previews\ Apr 28, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Dirt 3


It's sometimes easy to dilute a racing game to its basic core. Gran Turismo and Forza can be reduced to a "gas, break, and turn" concept, for example. But making a racing title that is more than middle generics is a skill that developers have to mine and exploit. Enter Dirt 3, the latest in the franchise and a game that hopes to adequately bridge the gap between the first game and the second.

For those who don’t remember, the original Dirt was a simulation-heavy rally car racing game. The sequel pushed the game in an “XTREME” stylistic direction, and it was criticized for an overly strong arcade feel. Dirt 3 aims for a fine line between the two. With Dirt 3’s new focus on reaching a middle ground between the technicality of the first game and the rush of the second, the game feels new.

The most important addition is the element of gymkhana. A style of extreme drift racing, gymkhana is a secondary focus of the traditional rally car racing, sending specially built cars sliding left and right through specialized trick courses. It would be an understatement to say that gymkhana is only a small part of Dirt 3; rather, it's an integral component of the game.

For example, the actual physics have been completely changed to better suit this style of driving. Rally cross has never been a racing genre known for solid grip and control, but Dirt 3 takes this drifting mechanic to the extreme. Normal races have cars flinging themselves back and forth across the course, while gymkhana has specially designed ones that can control better while drifting than they can in a straight line.

Multiplayer is a big focus of the game, and Dirt 3 has some of the most unique modes available. First and foremost, the traditional online and split-screen races will be immensely popular for rally cross aficionados. This isn’t just limited to the traditional races, taking place everywhere from snowy Finland, the downtown Los Angeles Coliseum, sunny Kenya, and all across the world.

Trailblazer sends cars down undefined racing tracks, while other races focus on custom-designed off-road trucks. There’s enough variety in the basic racing mode, with the various weather (snow is new), race types, the 100+ tracks and the multitude of cars to keep racing fans happy.

Since gymkhana is a major new addition to Dirt 3, multiplayer will heavily integrate into this mode. Firstly, a two-player competitive mode includes brightly colored pylons, Styrofoam blocks, and drifting areas that reward players for their specialized tricks. This is basically a score attack mode requiring two players to outdo each other in gymkhana tricks.

Gymkhana also makes an appearance in the more competitive multiplayer modes. At least three of these modes place up to eight players in an arena, allowing them to slip, slide, drift, spin, and smash around in a small, enclosed area. Outbreak is a mode in which the drifting arenas will have cardboard pop-ups of robots and city buildings. Up to eight players can race, knocking over robots while avoiding the buildings. It’s a fun mode, one that gets chaotic with all 8 players.

Finally, there's Transporter, a gymkhana version of capture the flag. Four teams of two have to race around the stages to collect a flag. Once these are collected, all it takes for another player to steal the flag is to ram into you, so once eight cars are piled up in a mess, the flag will jump from player to player. If players can get the flag to a drop-off location, they earn a point.

The multiplayer experience of Dirt 3 looks solid and enjoyable. The hardcore and realistic modes have traditional racing and standard gymkhana tracks, but once you add the arena modes in multiplayer, things can go crazy. With Dirt 3 coming out May 24, it's only a matter of time before players can make the experience their own.

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