Riding DiRTy

My love for driving games is well documented here at TR. Lately, I’ve been playing a rather good one: DiRT 3. This third chapter in the evolution of the storied Colin McRae Rally series is, at least according to Wikipedia, the first to shed the rally legend’s name in its official title. McRae made a name for himself sliding around in a Subaru during the 90s and died in a helicopter crash back in 2007, so it’s probably time for the DiRT franchise to move on.

The world of rally racing has changed a lot since Codemasters rolled out its first Colin McRae game in 1998. A new generation of gamers is growing up watching the X Games rather than the World Rally Championship. Travis Pastrana jumped 269 feet in an Impreza to usher in 2010, and Ken Block’s epic gymkhana videos have tens of millions of views on YouTube—many more than the most popular footage from the WRC.

Block looks to be the new poster boy for Codemasters’ rally franchise, because gymkhana features heavily in DiRT 3. Don’t think the game has been taken over by carefully scripted hoonage in a parking lot, though. DiRT 3 serves up an all-you-can-eat buffet of traditional off-road racing modes, including circuits with a mix of dirt and pavement, point-to-point rally stages, and jump-loaded motocross tracks for trucks, just to name a few. The gymkhana and drifting events are more of a salad bar. Although not quite as filling, they’re a refreshing break from the meat and potatoes.

Sheer variety is one of DiRT 3‘s greatest strengths. The wide selection of events goes down in a range of environments, from the deserts of Kenya to the forests of Finland and the snow-capped peaks of Colorado. And, of course, there’s an obstacle-filled industrial playground in which to do donuts.

As one might expect from a diverse collection of locales, the weather forecast is mixed. Racing occurs under the beating sun, in the miserable rain, and during a blizzard. The weather effects look pretty good, especially from behind the windshield, which frantic wiper blades sometimes struggle to keep clean.

Then there are the vehicles. You’ll find yourself driving steroid-infused pickup trucks, pure racing SUVs like the Bowler Nemesis, and dozens of rally cars spanning multiple decades. While the game’s modern-era Subaru Impreza seems to have the same personality and handling characteristics as the Mitsubishi Lancer and Ford Fiesta, the older classics definitely have a different feel. They may be a little slower than the latest rides, but the original Mini Cooper S and Audi Sport Quattro are still a lot of fun to drive—and they look way cooler. You’ll have to wait for one of the upcoming DLC car packs to get behind the wheel of a beautifully retro Lancia Stratos, though.

The cars are probably the best-looking part of DiRT 3. For all the game’s DirectX 11 effects, the environments look a little bland and low-fi, as if they were built with the sort of strict polygon budgets and texturing limitations one might associate with console games. Layers of post-processing effects smooth out the rough edges, much in the way a little makeup can do wonders for Hollywood starlets who are a bit past their prime. You can still see the wrinkles if you look for them, though.

I played the game on a GeForce GTX 570 with all the eye candy cranked, and it definitely looks good. However, I’m struggling to think of something memorable about the visuals. The tessellated water looks nice and the shadowing is done well, but the one thing that keeps popping into my mind is that the lighting model for night races doesn’t look as realistic as the one used in Shift 2 Unleashed. Oh, and there’s a neat effect during particularly violent crashes that makes it look like your graphics card is glitching due to overheating.

DiRT 3 is not the graphical tour de force I’ve been hoping to find in a driving game for the PC. Nevertheless, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. The rally racing is butt-clenchingly intense, forcing me to adopt the classic console gamer’s lean-forward position on the edge of my couch. (I do most of my PC gaming on the big-screen TV in my living room.) The circuit events seem a lot easier, but an aggressive field ensures that they’re always exciting. I have to confess that I’m lousy at the gymkhana stuff, though. My aggressive driving style doesn’t lend itself to precision automotive ballet. That said, I do quite enjoy fishtailing around various bits of heavy machinery, shipping containers, and other large-scale items ripped from a construction site—even if I end up crashing into most of them.

Codemasters takes the edge off of epic failures by providing a handy flashback feature that lets you rewind time to just before you slid ass-backwards into the ditch. A handful of flashbacks are available at the beginning of each event, and bonus points are awarded for resisting the urge to use them. I’d rather play the game on the ragged edge, which is a lot more fun, and then hit what I’ve taken to calling the "ahh @#$%" button liberally.

Flashbacks make DiRT 3 more accessible for gamers unfamiliar with just how easy it is to slide off a rain-soaked dirt road and into the woods. All the usual driving assists are available, and there’s even a casual difficulty setting that provides assistance on steering and braking.

There’s a sense of maturity in DiRT 3 that I haven’t seen in previous iterations. The narration is still a little excessive and too-often peppered with terms like sick, dude, and totally. It feels like the volume has been turned down a little, though. Instead of being yelled at by a teenager hopped up on Mountain Dew, you’re spoken to by someone in his late-20s fresh from finishing an iced cappuccino.

Unlike a lot of console ports, DiRT 3 puts little BS between you and the game. The menus are slick and stylish, and you won’t have to hit "next" a million times to navigate through them. I do miss the loading-screen stats from DiRT 2. The constantly updated stream of ultimately useless information about your in-game driving at least kept the old load screens fresher than what’s displayed now.

DiRT 3 is available on Steam, which is fantastic. Sadly, it’s also infected by Games for Windows Live, which is only slightly more desirable than herpes. Wading through the GFWL setup process added a good 20 minutes to the installation time thanks to demands for a client update that failed to download properly the first time. Fortunately, it hasn’t flared up since.

The (hopefully) rare intrusion of GFWL is one of only a few blemishes on DiRT 3‘s record. That and the other minor flaws seem insignificant next to the solid gameplay, expanded depth, and grown-up sensibilities. DiRT 3 has the right mix of elements to appeal to longtime fans of the series and the latest crop of pimply teenagers. Were he alive today, I think Colin McRae might even want to try his hand at chasing Ken Block around the gymkhana arena.

Comments closed
    • RtFusion
    • 8 years ago

    Love DiRT 3 right now.

    • Welch
    • 8 years ago

    I recently picked back up my PS3 controller (Don’t know why.. but I did) and I found myself playing GRID. Seems to me that people don’t make the connection between GRID and the DIRT series. GRID is also CodeMasters and was the father of the Flashbacks you see in DIRT. I’ve never played DIRT, but if it shares anything with GRID, then i’m all in!

    Either way, CodeMaster’s racing games kick the shit out of the Gran Tourismo series!

    • dashbarron
    • 8 years ago

    I’m probably going to get stoned but I enjoyed the Podracer game on the N64….

    • mrksha
    • 8 years ago

    This game is a horrible buggy mess.

    [url<]http://community.codemasters.com/forum/dirt-3-tech-support-1414/465726-pc-profile-save-problem-potential-workaround.html[/url<]

    • Buzzard44
    • 8 years ago

    I have finally caught you riding dirty! I’ve been trying to catch you riding dirty.

    • Xenolith
    • 8 years ago

    Here’s to hoping that one of Steam’s summer camp sales will include a nice half off or more sale on Dirt 3.

    • Chrispy_
    • 8 years ago

    “Sadly, it’s also infected by Games for Windows Live, which is only slightly more desirable than herpes.”

    That is doing herpes a grievious injustice. Herpes can be treated, GFWL cannot.

      • Xenolith
      • 8 years ago

      Dirt 2 is also infected. That is the main reason I prefer the original Dirt. More racing – the UI and platforms don’t get in the way.

      • Palek
      • 8 years ago

      I find it amazing how Microsoft keeps messing up with things like GFWL. It really betrays just how low this service is on their list of priorities. The issue Geoff had with GFWL failing to update is not an isolated incident. I had a similar (same?) problem with both PCs on which I installed DiRT 2.

      Upon attempting to play DiRT 2 for the first time GFWL went into and infinite loop saying it needed to update, starting said update, failing said update, restarting DiRT 2, saying it needed to update, and so on. After a few rounds I just went into Windows Update and forced the GFWL update from there. Problem solved. Of course after the update GFWL lost my login credentials. Yay Microsoft and their dedication to PC gaming!!!

    • indeego
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]"The rally racing is butt-clenchingly intense"[/quote<] The visual I needed today. And am now leaving after having pondered a bit.

      • destroy.all.monsters
      • 8 years ago

      So the riding dirty thing wasn’t a dead giveaway regarding the anal apocalypse Geoff seems to be talking about?

      Personally I prefer my drawers clean.

        • Meadows
        • 8 years ago

        So learn to wash and have the occasional small-scale enema. There’s no filth whatsoever, unless you’re a hillbilly and living on yogurt.

      • Krogoth
      • 8 years ago

      It is a reference to race driving.

      Surprisingly, your “butt” is important in determining the car suspension’s balance.

        • Meadows
        • 8 years ago

        [quote<][u<]Surprisely[/u<], your "butt" is important in determining the car [u<]suppression[/u<]'s balance.[/quote<] Unsurprisingly, you made errors. The word you really wanted to say was "surprisingly" in your case, and "unsurprisingly" in the case of everyone else with driving experience. Also, the only place where cars are "suppressed" is probably the sidewalk and bicycle/bus lanes. Otherwise, cars tend to be [i<]suspended[/i<] one way or another, and as such, I believe you meant [i<]suspension[/i<]. This is too easy. Are you still claiming to be from the US?

          • derFunkenstein
          • 8 years ago

          Unfortunately he types like many Americans. They’re all functionally illiterate.

            • David_Morgan
            • 8 years ago

            Literacy is overrated when you have beer and fireworks. U…S…A! U…S…*BOOOM* Ouch, son of a…

            • Krogoth
            • 8 years ago

            Still mad?

            • Meadows
            • 8 years ago

            Are you?

          • Krogoth
          • 8 years ago

          Grammar nazi routine is getting tiresome.

          You got plenty of time and energy. Enough of it to worry about making corrections on a silly message posted on an internet forum.

            • Meadows
            • 8 years ago

            [quote<]making corrections on a silly message[/quote<] Well, you just called your message "silly", so I think we're making good progress.

    • zimpdagreene
    • 8 years ago

    I agree that they could have put a little more into dirt to not make it look as washed. Its still great, BUT the multiplayer has been having a lot of people hacking it all types of ways. Yes you have that and will continue to have it. But it doesn’t seem like Codemaster is fighting back on the hackers. But i guess there needs to be a new system other than the EPIC FAIL punk buster that’s used in other games (BFBC2) .But I am off topic the game is good but missing a soul.

      • Farting Bob
      • 8 years ago

      I get the impression that with codemasters your lucky if they even glance to see if it needs a patch once the game is out. Move onto the next thing, drop support for multiplayer 2 years after release.

    • canmnanone
    • 8 years ago

    hey geoff are you using any wheel? i have the thrustmaster f430 wheel and cant seem to find a good settings for them. im always in the ditch and can seem to control the car. any suggestion on wheel settings? thanks for the write up.

      • David_Morgan
      • 8 years ago

      I don’t know if its the same across all of Codemasters’ games, but the USB XBox 360 controller is the only input device that I’ve had consistent success with controlling cars in GRID.

      In other games where I’ve used a wheel, I’ve personally found that tweaking the steering “dead-zone” settings tends to be the most effective way of keeping cars out of the ditch… but my overall track with a wheel in general is pretty abysmal.

        • canmnanone
        • 8 years ago

        ya me too, ive tried to tweaking every settings in that game but still lots of fish tailing going on. i like the wheel as it gives it more of a realistic look. its a good wheel guess have to keep tweaking the settings to find a good one. thanks for the reply david.

        • Corrado
        • 8 years ago

        The 360 wheel works fine on a PC? Do you need to get the wireless receiver or can you use it on USB?

          • David_Morgan
          • 8 years ago

          Sorry, I meant the standard handheld USB cabled controller, not the wheel.

      • jamsbong
      • 8 years ago

      I’m using Logitech driving force GT wheel. The default settings fits like a glove. After installing on my PC, I just change the setting from Keyboard to wheel and I started racing at level 5 mode with all aids turn off (including ABS).
      I was able to feel the car going in too fast or tail loosing traction. Very feelsome game. hehe…

    • Corrado
    • 8 years ago

    I keep meaning to get a proper driving game rig going again. Back in the day (early 90’s), I had one of the original Thrustmaster wheels to go along with my copies of Papyrus’ NASCAR Racing and IndyCar Racing. Loved those games. Its too bad that they have become more and more arcadey, esp since the demise of Papyrus. LOVED tweaking camber/caster/gearing/wing etc and seeing what kind of difference it made.

    Maybe once I get into my house thats being built, I can set up a real wheel and racing seat again.

    • TravelMug
    • 8 years ago

    Dirt2 was better. Dirt3 seems bland, barely played it since the purchase (preordered on Steam).

    • ap70
    • 8 years ago

    drift sucks, sound sucks, drive improved 32.323%. It is still boring, predictable and annoying.

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