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Dirt 3 sets out its stall for the future. However, it's the sense that this game knows what's important and where it has come from that gives it a real sense of soul.
Codemasters' rally franchise isn't the first game you'll think of if you are after an experience with more soul. After all, it's just a driving game, how engaging can it really be?
But I've become rather fond of the series. Back in 2007 the originally Colin McRae Rally had to come to terms with the tragic 2007 death of the McRae. Then more recently it needed to respond to the dramatic fall off in interest for the World Rally Championship on which it was based.
It's been through the wars somewhat. But through it all those point-to-point challenges have been delivered one way or another. I've yet to find another racing game that offers the knife edge of risk-reward with as much finesse as Dirt.
Dirt 3 sees the series equip itself for the future. Extreme sports and social networking are as much the order of the day as is new star of rallying Ken Block. With all this the series inevitably feels more American and more, well, extreme.
Along with Block himself, Dirt 3 also pulls in his Gymkhana invention. This is a cross between monster truck derbies and drift racing. You essentially have to race ever faster and ever closer to dangerous obstacles -- and it's as much about style as it is about speed.
It has plenty of soul still left in it.
Before I played the game I was concerned that this influx of exuberance and showmanship would submerge the delicately balanced game at the heart of it all. This style was previously left to other titles, and I was happy the Dirt had kept its distance. Thankfully though, Dirt 3 again shows that it has plenty of soul still left in it. There is as much continuity with its history as there is discontinuity in service of the new.
You see, anyone who knows Dirt 3 (who has invested real time with it) will know that it isn't about the Gymkhanas and outlandish vehicles. Where the game shows its true colours is in the well structured campaign mode -- where you get to do the real rallying.
This may have a veneer of dance-music and extreme branding, but the simple challenge of man vs machine vs countryside is as clear as ever. The only shame is that for those who haven't tracked closely with the game, this may well signal an all together different experience -- more like Motorstorm or Need for Speed. Play it for even half an hour though and it is clear that Dirt 3 is nothing like that.
Just when the flash-back second chances and plethora of driving assist threaten to undo Dirt's reputation, the game kicks the difficulty up a notch and things get more serious. The soul of the game is the same as ever: the unshakable demand that the player learn real rallying techniques: smooth bends, tight corners, late braking and a delicate throttle finger are all essential.
I still relish the thought of paying my dues for another year.
After playing it for a while I am reminded of time gone by, and evenings spent chipping away at a particular course's time. There aren't many games that I've tracked with like this, and I still can't quite tell you why Dirt 3 has had such staying power. Perhaps it comes down to the soul of the game - that even in the face of a flagging audience and a lost mascot Dirt has carried its commitment to realistic rallying. It's a game you need to respect to really enjoy, and I for one still relish the thought of paying my dues for another year.
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