Dirt 3 is by far the best racing game to hit consoles this year, period.  Shift 2 certainly delivered up the goods, but it’s the rally element that makes Dirt 3 feel like you’re driving by the seat of you pants.  The often narrow confines of a rally track, coupled with the nearness of immovable objects and a loose and varied racing surface all come together to deliver a racing experience like no other and as per usual, Codemasters prove they are the supreme experts when it comes to racing, and the Dirt series delivers it’s best installment ever with number three.

The driving in Dirt 3 is scarily responsive and the different locations, cat types and circuits all effect the handling in unique ways.  Slide out of a gravel corner onto tarmac on a rally cross course and you’ll feel – and hear – the difference as the tires come to grips with a different surface.

Knowing when and how to break becomes a real necessity as races will be won and lost on your ability to achieve the fastest line and keeping you car facing the right direction – and avoiding those immovable objects.

Throw in the ability to racing inside the car and the game becomes a nightmare for novice drivers.  Take off from the grid on a snow bound course in an open buggy whilst in cockpit view and you’ll experience whiteout as the competitor drivers kick up a snowstorm.  Race through the night in Kenya and you’ll realise just how important headlights are.  Catch up to a competitor in the same nighttime race, and you’ll have to deal with the clouds of dust reflecting the light from your headlights.

Race the same track in the daytime and you’ll have to be careful you don’t get distracted by the stunning vistas and the setting sun.  Not only does Dirt 3 handle exceptionally well, it also looks superb.

Racing with a set of Turtle Beach X41’s will deliver the best audio experience in any driving game – and it’s not just because of the headphones.  Dirt 3 looks, sounds and handles like a rally game should.  But it’s more than just the roar of the engine and the scattering of gravel, you’ll even hear the crowd as they yell out depending on how you’re driving.  It really is a fully immersive experience.

But then you cross the finish line.

Codemasters have decided to leave the RV at home, and do away with a real human – ok, animated character – telling you how good you were and what you need to do next.  In Dirt 3 you just get a voice over.  Well, more that one, but it gets old real quick and irritating real fast.

The menu system is interesting, utalising a triangle theme that works quite well, allowing you to progress through each season by accumulating points.  Points also unlock cars, and each car has bonus points associated with them, so rather than finding a car you really like, you’re almost forced to drive the one offering the most points so you can level up faster.

The game is more rally focussed this time, with a variety of rally disciplines and the inclusion of truck and buggy racing to add some spice.  It’s nice to have the variety, and the challenge of different types of vehicle to master.

But then there’s the obsession with Gymkhana.

Gymkhana – also known as ‘car rodeo’ – is a very technical type of motorsport that is becoming increasingly popular.  It’s pretty much and obstacle course that will see you – at least attempting to –  perform jumps, drift under truck trailer units, through gates, around obstacles of various sizes, perform 360 degree spins in areas little bigger than your car and knock over targets.

I love driving games.  I love racing point to point or on  circuit.  I can master most cars and courses or circuits to some degree.  What I can’t do – and neither do I want to do – is tightly controlled drifting and car based party tricks.

I don’t mind the inclusion of Gymkhana as a discipline, but when it becomes an essential element to progressing through a racing game, it bugs the crap out of me.

In your third season, you’ll be offered sub-disciplines to prove your worth.  Win these multi-phase events and you’ll become to champion of that discipline.  Awesome.  This is something I can nail.  The first one offered to me was Land Rush.  After two events, each with five longer than usual races, I had qualified for the final.  You guessed it, the final event of this Land Rush discipline was Gymkhana.  I wasted an evening making sure I came out on top of two big events, only to be screwed in the final.

The inclusion of Gymkhana as a necessity to progress through Dirt 3 is worse than Codemasters instance that a flimsy road-sign can stop dead a rally car traveling at top speed.

If the rest of Dirt 3 wasn’t the best damned driving experience ever, I’d have thrown it in the bin because of Gymkhana.  As it is, I’m going to continue kicking up clouds of dust and see how far I can progress without having to master the art of spinning your car around and around and around and around.

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