The DiRT series has continued the tradition of the original Colin McCrae series marvelously while also featuring some of the most impressive menus in gaming. The first entry had sleek menus, while the second had a realistic festival setup and now, they’ve gone with an unfolding triangle structure for them that carries over into the now-triangular race ladders and tons of upside-down Triforces for logos throughout the game.
DiRT 3 is largely more of what series vets have come to expect, with tons of rally races, rally cross, and new things like gymkhana that are basically obstacle courses with drifting, donut, fast spin and gate crasher areas that take you from one thing to another in rapid succession. They’re definitely the game’s greatest test of your skills, and you’ll go from getting first place in races to absolutely bombing these until you get the hang of fast drifts and how to precisely control your car in a spin. While I like how addictive they are, I still miss the gate crasher event that was kind of absorbed into this, as that was my favorite part of DiRT 2’s new modes and I‘d like to have it as a standalone event here.
Aside from gymkhana, DiRT 3 doesn’t do much new. That’s not an altogether bad thing as the core engine used to power the game is still one of the best in racing. All of the vehicles control like a dream despite the variety in types and inherent differences between racing cars, trucks, and buggies around. The AI is tremendous as well. Your rivals won’t try to run you off the road without cause, but they are aggressive. If you go after them, they’ll respond in kind whenever possible. They also don’t all race in a perfect line and will actually spin out and pretty much take them out of contention. As a result, races are pretty much always exciting. You never really know what will happen, even if you’re seemingly ahead, things can still change quickly, and if it’s your fault, you can use the flashback feature and undo it - as long as you don’t mind the loss of XP in doing so.
This entry features more rally events than any other in the series, which is good if you’re into that, but if you’re like me and prefer the more action-packed rally cross mode with opponents, you’ll wind up wishing there were more of those events instead. The career mode in DiRT 2 was tremendous, with a lot of options being given to you and the festival motif really helped it seem like a fun experience even if you weren’t doing too well. Now, instead of a makeshift festival setting that at least looks “extreme” and such, you’ve got a lot of glossy triangles and shades of white and tan. It all feels very sterile - you’re greeted with generic voices giving you info, and everything branches into a slightly-too-pretty pyramid structure that just seems too glossy for a game called DiRT.
Beyond the presentation, the mode as a whole is also too linear. You’ve got a few paths to take theoretically since each of the four seasons splits apart into three series of races and then a championship round, but it doesn’t really matter what path you take because you eventually tackle the same events and your car selection is also pretty much made for you due to XP bonuses being given to the newest cars, which are usually the best ones available, and you can’t just buy new ones. Instead, you earn them with high point totals and finishing positions that give you new sponsors, who then give you new rides. Sure, there’s a reward for playing well, but it just feels like the game puts you on cruise control for a few too many things.
Rain and snow are new to the series and present players with their own challenges. Snow racing in particular is thrilling, especially in the cockpit view, as you can easily be surrounded by rivals throwing snow into your path - nearly completing obscuring your already limited visibility. Rain has a similar effect, but is more likely to send you sailing off the track if you aren’t careful. Assists are a godsend here, so players fearing rain after experiencing how punishing it could be in racers like PGR 4 need not fear it here. It can still present a challenge, but it’s at least always possible to make it a fair one.
Unfortunately, DiRT 3 winds up being a bit underwhelming. Some of it comes from the presentation, but it also lacks enough truly new content to really seem like a truly worthy successor to the stellar second entry. Some things have been lost in the sequel and beyond the big ones like modes, the presentation as a whole is just annoying. I’m not sure if the developers were just trying to hold the hands of newcomers, but for those used to the series, it all comes off as pretty needless. One thing I don’t mind DiRT 3 lacking is massive load times. They were a bit excessive in prior entries, but aren’t too bad here.
The Youtube uploading feature is theoretically perfect for a racing game since races can be over pretty quickly and you can show your skills off rather easily. However, it’s not executed to its fullest potential here. The generic voice over begging you to upload stuff constantly gets old quickly. However, the biggest problem is that your clips are limited to 30 seconds tops, meaning that you can’t upload a full race no matter what. Also, Youtube is the only way to even save replays - there’s no offline-only option for them at all. Given that the feature even requires a hard drive for the 360 version, this winds up being a disappointing inclusion due to just how limited it is. Right now, the feature is better than nothing, but is also clearly something that needs to be fleshed out to really be worth including in future installments.
DiRT 3 is a beautiful racing game. Beyond just having intricately-detailed interiors and car models, the environments look great as well. The developers did a great job of getting across the different times of day, with bright sunsets giving races a more festive feel, and dark, snowy or rainy ones feeling at least a little bit more foreboding. There’s an impressive amount of wear and tear on the vehicles, with small parts breaking off, and a lot of deformation to the frame makes crashes seem incredibly damaging.
Audio-wise, the game’s only real flaw is the lifeless voice acting. The soundtrack is pretty diverse and features some impressive rock, dance, and techno songs that fit the fast-paced action well. Some may seem out of place when listened to outside of the game, but in it, they all work within the context of the core racing action. As much as I enjoy the music, the best part of the audio is definitely the sound effects. A lot of work went into not only the obvious sound effects like engine and crash noises, but things I’ve never heard in a racing game before - like having bystanders in the outdoor stages yell things at the drivers, blow air horns, and whistle at them. They’re little touches to be sure, but add a lot of realism to the experience as a whole.
DiRT 3 has some rough edges but remains a worthwhile purchase for longtime fans who crave more of the racing action that has made the DiRT series the premiere rally series on the market, but newcomers should go with one of the prior games. Partly because rally racing isn’t for everyone, so if you’re new, go with a prior game, preferably DiRT 2 and see if the series is for you. Multi-platform owners should get the 360 version. Its controller feels better for racing games, and you can use your Avatar as a prop hanging off of your in-car mirror, which may not make for impressive ad copy, but sure is amusing to see and will get a few laughs out of you.