DiRT is an apt name. I’ve played Burnout, Need for Speed, Daytona, Midnight Club, GTA, and… well, Mario Kart, and none of them felt even remotely similar to this rally car racer. Why? It’s in the dirt.
My very first turn in DiRT had me spinning wildly, praying for traction. My second slammed me into a barrier, splintering my rear bumper. My third had me fishtailing in a panic, trying to regain some control and get back on the right track.
The fourth, the fifth, the sixth… I learned.
DiRT 3 isn’t about blitzing down streets at ridiculous speeds. Even inching your speedometer into the 80s is considered an achievement in game. No, the joy in DiRT is found in each turn. Cutting the gas and then kicking in at just the right spot on a hairpin. Easing into a soft right without cutting yourself too close for the upcoming left. Just knowing that every turn I am a slip from utter disaster makes these moves thrilling, where in other racing games I might be scoping out the other cars or hitting the turbo boost.
The game makes every learning step as easy as possible. In the difficulty settings there are driving aides of several types. I didn’t use anything that handled control for me, but I did use the default learning aides: A voice telling me what turns were coming up and a line on the road showing the most efficient route and where to slow down. While the voice annoyed me at first, I soon came to listen and set up my approach in advance. These tools help the difficult driving to become second nature without breaking immersion.
And what a world this is to be immersed in! The track variety surprised me. In just the first few races, I traveled from country backroads to Kenya’s sweltering hills, from abandoned buildings to icy slopes. Yes, the courses always felt natural, with spectators moving out of the way as we approached and features of the environment coming into play. Don’t underestimate what a stretch of gravel or asphalt can do to change the feel of a race.
That variety extends to the race types. There are one-on-one Rallys where each car follows its own track, crossing over each other. There are chaotic eight-car races, all on the same track. And there are single-lane races where each car follows the next and is graded on time. And several more. I liked all the race types, but the Gymk Hana stunt events did not appeal to me at all.
All is not dirt roads and sunshine, though. The unskippable tutorial voiceover in the menus is frustrating and annoying. The speakers fawn over the player for far too long, and while they speak, advancing to the next race is impossible. It took what felt like five minutes just to get into a race the first time, and that left a sour taste on my tongue.
Also, despite the variety, the single player game doesn’t have a very long campaign. The progression is technically there as I win event after event and unlock sponsors and cars, but in just a few hours I had nearly beaten three quarters of the events. I didn’t feel like I was progressing to a more difficult series of events, either, which put a damper on my motivation. Multiplayer might add more replayability, but this game only has about a hundred active players at any time, which makes that difficult.
Verdict: 3 hours in. Worth a play, might even come back to it. I beat all but the Gymk Hana type events in the Dirt Tour.