Previews

DiRT 3: A masterclass in driving thrills?

Gymkhana anyone?

If there was one downside to 2009's Dirt 2 it was the dilution of the rallying on which the series was first founded. Too many side-events - slow truck racing and foam block-smashing trials - tainted the broth.

Codemasters wants to make amends, and they've revealed they're doing so with 60%. Sixty percent pure rallying, that is.

Well over half of Dirt 3 is set aside for old-school-style rallying action. On the wane last year, it's back with a vengeance this, and thanks to the inclusion of rain and snow it's rallying that will outclass anything seen in the already stellar series to date.

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It's also worth mentioning that Dirt 3 is a much bigger game than its predecessor so, when you whip out the calculator and plug in the figures, 60% of Dirt 3 equates to well over three times the rallying content of the last racer. Them's the kind of numbers we like...

While Dirt 3 has pinched F1 2010's weather effects, claims that the precipitation models are the same aren't quite true. In F1 it was conceivable to start a race in the dry, see the heavens open on the third lap and then paddle past chequered flag after a full-blown monsoon.

Dirt 3's tracks don't really lend themselves to that type of evolving cloudburst, so each event has a fixed and unwavering weather setting attached to it.

Cleverly, however, believable meteorological patterns can be fudged in the multi-race campaign events. It's possible to race the first track of a country - say, Finland - on a cloudy morning, tackle the second in a downpour at around noon and experience a dusk race to close the series in lighter drizzle once the bigger clouds have passed.

These day-long events are exciting stuff, even if the weather evolution is a bit of a cheat, but the most exciting effect of all is the promise of the crunchy deformable snow and ice in Norway. The heavier it gets, the more you'll struggle and if you venture off the track your tyre grooves will become packed with powder.

To help nudge the game back closer to its roots somewhat, some of the other 'kookier' modes have all been toned down if not dropped altogether.

Gatecrasher is one such mode to have suffered the chop, while the branching route Raid races have now been transplanted onto standard rally tracks.

Bulky buggies and vans have all been shrunk to avoid the Big Mother Trucker feel, so you'll no longer be trailblazing with something more suited to lugging heavy goods across Europe.

NO LIMITS
If it all sounds a little calmer than usual, it's really not. Dirt 3 is still in-your-face exhilarating with car-on-car scrapes, violent twangs and mudsplosive jumps, bumps and skids packed into every minute. And if that's not insane enough for your tastes it also comes complete with a debutant mode unlike anything seen before: the gymkhana discipline.

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Gymkhana is Dirt 3's one super-crazy inclusion and balances out all the zaniness lost from the axed elements, plus adds buckets more. It's essentially what happens when you construct the world's best skatepark for a trick-enabled car, complete with ramps for jumps and obstacles for other stunts.

There are a few gymkhana zones but the DC Compound - set in and around the decommissioned Battersea Power Station - is your main hub. It's Lara Croft's Croft Manor designed for a Ford Fiesta, one that grows bigger the further your press into Dirt 3.

It's filled with secret spots and hidden packages, and it's possible to invite other racers into your playground to mess around with and to play games like Capture the Flag.

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