There’s absolutely no doubt that DiRT 2 was absolutely bloomin’ brilliant. While the frequent attempts to be ‘cool’ and ‘rad’ may have grated on those who fondly recall the series realistic PS1 roots, there was little doubt that once out on the track, there was little to rival Codemaster’s beautifully designed masterpiece.
While our DiRT 3 preview code may not have packed the entire batch of goodies hidden within the latest iteration of the series, our look at the entire first season of the single-player Tour mode conjured up enough conclusions to have little doubt that Codemaster’s are surely onto another scorcher.
Some will undoubtedly be delighted to discover that a lot of the ‘extreme sports’ angle of last year’s title has been removed, leaving a much more appealing aural experience. While the events included haven’t changed too much, it’s certainly a treat to speed your way around the track without being constantly told how excellent you are. Hearing the supposed voice of someone you’ve just mercilessly bashed into at 80mph quite broadly inform you that you’re pushing a little too hard detracted from the experience somewhat.
Gone too is the paddock and huge motorhome you picked your events in. Replaced by a standard set of graphical menus which convey all the relevant information you need, yet allow you to fly through to the next event in mere seconds. Again, undoubtedly a major boon for those eager for something that harks back to the series early days.
Standard point-to-point rallying plays a large part in proceedings in DiRT 3 (rallying takes up 60% of the Tour mode according to Codemasters) and DiRT 3 is much the better for it. Starting with a few standard stages in Finland, they play a terrific job at re-introducing you to a discipline that was sadly underplayed in recent versions of the long running series. This initial event providing a road surface that’s comfortable even at first play, but still wicked enough to force you to utilise those time rewinding Flashbacks.
Finland too does an excellent job at showing off the gorgeous clarity of the graphical detail levelled upon DiRT 3. Shadows are cast across the track via the large number of detailed trees running alongside large portions of the track, and it gives an early nod towards the kind of excellent aesthetics that Codemasters have packed in.
After that it’s on to a Rally Cross event, allowing you to go wheel to wheel with a number of fellow racers all out on the circuit at the same time. Here you’ll undoubtedly get your first glimpse of the brilliant damage model as you bump and grind your way to victory. Though these vehicles are built to sustain a moderate amount of bumps and bruises, a major smash can cause all kinds of difficulties for the rest of the race. Assuming you set the difficulty setting accordingly, a lost rear wing can force you to transform your driving style on the fly, changing from an expansive drifting mode, through to a tight and structured stick-to-the-racing-line crawl to the finish.
Playing through the rest of the first year, the varied stages introduce some pretty extreme weather effects, with snow in particular causing some major frustration unless you change your driving style accordingly. Just about every kind of surface in every conceivable state will find itself under your four wheels during that first year, with undoubtedly even more excitement all ready to be let loose come the future years of the Tour sadly hidden to us. And as for night time events, well, they can be all kinds of mayhem.
The final event, the Gymkhana, is brand new. This mode urges you to hit a required points total by pulling off all kinds of wicked moves in your four wheeled vehicle. While simply passing was easy enough, getting a high score is bound to become a fascination for some. And with video replays available to be uploaded direct to YouTube, expect to see some wonderful examples of creative driving to hit the net come launch day.
The driving model itself has been updated, with cars feeling certainly much weightier than ever before. Don’t be shocked if you find yourself wildly over steering for the first half hour, with judicious use of the Flashback needed to get through those first early events. It doesn’t take long to get used to, but it will force you to be a little more careful than in DiRT 2. While last year we were flinging cars around bends with absolute ease, even after a full season we still found ourselves clutching the reins a little tightly. It certainly clicks, but this year it feels a touch less arcadey than before.
We’ll undoubtedly have the full details on DiRT 3 come launch, but unless something goes drastically wrong, this is one that all racing fans won’t want to miss.
You can pre-order Dirt 3 on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC now in time for its release later this month. Check out our earlier preview and chat with the lead designer here.