It's no secret that I'm the kind of person that tends to spend a bit too much money on new technology. Not because I got this burning need to always have the latest and coolest, but because I simply find it exciting. Because of this I'm quite used to a game world where most companies present their latest offerings in HD.
Despite this I was almost struck breathless when I started up Dirt 3 for the first time. It was almost like Codemasters had invented a way of getting even more pixels through the HDMI-cable. I don't often start my reviews by talking about the graphics, but in this case I have to make an exception - it's hard not to be impressed with the way Dirt 3 looks from the very first second. And the graphics work great together with the British developer's usual flair for great menus and presentation.
This time around, Codemasters have chosen to skip their usual mix of the career mode and menus, that's been their trademark in most of their racing games, and instead go for a more traditional menu system. It's not as immersive as before, despite the fact that you're still kept company by your agent, your mechanic, professional drivers and everything in between. Even with this more normal way of doing menus, we're still dealing with a demonstration of good design and while the menus look cool they are still easy to use - many other developers in the genre could learn a lesson or two from Dirt 3.
The available categories range from all kinds of different rally types, which means you can race your way through everything from standard WRC, Group B and Super Rally to variants like Rallycross, Trailblazer, Landrush and the newcomer Gymkhana. A nice option is that you often have the option to race in cars from a certain time period and though a Ford Focus RS seldom disappoints, it's quite special to drive a Toyota Celica GT-Four and see why it's known as a rally legend.
The addition of Gymkhana is a breath of fresh air and allows you to take part in the insane trick driving that's been made so popular by driver Ken Block. You drive around on smaller tracks, filled with various jumps, powerslides and things to run over and destroy - while being timed, of course. The order you're supposed to do things are usually set in advance, so it's not only your driving skills that are being tested, but also your ability to memorize details and to keep yourself focused under pressure.
The controls are one of the things that Codemasters have always been good at - they are simply one of the best in the world when it comes to car physics, like the weight of the different cars, and how to translate that to whatever controller you're using. The cars act exactly as you'd expect them to, and it doesn't matter if you manage to save yourself from crashing into a wall or send yourself flying over a cliff; there's never any doubt whose fault it was. If everything goes completely to hell, you still have the option to reverse time and hopefully save yourself on your second try.
Reversing time will come in handy, especially now when things like night driving and snow have been added to the series. They make a huge difference on the game; you can instantly feel how much snow is on the track and you don't have the skid many centimeters into it before a disaster awaits you. It can, in itself, turn an entire track into a battle. The night driving makes the tracks you thought you knew into mad, paranoid dashes where you constantly have to remind your brain to keep the gas pressed despite the fact that you can't actually see the next turn far away in the distance.
I've previously mentioned how good Dirt 3 looks. It does have some of the best looking lighting effects I've ever seen and the particle effects on the water and snow hitting your windscreen look amazing. The snow actually ruins your vision if you end up behind an opponent so it's more than a simple graphical effect. Sadly some details are not as polished and can look odd when the rest of the graphical package is just so impressive.
It's quite obvious that Codemasters have wanted to make a game that on all accounts beats the rest of the genre, and that's something that they've partially succeeded with - more tracks, more challenges, more cars and in general more content than any other game in the series. It's also welcoming to newcomers and everybody should be able to play, and the focus is much more on simple entertainment and speed than rally-realism.
But despite the many qualities, there's no use in denying that most of the things in Dirt 3 are simply more polished versions of what we've seen before in Colin McRae: Dirt 2. That doesn't mean that Dirt 3 won't be able to grab you all over again, or that the polish isn't worth the money. But it's hard to escape the fact that the jump between Colin McRae: Dirt 2 and Dirt 3 is a lot smaller than what it was between Colin McRae: Dirt and Colin McRae: Dirt 2.
There's no doubt that Codemasters, once again, have put themselves on the rally-throne, because the developers simply know how to build a great rally game - more so than any other developer in the world. Because of this, their biggest competitor is themselves. If you've played the earlier games it will all come down to if you liked them and got an appetite for more of the same.