By: Matthew Striplen
I’ve always wanted a fast car, but me and my broke ass has the car equivalent of the turtle: slow and steady wins the race. Now, with DiRT 3, my ’95 Camry and I can dream of being a Subaru WRX STI GR pulling 100 MPH through the forests of Norway… *sigh*.
Any action game requires super tight controls, and DiRT delivers. The active buttons are laid out in a way that the fingers naturally fall onto them. You can also feel the steering sensitivity change depending on the driving surface, which as you will see, sets up a theme of attention to detail. I know this may sound silly, but they control are so good that I would feel comfortable driving a real car using only the PS3 controller.
This is an extremely pretty game. The environments achieve a level of realism generally not found in games. You can actually see individual leaves on the trees! Even more impressive than the environments, however, are the cars themselves. Each car is a replication of a real world racing car, and as the car receives damage in various areas, the effects of said damage are accurately represented. That is to say, if you run headlong into a tree, expect the doors to come crashing open.
The sound fairs a little less well. Most of the time, the only thing you can hear is, appropriately, engine rumblings, complete with gear shifts. That’s all fine and good, but my issues arise with the, albeit sparse, voice acting. Two very British sounding announcers alternate informing the player of the current situation. This would be fine, but they somehow come off as condescending, even with their complements. However, the actors are not solely at fault: they were given a mediocre script at best.
The place where DiRT 3 shines the brightest is in the mechanics of driving. Again, the realism of driving on different surfaces, weather conditions and even the simple act of turning impressed me. Although I can’t say I’ve drifted around a 90-degree turn in the snow while going 75-plus MPH in real life, I can imagine.
Going along with the realism is the fantastic depth of customization. While I’m certainly no car expert, I do know a lot of options when I see them. Everything and more I thought possibly toggle-able was available to be tweaked to my heart’s desire, from simple stuff, like automatic versus manual transmission, all the way to advanced adjustments like removing the ABS braking. You name it, they had it.
Perhaps the most intriguing adjustable is the difficulty, which is presented in the form of three presets: Casual, Intermediate and Advanced. The difference between each difficulty setting is substantial. Casual makes the car significantly easier to drive and dumbs down the other racer’s AI. As the player increases the difficulty, more safeguards get turned off, the most interesting of which is the damage.
In Casual and Intermediate, the player’s car will show any damage taken, but it will not affect its handling. With damage effects turned on, the player will immediately notice changes in suspension, steering, and engine pick-up after a bad crash. I can’t say I’ve ever played a racing game with that level of intensity.
To help mitigate the sharp learning curve of the difficulty presets, DiRT enables players to create their own custom difficulty. For instance, if you’re struggling with handling the car but want tougher AI, you can supe them up while keeping vehicle handicaps in place for yourself. The designers obviously put a lot of thought into how they could tailor the game to each individual.
This game has a crap ton of cars. Different styles of cars will be offered depending on the type of race, my personal favorites being the classic cars. Other vehicles include standard stock cars and trick cars, etc. Unlike many racing games, cars are not purchased but offered to the player by various teams once they’ve achieved a good enough reputation. Reputation building is simple: just win lots of races. Revisiting previously won races and challenges will still increase it.
Only one aspect of the game raised a red flag for me, and I’m not even sure if it’s a real issue. DiRT 3 features a paid VIP program, which contains a huge quantity of otherwise unavailable cars, and more importantly, the online multiplayer function. I was initially disappointed to see such a greedy cash grab in an otherwise outstanding game, until I looked up the package on the PSN Store. Much to my surprise, it was free! The description did not mention whether or not this was a limited offer or not, but I was happy to have gotten the extra content for free.
Another privilege of VIP status is the ability to upload replays to YouTube, a fact which the announcers constantly remind you of. While being able to save replays, let alone uploading them to the internet is a cool quality, I really did not like being pressured to do something that has no in-game function. A player should want to watch a replay, so the badgering felt unwelcome.
This is an extremely polished title, with tons of fleshed out features. The sheer level of detail, customization and realism sets DiRT 3 apart from just about everything else in the genre. The issues that I had with the game, of which there were very few, are mostly superficial. If you’ve always dreamed of speeding down a dirt road in some of the most beautiful locations in the world but are stuck with your ’95 Camry with a zero to sixty of more than 15 seconds, I can safely say DiRT 3 is the next best thing.