I love when a package of many moving parts comes together. That’s precisely what Dirt 3 is: a finely-tuned machine that removes all the fluff and streamlines the franchise for the better. Instead of a focus on the glitz and glamour of off-road racing, Dirt 3 keeps the menus brief, the event lead-ins minimal and gets you into the game to do what you’re supposed to: wyle out in some mud.
You can immediately see the streamlining in full effect when first turning on Dirt 3. You’re no longer stepping outside your trailer to enter a rave scene of mud, people, cars and super wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men. Dirt 3 has no hub world for it’s single player Dirt Tour. Instead, Dirt 3’s menu system is clean, stylized and quick to navigate. You’ll pick your season (of which there are four), your event, your race, your vehicle that qualifies and then you’re off to the track. The game does still let you tune your car’s suspension, breaking and the likes, but it’s nothing incredibly elaborate. Again, Dirt 3 is about quickly bypassing everything that isn’t gameplay.
Most racing games put the emphasis on beefing up your garage. Dirt 3 takes a different approach. It’s as if developer Codemasters realized that it’s pointless to try to compete with the breathe of car options seen in the Gran Turismo and Forza series. So they don’t even bother. Instead, Dirt 3 offers up the essentials for each class and shifts the attention to an area where Dirt does have a leg up: event types.
There are a ton of event options when it comes to Dirt 3, everything from standard rally point-to-point time trails, to lap races, to performance challenges, to the new Gymkhana events. The list is staggering, made even larger when you factor in each of the different vehicle classes such as rally cars, dune buggies, trucks and trail-blazers. These events take place all across the globe, from locations such as Scandinavia, Europe, America and Kenya. You need only look at a few screenshots floating around the web — or the ones in this review — to see how good these environments look, in addition to the cars themselves.
Gymkhana is a particularly interesting addition to the Dirt franchise, bringing a portion of the game more in line with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater than typical racing modes. Essentially, Gymkhana is a fancy name for a number of freestyle challenges that range from crushing blocks, drifting around cones and maintaining controlled spins for as long as you possibly can. The inclusion of Gymkhana really goes a long way in breaking up the traditional, by-the-books races. Then, after you’ve completed your first Gymkhana tutorial event, you’re rewarded with a freestyle-sandbox arena to cut loose in. Here you search for hidden packages, touch up your skills or complete the various challenges scattered across the massive freestyle park.
To round out the Dirt 3 package, the game comes with a relatively robust multiplayer component. You can choose to play any of the race types available in single player (including Gymkhana) in split-screen or online. There’s even a “competitive” lobby that strings together three different event types to diversify the contest. As an added incentive to hit up online multiplayer, everything you do there goes towards leveling up and improving your reputation for single player, unlocking more cars and sponsors in the process. The single player and multiplayer of Dirt 3 work in tandem to provide one hell of a cohesive experience.
I'll admit that I’ve long struggled with the controls of the Dirt franchise. In previous iterations I’ve felt them to be too loose and arcade-y, for complete lack of a better descriptor. While still not perfect in Dirt 3, the controls have been tweaked ever slightly for the better. There is still a feeling of slipperiness, but that probably has more to do with the terrain I’m traversing, replacing asphalt with snow, tarmac and, of course, dirt. However, even when considering what I’m driving on, the controls still manage to be tight and responsive to my inputs. I might be bouncing all over the place, but I was able to keep control of my vehicle as long as I had a steady hand and didn’t panic.
Interesting, Dirt 3 introduces YouTube integration to the franchise. It’s nothing elaborate, merely letting you upload your replays to the service to let the world witness your flawless driving, or to warn everyone to stay away from you on the real road. Codemasters can probably take this feature further in future iterations of Dirt; but for now the basic integration is a welcomed addition to bring this series screeching into the social media scene.
If you consider yourself a fan of rally racing, Dirt 3 is a no-brainer. The game is an incredibly cohesive experience with exceptional gameplay. With the third iteration of Dirt, Codemasters threw their franchise into a George Foreman grill and cut the fat, making the final product a lean, mean driving machine. The subject matter might be dirty as hell, but Dirt 3 still manages to sparkle.