DiRT 3 Review
Playing DiRT 3 has the interesting effect of being almost no fun for me — and it’s not the game’s fault, it’s mine.
I’m a terrible virtual driver, and DiRT 3 is unforgiving. It’s not that the difficulty can’t be scaled down, because it can and quite effectively, but the game is still punishing to those unschooled in the discipline of rally. That’s actually good news, because my failures as a racer reveal a game that’s deep and engaging, challenging and brimming with events that not only let racers test their driving skills, but maybe hone them.
DiRT 3 (XBox360 [Reviewed], PS3, PC)
Release Date: May 24, 2011
DiRT 3 throws out some of the conventions of the previous addition to the series by starting a campaign mode in a different way. Disembodied voices introduce you to the game rather quickly, representing your various crew members: because, see, you’re an up-and-coming driver discovered by an agent who is eager to see you get out into the world and start tallying rally wins and increasing your reputation.
Reputation, in the form of points, is the currency of the rally realm in DiRT 3. They’re earned for everything — competing in events, notching up great times, and even uploading videos to YouTube. Rather than gathering cash, Rep points unlock new events and draw the attention of sponsors, and with them those sponsors bring new vehicles to help racers snag even better times and places.
It’s an interesting system. DiRT 3 creates a situation that basically unlocks cars as the player moves through the game, creating opportunities to get better vehicles and backtrack to snag more Rep from completed events. Everything is constantly replayable, so there’s a lot of incentive to keep refining a racing technique, but each newly unlocked car basically renders useless the ones that came before it. That means that playing well gets the best cars, but it leaves the player with little incentive to apply skill to finding a favorite car and getting good with it; for better or worse, you’re left constantly jumping to new vehicles to take into events.
But what if, like me, you have no technique to refine? DiRT 3 has that covered, presenting a highly intuitive difficulty system that can actually make the game fun regardless of how terrible a player is. Setting the blanket difficulty down (starting with Casual, going up to Intermediate and Hardcore) lowers the skill of the other racers, but it also switches on a number of “Assists” that help make you a better driver. Among these is a throttle control system, a curve braking system and a “race line” that shows you where on the track you should be positioning your car. Turn them all on and DiRT 3 basically plays for you (which is, as one might guess, not fun at all); but switching them on and off to find a comfort level creates some pretty solid balance, allowing players to stay competitive without having DiRT 3 hold their hands and hand them trophies.
Single player thrives with having a glut of events. The game is broken down into four “seasons” of increasing difficulty, and each season has a number of tours, and each tour is packed with events. Rep opens all of them, and you’ll compete under the watchful tutelage of your crew — managed by your agent, advised by your mechanic, encouraged by your PR guy. All the disembodied voices have that irritating positive quality, however, in which they gently chide you when you fail and applaud you when you succeed. There’s just a little too much encouragement floating around, especially for turning in terrible race scores.
But despite the floating voices telling you how much they believe in you, the rest of the presentation of DiRT 3 is phenomenal. The game looks and sounds great, and that presentation really sells the big improvement to the game over its predecessors: terrible, awful weather. Snow, rain, mud, passing between dirt and pavement and back again — these things look great in DiRT 3 and what’s more, they feel great. Weather choices aren’t just aesthetically chosen to make the game look pretty, they actually factor greatly into the races themselves. Weather makes every new race feel a little different from the one you just ran, and that helps keep things very fresh as you move through each huge season.
Outside the tour mode, there’s still more to do. The game includes a single-player quick play mode where players can pull up one-off events of their choosing. DiRT 3 also includes new “Gymkhana” events, in which the goal is to rack up points by performing various stunts like donuts, jumps and drifts.
There’s a lot of good in DiRT 3, but it’s still a struggle to recommend the game to new players who aren’t already well-ensconced in the racing and rally gaming scenes. For all the capabilities DiRT 3 throws your way to find a difficulty to suit you, it’s still a wet blanket of spinning failure for inexperienced players. It’s easy to go from snagging first place in an event to eighth in the one right after it, and failing to drift accurately and slamming into Finland’s trees and Michigan’s creeks gets old in a hurry. Spin-outs are rampant throughout the game.
These aren’t necessarily criticisms, it’s just tough and requires a great deal of skill; DiRT 3 is a hard game to be good at without making yourself bored by taking the difficulty down too far. Those two poles — either utter, crushing, repeated defeat, or feeling like the game is playing for you — can cause DiRT 3 to lose its appeal in a hurry, and that’s a shame given just how much racing goodness it packs in.
- Excellent use of weather to affect events
- Great presentation
- Tons to do in single player
- YouTube integration is an interesting idea
- Not really an entry level game
- YouTube integration only works in 30-second clips, lacking features
- Rep system takes away some vehicle choice and customization
- Can be tough to find a good difficulty setting
Final Score: 80