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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Dirt 3 (Playstation 3) 

Descended from the legendary Colin McRae Rally series, Codemasters' Dirt 3 once again brings a solid rally experience to the PS3 with a mixture of solid controls, smooth visuals, extensive vehicle lineups and some nicely rendered tracks and courses. The game offers a number of modes including standard rally racing, career and online, plus a new Gymkana stunt mode that gives a fun mini-game feel to the proceedings. Slick visuals and engaging gameplay mechanics make Dirt 3 a solidly entertaining racer that offers assists that should appeal to the casual racing fan along with the depth and variety that will keep hardcore racers coming back for more.

Europe and the rest of the world are big fans of rally racing, while here in the states it remains a niche sport overshadowed by Indy racing and Nascar. This is a shame, since the nuance and variety the sport offers makes for an interesting sport. If you aren't familiar with all the ins and outs of this style of racing, playing a few hours with Dirt 3 should definitely intrigue you with its courses and vehicles. The game starts off with a hub, a central location, where you are at the center of your career, and get to decide where to branch off. There are a number of events in which you can compete and these take place throughout the globe in locations as exotic as Kenya, Monte Carlo, Aspen and Norway to name a few. Each of these includes both night and day racing, in addition to weather effects such as rain or snow. You can play a series of races and begin with a few practice rounds before the actual qualifying and then the racing begins. As usual, you begin at the bottom of the rankings with a slow car and few sponsors. Winning races, or even making a good showing draws the attention your way and gives you the opportunity to earn more upgrades to your vehicle and position. As you progress, you'll also encounter more challenging opponents and fewer chances to make mistakes, so you'll have to ramp up your skills in a hurry. Once you've gone a few rounds, additional options begin to appear, such as the ability to customize your vehicle and unlock addition paint jobs. Once you've earned your stripes, your level will increase, unlocking additional vehicles and courses. Your career progression in the game's hub is steady which keeps you motivated to keep playing. It's not a particularly steep learning curve and after about an hour, the really fast and exciting vehicles will usually start to appear, and it's here that Dirt 3 begins to leave its slow start in the dust.

Dirt 3 gives players the chance to drive a number of different rally vehicles from a variety of manufacturers, including models from Lancia and Toyota. A range of classic and current vehicles are offered and there are dozens available in the game. There's a large number available initially, and more can be unlocked or downloaded as you progress through the game. Dirt 3 also includes other vehicle classes including trucks and buggies. Each of the vehicles controls differently, though most of the time, the tracks have specific vehicles assigned to them, which makes things easier. While most players will probably want to start off with the assists, such as brakes and top speeds, as they become accustomed to them, they'll find the need for these wears off a little and they can actually detract from your goal of achieving a top speed. The rally events are nicely paced and players have the option of going for an entire career in single player mode, racing through a series of events as they compete on points or playing against others online with the multiplayer modes. Dirt 3 includes several different racing modes with standard racing, timed events and rally modes included. Each course has several different branches that you can race, which increases the variety and different weather plus day or night racing. Players can choose other events, such as Rally Cross, Land Grab and the new Gymkana mode. Gymkana is interesting in that its more like a mini-game than a standard race. In this mode, you're placed inside an enclosed course with many obstacles and jumps. Divided into sections, you earn points by crashing through objects, drifting your car around objects or achieving large jumps before the timer runs out. The game then ranks your score and completing this mode allows you to win extra points. Dirt 3's extensive modes also include a deep online component that gives you the ablity to race against opponents online, check your standings on leaderboards or check out the latest news from the developers. It's very easy to log in and check you progress and set up games, and we found the online opponents a bit more challenging and less predictable than their online counterparts.

The most critical aspect of any racing game are its controls, and Dirt 3 doesn't falter in this department. Each vehicle controls smoothly and effectively, and the realistic physics give the game a nice authenticity that makes you feel like you're driving an actual vehicle. Steering is fairly easy, with corners labeled clearly for the most part. You can drift around lines and pass out other vehicles in the head-to-head sections, which are the most exciting part of the game. One of the more interesting aspects of the game is the damage control, which allows you to turn this option on or off. When you're driving with the damage off, there's little incentive to avoid crashing or contact, but your performance degrades significantly if you have it on, which makes the gameplay much more challenging, but also more interesting and authentic. Players who want an arcade sim will want to turn this off, while those looking for a more realistic approach will definitely want to play with this on. The game offers other assists as well, with the on screen path lighted up, its easy to follow for the best time, though it does make the game feel a little bit more like its on rails. The game's overall feel is very nice, and players can also change their vehicle handling in a number of departments and apply customization features such as engine parts to increase performance. The handling and controls are very good and while its not going to win any new converts to the rally genre, Its definitely a polished and engaging racer. Dirt 3 isn't really a significant departure from other games once you're on the road, it's incremental improvements are noticeable and appreciated.

Viusally, the game looks fairly solid, with a great selection of realistic vehicles featuring excellent modelling. They look great from the outside, but the internal view is also excellent. Players can change their angle on the fly, and there's also a cool replay feature that allows you to play back your great moments, or cool crashes. Dirt 3's weather effects are also nicely done, with rival vehicles picking up dirt and snow, which can blind you and obscure your vision if you're driving directly behind them. As expected from Codemasters, Dirt 3 is of high quality from a technical standpoint. The game moves along at a high and consistent frame rate throughout and the menus, while a bit over the top, are easy to navigate and use. Overall, the aesthetics are very good, though the choice of music is a little questionable, though fortunately can be muted. Like its predecessors, Dirt 3 offers a smooth, polished racing experience with an abundance of extra features. It's new Gymkana mode brings a fun mini-game mentality to the proceedings and gives players a chance to blow off steam without affecting their standing during the main game. The extensive list of vehicles is impressive and Dirt 3's unlockable and online content is also quite extensive. Vehicles control quite easily and the assists allow newcomers to get up to speed, while the more advanced control options allow veteran riders more precise control. Dirt 3's mix of arcade and realism is well-thought out and allows players at both extremes a chance to play a challenging and intense game. You can find some fault in the game's overly dramatic menus, which slow the pace when you want to drive and the somewhat drab appearance of some of the courses is in stark contrast to the sleek design elsewhere. Other drving games such as Gran Turismo 5 have touched on the genre, none are as comprehensive as this dedicated sim, so in that area Dirt 3 definitely excels. Dirt 3 isn't without its problems, but its accessibility makes for an excellent racing simulation that brings the excitement, challenge and fun of rally racing to life in fine form. 

- Michael Palisano 

Grade: B

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