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DiRT 3

Pure, unadulterated filth...

The problem with naming your rally game after a particular type of terrain is that it can end up being a little restrictive.

The first two DiRT games were very much focused on the brown, mucky stuff, arguably to the detriment of other plucky rally surfaces. But no more: finally the series has become equal opportunities and, as a result, there's going to be much more variety in the ground you're speedily chewing through this time around.

The biggest addition is snow, lost since the last of the pre-DiRT McRae games, but back with an icy vengeance this time around. In spite of studded tyres, which offer more grip than you'd expect in this slippy-slidy ice world, the sub-zero stages are likely to be DiRT 3's most challenging proposition.

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As if the actual stage itself wasn't tough enough, stray off the course and you'll hit deformable snowdrifts that will cause drag on any tyres that get dipped and further slow your progress.

And once you're just about comfortable with careening down the side of a mountain like a bobsled that's decapitated its driver, DiRT 3 will ask you to do the same thing. But at night. And during a blizzard. Your vision will be limited depending on how many extra headlights you've stuck to the bonnet and corners will appear all the more quickly. Similarly, you'll be scrambling through rainstorms, which use and improve on already impressive technology borrowed from the Formula

One 2010 development team. Handling on waterlogged gravel will be completely different from the dry stuff. The idea is that, even though DiRT 3 will have three times as many rally stages as DiRT 2, mixing up the time of day and the weather conditions will keep things fresh when you inevitably have to return to a location during the career.

DIRTY DEALS
The other thing bound to add to the variety on offer is the huge selection of rally vehicles, spanning decades of driving far too fast along narrow forest tracks. Every major era of rallying is represented, with our favourites being the Group B monsters like the Audi Quattro S1, Metro 6R4 and Ford RS200, which were justifiably banned because the drivers kept flying off the road at ludicrous speeds and coming back in hundreds of tiny, lightly charred pieces.

Fortunately, with the aid of flashback, those consequences are removed, so you're free to misbehave. Because the garage is more fleshed out this time around, when you head into an event in a car from a particular era, you'll be competing against other cars from that time period, rather than just a random jumble - and rightly so. The stages are a more classic rally selection this time. Iconic locations such as Monte Carlo, Finland and Kenya are present and correct and the only place that doesn't seem to have made the cut is Wales. Of the lot, Monte is the most tantalising: a mix of tarmac, ice and snow as you try and avoid tumbling down a mountainside.

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EXTREME FILTH
The extreme sports stuff hasn't been binned, though, and you'll find official X-Games courses from Los Angeles and Aspen, plus all the cars that the current crop of US drivers tool around in.

We had a chance to get some time behind the wheel with an early version of the game to try out the new handling model. There was an immediate feeling of greater weight to the car, making its behaviour more predictable when pitching it into slides, but they remain just as snappy and responsive as you'd expect highly tuned (and highly expensive) rally machines to be.

Codies reckons this is going to be their biggest racing game yet, and the associated stats are already suitably impressive: there are over 100 routes, compared to DiRT 2, and apparently the game will have the biggest selection of cars of any of the previous games, McRae versions included. The US-centric gearshift that the series initiated with DiRT and solidified with DiRT 2 divided fans and the third game is a conscious attempt to bring the new and traditional audiences together.

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