Despite modestly going about their business for years with the Colin McRae franchise, it wasn't until the arrival of DiRT 2 that people started to take notice on a global scale. Before, the franchise had been all about the rally experience, but DiRT 2 added in a lot more of the North American events like the X-Games. With DiRT 3, the team wanted to refine the experience and really listen to what the users wanted and it's a decision which has culminated in the best DiRT experience to date.
Starting off as a no-name driver, you have everything to prove. And with the assistance of your own little crew, you'll be able to do just that by racing through different seasons. These consist of three different competitions, which in turn have their own events, and a final. The only way to progress is through unlocking enough points to move forwards and you can only access the next season once the previous one has been finished.
It's a decent progression-based system, but it never really expands that much. You can of course repeat any race which you've already done, but it all feels a bit similar. Once you do a season, you then do the next season, which has an identical structure. The only difference is that of course, you get some better cars to pick from and the tracks are a bit longer/harder. You still have the three competitions though and then the final. It's because of this, that sometimes the career mode can feel a bit stale a short or even stunted - it never really expands how it feels it should. Even the wide range of cars from different decades doesn't help to rectify this.
The events themselves have a nice, even distribution and Codemasters must be commended for listening to their fans. Rally has a much greater focus and there's of course the addition of Gymkhana to the mix. You won't often find two of the same type in a single competition though, with rallying being supplemented by trail blazing, some land rush or even the odd drift challenge. It's nice to have such variety, but perhaps it would have been better if the game grouped events together (before World Tours), for you to do at your own leisure, instead of trying to make you instantly into a master of all. If you really get into a drifting groove and then go straight into land rush event, it can be a bit of a shift and some might find it awkward to adapt.
The handling of the cars can hardly be faulted though, Codemasters has really outdone themselves in this department, which is quite easily the most important one. It's difficult enough to make cars react how they should on unpredictable rally terrain, but with the revival of different weather types like rain and snow, Codemasters had an even more difficult job on their hands. Driving on snow is a hoot and you will gain a real sense of satisfaction from nailing a solid snow rallying time, as opposed to beating out the pack in a land rush event, which is more traditional for racing games. Ironically, the only time that the handling feels a bit off is during events on tarmac, where the cars feel a bit too slippery - this isn't the case in Gymkhana though.On the subject of Gymkhana, it's solid addition to the franchise; its just so different from anything we've seen before in a racing game. Sure, other games give you drift missions and reward you for performing tricks and stunts, but how many of those are simulation games? DiRT 3 absolutely nails it and the course design for the Gymkhana events is top quality - especially your home hub in Battersea. It's very easy to lose track of time just "hooning" around doing very little. It does still feel as though its in its baby phase, but with its sandbox nature it should be very interesting to see what they can do with this in the next iteration of the DiRT franchise.
Graphically the game is solid where it counts. The cars are stunning and the courses look good enough, even if they do fly by at rather quick speeds. Slow it down and you'll notice a few deficiencies though, for example with the crowd - they're so low resolution it's not even funny. It shouldn't tarnish what the game does well though, as the rally tracks especially, have a very good amount of variation and unique appeal - Kenya stands out here.
From the perspective of replay value, there are over 100 different events to compete in throughout the single-player campaign, but it might only take you around 9-10 hours of wheel time to get through them all. For a change, your Battersea Gymkhana home does have plenty of challenges and there's also the generic single-player modes which can be played split-screen.
To round it out though, DiRT 3 features some rather unorthodox online modes. There's Invasion, where you're tasked with killing as many "aliens" as possible; Transporter, which is a variation of Capture the Flag; and Outbreak, where cars become infected and you have to stay alive as long as possible. They're great fun in the short term, but it will be interesting to see if people continue to play these modes in the future.
DiRT 3 is easily the best game in the DiRT franchise, but there are still some things which can be worked on. There's no denying that the physics are out of this world and the core driving experience is unmatched, but Codemasters need to look at the career mode a bit more. Gymkhana is a breath of fresh air for the racing genre, but the career mode feels a bit stunted.
|Gymkhana is solid; can't wait to see what they do with that in the future.|
|Core driving experience is surpasses that of DiRT 2.|
|Features a wide range of cars from different decades.|
|Career mode feels stunted.|
|Online modes are fun, but it's doubtful if they will hold a lasting appeal.|
|Chopping and changing between events disrupts rhythm.|