The Dirt series ostensibly encompasses the large world of off-road racing in all its forms. This philosophy was whittled down slightly with fewer vehicle types year after year since the franchise’s 2007 debut, and Dirt 3 is the most focused entry yet. The addition of Gymkhana and the prominence of various rally racing events – with trucks, co-pilotless Trailblazer runs in head-to-head finale events, or even in multi-car races – makes this the most thrilling collection of Dirt racing to date. But there’s a price to be paid for the abundance of rally racing, as the series loses momentum in its career mode.
I love Codemasters’ decision to focus on rally racing and offshoots like Gymkhana, even if it’s at the expense of some of the series vehicles, like semis, and previous events, like Hill Climb. The rally racing, whether it’s with or without a co-pilot (Trailblazer) or even with other cars (RallyCross), is an exhilarating interplay of timing and subtlety between your cars’ acceleration, steering, brakes, and e-brake that makes every turn either a chance to make up lost time or a race-ending disaster. This is where the rewind tokens come in handy.
Gymkhana appears both as a free ride playground (complete with specific, but optional, tasks) and a part of the career via fun events like Sprints (tackling tricks like drift slides under tight gaps in a specific order), freestyle matches where order isn’t important, and freeform contests. Online Multiplayer also includes Gymkhana among the more traditional race types, with capture the flag-esque Transporter events and infected-style Outbreak races. The addition of Gymkhana is great – I particularly like how the free ride area at London’s Battersea Power Station keeps growing as you unlock new sections.
But even with this exciting new content, the game misses an opportunity to improve its career mode structure. Your career managers are nothing more than laborious voiceovers for the simple progression path. Losing the camper hub makes the HUD even more unexciting, and the rudimentary car upgrades have been stripped out. Players’ attachment to their cars is lessened since damage doesn’t have to be repaired between rally stages, and the sponsorships you earn are really nothing more than new liveries. Thus, there’s not a lot of career management going on. What was once an interesting and evolving part of the franchise – that feeling that you were living an actual racing career – has been neutered.
Codemasters has made a good name for itself with this franchise’s heart-pounding racing and arresting graphics – which are even more striking with the inclusion of night driving and falling snow. The renewed focus on rally racing and the addition of Gymkhana keeps it in good shape, even as it pares down some of its previously interesting career aspects.