Codemasters undoubtedly has one of the best racing game development studios in the industry. With DiRT 3, and the help of the ever-improving EGO engine, the team has delivered what is unquestionably the most fun, stylish and gorgeous rally racer I've ever played. Numerous racing disciplines, an exhilarating sense of speed, the brand-new Gymkhana mode and a handling model that's hard to master make DiRT 3 a game fans of a good powerslide will find hard to resist.
Racing games might be struggling in the marketplace at the moment, but DiRT 3 drips with trendiness and manages to feel like rally racing while also being clearly influenced by the arcade racers of yesteryear. The relentless breakneck speed of DiRT 3 requires ninja-like reflexes and the concentration of an air traffic controller; your ears, eyes and fingers working in tandem to process co-driver instructions or glimpses of a road map and then react on the dirt, snow and tarmac as your car struggles for grip.
As you attempt to take every corner perfectly, shaving seconds off your best time or edging closer to a rival who started the stage a few fractions of a second ahead, you're only ever a twitch of the analogue stick from smashing head-first into a tree or rolling as your car catches a bank at the side of the road. Thankfully the rewind feature that Codemasters introduced in the first DiRT returns here, so you can travel back in time as if that horrific collision with a wall never happened - it also looks mighty cool.
Your DiRT 3 career will span four seasons (thankfully presented in a more streamlined fashion than the pseudo "being a rally driver" caravan seen in DiRT 2), each packed with race events that are unlocked as you earn reputation points and increase your overall driver level. Reputation points are awarded for your position in events, achieving specific bonus objectives (such as a certain top speed) and for any unused rewinds. Do well (and the various difficulty levels mean you should be able to progress even if you're not a racing expert) and you'll cruise through the opening season and then embark on tougher events and longer races.
Most of the excellent event types from DiRT 2 return, mixing classic rallying with racing: point-to-point Traditional Rally courses have you competing for the fastest times against opposition over numerous stages; Rallycross pits you against other drivers on the same circuit over a series of laps; Trailblazer puts you in a super-fast car that hugs the road as you attempt to guide it around a point to point course; and Head 2 Head has you competing against a single opponent on a course that's been designed so the cars cross paths at certain points.
The above events are all superb, offering some brilliant courses and thrilling high-speed racing. Less brilliant is the Land Rush event type, which switches vehicles to more robust buggies and trucks, and makes you race on bumpier courses. While these events add variety to DiRT 3, I'm not a fan; for me they seem at odds with the rest of the game, feeling more like what you'd find in a game from the MX vs. ATV series. If Codies hadn't included Land Rush, I wouldn't have even noticed it was missing.