Car racing games have been around since the birth of gaming; racing at high speed around a corner, on the edge of control, is something us armchair sportsmen can't get enough of - and can't (or at least shouldn't) experience any other way. So it's no surprise that there's a lot of competition in this sector, with mega budgets thrown around like they're a bag of chippies when the lads are over on a Friday night.
Codemasters' DiRT franchise, originally paired with the name of the late rally legend Colin McRae, is one of the big boys in this hotly contested genre. Along with the likes of Forza and GT, albeit in a slightly different section of the racing sim, fans anticipate the next release with something approaching religious fervour. So it was with some trepidation, mixed with great excitement, that we sat down to play DiRT 3 in Sydney last week.
The first thing we had a look at was the traditional Rally content. It's there and it looks as awesome as ever, with the unbelievably good sound standing out yet again. The crunch that emanates from the gravel beneath your tyres as you lose your grip on a tight corner, or the straining sound of your highly tuned engine as you drop gears and put far too much pedal down are so incredibly pure and real, they deserve nothing less than the best possible home audio gear with which to show them off. As much fun as our (brief) foray into these modes was, including the awesomely fast new Trailblazer mode, we spent very little time here.
Why? Party modes. In addition to supporting the traditional online (and offline) racing modes, including split-screen and system-link, DiRT 3 adds in some all-new multiplayer content in the aforementioned party modes.
There's everything here, from capture the flag to a new Zombie mode (yep, a car game with Zombies). The latter isn't about cruising around, crashing into traditional zombies (think: Sidhe's Blood Drive) - instead, one of the players will become infected and then needs to set about converting his uninfected mates before the time runs out, by crashing into them. It may sound like fun but... it's even more fun than it sounds. The sheer, manic hilarity of the mode, thanks in no small part to the open maps that are packed with interactive objects, needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated.
Capture the flag too, where players need to find the randomly-located flag and take it back to base before getting whacked by another player, is a simple toolset. This mode will be familiar to shooter fans, and enables an unbelievably large amount of emergent gameplay. The strategies that can be employed here are nearly endless and it will definitely be a big hit online.
Another mode we spent a chunk of time in was the new Gymkhana mode. Not familiar with the term? (It’s a horse riding event, where you show off all the rad tricks that your pony can do, and your 1337 riding skillz). Here, basically, your goal is to do crazy awesome stuff in a motor vehicle. You know, donuts around poles, ludicrous handbrake-related sideways-slides through gaps that no sane person would attempt to traverse at speed, let alone in a four-wheel slide.
We were a bit...well, crap to take full advantage of this mode, what with it relying on skill and everything, but what was immediately clear is that this is a mode which is going to attract those that really know what they're doing behind the wheel. Combine that with the game's built-in youtube integration (you can export to youtube straight from the impressive replay editor) and this mode alone will be worth the price of entry to many.
The game also looks amazing, complete with Codemasters' legendary user interface prowess. If you felt let down by the visuals in... other... recent big-budget racing games, fear not - DiRT 3 has what it takes where it matters (there will still some odd looking humanoid visuals, like the race starter guy, but whatever).
We spent a great deal of time on the game, most of which was in the party modes - crashing, bashing and laughing maniacally as the lead leapt around like your favorite china in the back of a moving van. If you have any interest in cars and like the idea of having a good time online, DiRT 3 needs to be at the top of your want list. It really was that much fun - we can't wait to get our hands on our own copy in time for the 26th of May release date.
The Good: Everything, and there's so much of it!
The Bad: Colin McRae is no longer with us
The Ugly: It's still two weeks away!