Gettin’ down n dirrty in Dirt 3

Dirt 3 game

Review: Dirt 3 – The concept of flow can be described as a “single-minded immersion where the emotions are not just contained and channelled but positive, energised and aligned with the task at hand.” It occurs when a higher-than-average challenge is met by your slightly-above-average skills, skills you apply wholeheartedly and without a sense of self. It’s a feeling most surfers know – a joyous escape from self-awareness that challenges, excites and rewards. Many games include elements of flow in their design, but until I played Dirt 3 I could never recognise it in the virtual world.

Throwing all manner of off-road vehicle around easy lefts and hairpin bends, past houses, forests and all manner of spectacular landscape is my defining gaming experience of the past year. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of a game that is so good at what it does – as a pure rally game, Dirt 3 is awesome, but as a catalyst for a flow-state, Dirt 3 is a gosh-darn mother-loving revelation.

Let’s start off by saying Dirt 3 is beautiful. In fact, were it not for the immersive gameplay, I’d find it a hard task to keep eyes and car on the road. Every environment is beautifully realised, from the streets of Monaco to the fjords of Finland, there’s something pretty to look at over every hill and around every bend. The cars are stunning and are affected by the environment in an incredibly realistic way – catching up to a competitor on a snowy track often leaves you with a windshield full of fine white powder, and driving in the rain adds a glistening muddiness to the car that is distractingly beautiful.

The environments are further brought to life by scattering pedestrians and background fireworks. Every track lives and breathes, and you almost wonder what the people in the background do for a living – it’s that realistic. Watching someone else play the game well on a high-def setup leaves you wondering if it isn’t a rerun of a World Rally Championship event on TV, something no other rally game to my knowledge can claim.

The superb sound makes every section realistic – the crunching of snow, the splash of a puddle or the low growl of gravel all add to the immersion. And when you misjudge a corner, slide out of control and hit a barrier, you really feel the impact in your gut. Something must also be said for the music – it’s the most politely inoffensive electronic music I’ve ever heard, and as a definite non-fan of most electro music I was really impressed by the selection of tracks.

The career mode plays out as a series of ‘seasons’ where you build your rank by competing in a range of events that always manages to keep things fresh. Rally takes centre stage and makes up the bulk of the events, but the novelty of the other types of event – like gymkhana and Trail Blazer – should not be underestimated. The main tour is split into four seasons that feature a host of events, races and environments, and is the best part of the game by far.

The money system from previous installments in the franchise has been left at the side of the road, replaced by a ranking system that automatically adds cars to your stable after every level-up. Unfortunately, the system is set up in such a way that using newer cars earns you more points, so your favourite cars from past races often end up gathering cobwebs. However, seeing your stable grow is satisfying – the roster of cars is spectacular and includes some of the most iconic rally cars of the past few decades. My personal favourite is the tuned-up Audi Quattro Trail Blazer car. Swinging that beast around long lefts and nailing it in the straights is hair-raisingly awesome and something I can really recommend for the stressed-out and over-worked.

And that’s really where Dirt 3 stands out – all the elements, like terrific sound, awesome graphics and immersive gameplay – combine to facilitate an overwhelming sense of flow for the player. After finishing the first season and opening up the training ground, I happily lost an hour of my life jumping, drifting and throwing donuts around the course. My first successfully-seamless transition from a ramp jump to a drift around a tight corner to a 1080 degree donut to another jump, leading into a sideways drift underneath a stationary 18-wheeler truck and then starting it all over again made me literally jump up and shout a whoop-whoop!

This same sense of flow is evident in most of the game modes – shaving a few seconds off your best time by nailing a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo down a foresty track and getting those corners and lines just right is immensely satisfying. Chasing an elusive gold medal on a drift challenge usually involves extensive play-and-replay to get those lines right and not spin out of control around the tighter corners, and getting that perfect gold-medal round will turn even the deepest frown upside down.

There’s a multiplayer mode which I hardly even tried – the single-player experience is so good that I didn’t see the point. Flow, after all, is a personal thing, and I wasn’t going to let other players distract me from it.

Dirt 3 is more than just a rally game to me – it’s a way to challenge myself, reward myself and destress me after a hard day’s work in a high-intensity, deadline-driven office environment. Dirt 3 is my top game experience of the year across any platform and, while there are a number of high-profile shooters and blockbusters coming out toward the end of the year, they’d really have to produce something exceptional to knock Dirt 3 off the top of my list.

Overall – exquisite. Do not miss this game.

Who it’s for

  • Petrol-heads, rally fans, and anyone who enjoys driving, games, fun or flow. It’s so good that anyone can actually play this game and enjoy it.

What we like

  • Awesome graphics, superb sound, great tracks, stunning car selection, and one of the most rewarding gameplay experiences of the year.

What we don’t like

  • How fast your favourite cars become outdated and practically unusable. However, there’s always another awesome car to choose from so it’s not a big issue.
The Details
Graphics: 9
Excellent shading, beautiful environments, stunning cars, sleek and pretty menu system. There’s nothing to fault in the graphics department.
Gameplay: 9.5
For me, the immense feeling of satisfaction upon achieving a perfect round is my defining gaming experience of 2011.
Sound: 9
Roaring engines, screeching tyres, growling gravel and crunching snow, the in-game sound is terrific.
Immersion: 9.5
Load times can be a little long between races, but once you get the green light and starting screaming down the track, this game enters a league of its own and you can easily lose four hours of your life.
Overall 9.5
The best rally game ever and my absolute top game of the year. I’ll be playing this one for a very long time.
Andre Fourie


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