, leaving you wishing for something in between. Good runs donít give much feeling of accomplishment and more just a sense that you fluked it and thereís no way you could reproduce the same lines next time out. Or I was just rubbish, but the comments still stand when compared to the sublime handling of the other modes.
Difficulty is highly tuneable, although there are some daft difficulty spikes Ė just when you think you have it all dialled, a stage will arrive thatís way tougher than those before it and indeed those after it too. A bit random, and the only reason I mention it is because tiny niggles like this stand out against the hugely polished background of the rest of the game. You will be having far too much fun to really care.
The pre and post-race banter from your team, include such gems as "Yo amigo, post that footage on YouTube. It rocks!" and will need some mental filtering after a while to avoid insanity. Countering this is the superb soundtrack from the likes of Leftfield, Moloko, Run DMC and UNKLE.
The online racing is top fun as you would expect, but (and this is being picky) waiting for the next round is painful taking 2 minutes 15 seconds to reach the next go (loading, voting, car choosing etc.) which is a bit galling when some of the races only last 1 minute 45 seconds.
For the average race fan DiRT3 has it all: visuals to die for, fun satisfying vehicle handling, solid online play and a variety of race formats and vehicle categories. Rally fans will get all the same fun but will be left with a feeling that the stages should have been longer, but remain thankful that this sort of game exists at all, let alone with this level of quality. Just in case anyone from Microsoft is reading, please can we have Rallisport Challenge 3? 60fps. Massive long tracks. Or even just Rallisport Challenge 2 HD. Lovely thank you.
Score: 8/10My Google + Profile