In recent months I’ve very much fallen for motorsport, and Dirt 3 Complete Edition is the game that has risen beautifully to the occasion. Focusing on the off-road world of rally racing, Dirt 3 gives you the keys to exciting, gorgeous racing—as long as you don’t mind the horrible framework surrounding it.
The good bits first, then. It’s pretty obvious that Dirt 3 is a gorgeous game—models are sharp and detailed, effects (particles, vehicle damage, etc.) are realistic and appealing, everything is beautiful. The sound effects and music are also great.
The racing, the most important element to a racing game: brilliant. There are a few difficulty options to get you started (opponent skill, guiding lines, transmission type, etc.) and then you’re off. I opted for a manual transmission, upped the opponents’ difficulties, and disabled all guiding lines. I started off by racing around a corner far too fast and quickly learned my first of many lessons: speed is not everything, not even close. I quickly learned to coast to the corner from a few feet away, nail the e-brake on a hairpin turn or the brakes on a wider turn, drop a gear, and hammer back at the accelerator and upshift as I guided the car back into the racing line. Kiss the apex, I learned. Dirt 3 comes with a lovely set of lifelines which, as in many other racing games, allow you to reverse time and start from a particular point in the most recent few seconds and try again. While helpful, I think it’s a bit of a crutch and should be disabled. A bonus is awarded for each of the flashbacks you don’t use, but it’s not significant enough to warrant anti-flashback use. Unlike classic, asphalt-track racers, Dirt 3 focuses less emphasis on other players and more on tackling the tough terrain. Dirt and gravel grant less grip, and that forces you to drive very differently, and sometimes you’re guided back onto asphalt which means your tuned-for-dirt car is very much out of its comfort zone. Additionally, there are the odd bumps and dips in the track that might ruin an otherwise perfect racing line. The challenge, while not all that difficult, is in navigating the seemingly-weird assortment of imperfect surfaces and slopes.
There are a variety of modes which you encounter in the career, and most of them are quite enjoyable takes on the classic rally mode. Classic rallies set you off in a race to drive the fastest lap, but all the cars take off staggered so as to somewhat avoid colliding with each other. (But if you’re bad, they’ll catch up with you. Heh.) There are classic races, and some takes on both the modes. There are a number of different categories of vehicles; sometimes it’ll be a good old rally car, and other times it’ll be a racing pickup truck.
That’s when the game begins to fall apart…because while the racing is brilliant, the moment you leave the track, things get hairy. For one, you don’t get to buy and upgrade cars like you do in more traditional racers (such as the Xbox exclusive Forza series). Instead, you are handed cars from different sponsors and race for particular teams. Effectively, you choose your favorite color from a list of nearly identically-performing cars. There is no real continual element in the game except for your driver ranking, which is entirely pointless and just a number with no actual role. It’s quite gratuitous.
But even these faults could be forgiven if it weren’t for Gymkhana.
Gymkhana is all the obnoxious trick events in which you try to do donuts and get air and smash obstacles. The requirements for the different rankings are sometimes laughably easy and other times ludicrously challenging. At every step of the way, however, it is boring and annoying. During tutorials, you’re forced to listen to Ken Block (a real-life world-renowned champion of the rally world) monotonously attempt to narrate something bland and simple and make it sound cool and interesting. In addition to his narration, there’s the worst voice acting trying to sound “hip” and constantly telling you, “Bro, that was sick! Upload that to YouTube!” In short: NO! If I didn’t want to set up my YouTube at the start, then I don’t want to upload footage now. Just can it. And stop trying to be all young and cool. “That was awesome, amigo.” No, you sound like a forty five year old burnt out from decades of alcoholism. Please, be quiet. All the voiceovers are unnecessary and only serve to state the obvious and prevent you from racing for another few minutes. Awful, awful, awful.
Aside from the Gymkhana and voices, Dirt 3 is a fantastic game. Thankfully, those two do not mess with you most of the time (Gymkhana is a small fraction of the events, and the narration stops after the menus) so as long as you can stand the few minutes of their existence every couple of races, you’ll love the fast-paced, decently-challenging fury that is Dirt 3.
Overall score: 4/5
Note: The “Complete Edition” was a new version introduced to remove Games For Windows Live from DiRT 3, introducing SteamWorks as an alternative, and was given to all DiRT 3 owners. Thanks goodness, too.