Codemasters has a storied history making rally games, from the release of Colin McRae in 1998 to the present DiRT series. The latest series has been trending upwards in the esteem of critics, and now the developer is is looking to top its last rally outing with a game offering “more cars, more locations, more routes and more events than any other game in the series.”
But even if critics are increasingly prepared to speak highly of the series, DiRT 2’s move away from realism and toward an energy-drink-arcade rally experience means the series has lost some more hardcore rally fans along the way. Speaking to the press at a recent preview event in Sydney, Codemasters claims to be very aware of this perception and is looking to satisfy both the casual and hardcore fan in this iteration. DiRT 3’s tagline, "Race like a pro… Come play in the dirt" should be the first indication this game hopes to incorporate both the original DiRT’s rallying action and DiRT 2’s more extreme elements.
A feature the developer is more than willing to discuss is diverse weather conditions including snow, demonstrated especially well in some of the new locations including Norway and Aspen. Other conditions include rain, and Ego engine improvements mean that night races are now possible.
An abundance of new routes, up around 100, incorporate these new weather conditions smoothly and players can expect to be flying through an abundance of tracks not on the official WRC roster such as Kenya.
Tracks aren’t the only thing in abundance. Codemasters animatedly runs down a list of new vehicles, a mix of the modern, off-road, ‘Street’, and classic cars on offer. While the full list has not yet been revealed, so far we can include a Peugeot 405 T16, Mk2 Escort, Mini Cooper S Works Rally, Renault’s Alpine and R5 Turbo, Audi Quattro and a Lancia Delta HF Integrale.
Interestingly, after much study it was discovered that only 5 percent of DiRT 2 players used the in-car view, for the other 95 percent DiRT 3 it is a good chance to look at stunningly modelled cars, and environmental effects like new snow and rain build-up.
With just a few minutes racing it was clear that DiRT 3 has an excellent new damage model. After a few poor corners and some badly misjudged passes – to say nothing of repeated high-speed encounter with trees – our car was barely holding onto what little was left of the gorgeously detailed bodywork it began the race with.
New to the series is the Gymkhana game mode, a discipline that will appeal to fans at the more extreme end of the spectrum. Here, Codemasters is attempting to bring the excitement of stunt video-style driving to the game. In real-world locations players can test their control as they drift, spin and jump around specially created arenas. The more Xs you’re prepared to put into extreme, the more points you will accrue. Achievements like high speed drifting between train cars, or completing a full 720° donut around a lamppost give more points and a sense of direction as you complete goals for each level.
If all you want to do is unleash, though, there's always the DC Compound at Battersea Power Station. Think of it as a free-roam full of car-destroying opportunities waiting to be discovered: there are lamp posts to practice on, scaffolding structures to fly across, containers to drive over, and sewer pipes to blatt through. In short, the flaming-wreck possibilities are considerable.
Eager to cater to both hardcore and casual fans, difficulty is easily changed within the options menu. With a few alterations drivers can have the help of ‘slight’ steering correction and colour coded driving lines among many other functions aimed at helping the more casual player. Throwing caution to the wind and increasing control difficulty can bring a reality to the car’s actions that can be frustrating or extremely exciting – it depends on your feelings about going sideways.
That said, long-serving fans will no doubt appreciate that the majority of the game is dedicated to rallying in a more traditional sense.
Split-screen multiplayer is new to the DiRT series, added to compete with the recent racing games boasting this feature. Eight-player multiplayer is back and online features have been socially expanded so you can now upload 30 second highlights to YouTube with the click of a button. Facebook and iDevice accessibility will also be available - letting you see how you are ranking even when you are away from the game.
Ultimately, the true test for any rally game is the force of the experience offered. Exploding through Aspen snow banks at breakneck speeds, the single-minded focus required as you fight to keep your car right side up, lead us to quietly anticipate DiRT 3 as perhaps one of the most thrilling rallying encounters to date.