Dirt 3 developers Codemasters are touting the return to prominence of
rally racing to the franchise, but that doesn't mean that the franchise
isn't also trying new things. The emergence of semi-freestyle
car stunt/art form Gymkhana (thanks to the YouTube videos of Ken Block,
who is an advisor on this game) is an exciting source of inspiration for
the upcoming title.
Gymkhana is a structured obstacle course run that highlight daring feats of driving skill. Dirt 3 features Gymkhana in a variety of different ways including speed runs, online challenges, special stunt events, and freeform challenges. The latter takes place in one of three areas. The first one you'll encounter is called the Compound, and it's on the grounds of London's Battersea Power Station. Scattered around the area are jumps, pylons, random construction equipment, empty cargo containers, and more. Here you can hone your Gymkhana skills and at the same time tackle 75 DC missions. These are achievements you'll trigger such as drifting a certain amount of feet and other challenges in the environment.
I got to tool around in the Compound when Codemasters recently stopped by the office to show us the game, and I was quickly addicted to trying to make up my own Gymkhana runs in an attempt to trigger and earn some of the DC missions. The Compound isn't huge, but it's filled with a variety of obstacles that range in difficulty. Some are as easy as stationary objects – like a crane arm – you drift under, while others are more complex. One setup consisted of a small pen (barely bigger than the dimensions of the car) formed by the corner of a building and some road dividers. This setup had an entrance and exit diagonal from each other. You can do whatever you want in here – like accidently run into the barriers at high speeds like I did – but the way to this area's DC mission was to drive into the pen, very quickly whip the ass-end of you car into a tight donut, spin in circles for a while, and then exit from the opposite side you came in from.
As fun as it was to kill time cruising around the Compound, I can't wait to see how the Gymkhana events are integrated into the career mode and the game's online component. They will be offered through your Lifestyle manager who peppers you career racing schedule with these profile-enhancing events.
Although Gymkhana is a sexy new feature in the franchise, it's by no means the only thing the game has going for it. Offroad events from the last Dirt such as Raid, Trailblazer, and Rallycross keeps things moving along, and Dirt 3 also adds YouTube support for your videos, split-screen offline play (for the first time in the series' history), party games, and more.
Both the Dirt and Grid franchises have weaved their events together very well, and I look forward to how Codemasters brings everything together when the game comes out on May 24.