Can Codemasters break its run of 9/10 racing games and nail that perfect 10?
Codemasters make the best racing games. Fact. The reasons for this are simple: Its EGO engine is the best racing engine out there, providing the best graphics, the best crashes and the best manipulation of time. But more importantly, Codemasters understands the concept of the word 'race'. DiRT 3 takes that essence of competition, distils it and rubs it liberally into your console's aging circuitry, lighting it up with new excitement and adrenaline. Offline is as exciting as online racing - it is superb.
How is this accomplished? The impeccable car handling, the cleverly designed tracks, the undulating terrain that leaves you breathlessly clinging to something resembling control - everything comes together as a whole to create a frighteningly intense experience. It's akin to a festival mosh pit: a blur of knocks, mud and noise. You're walking a perfectly-strung tightrope as you throw the car into corners, deliberately wiping out the feeble tape barrier as you hunt for the real apex that lies beyond.
Cut it too fine and you'll clip a tyre wall, sending individually-rendered tyres flying into the sky along with your shattered vehicle. Fully-licensed bodywork warps and rips apart, sending familiar brand names flying through the air, catching the light from the sunset as they spin through the sky. GT5 isn't even in the same league as this – if DiRT 3 is the digital incarnation of the real-life X Games, GT5 is the 20p-a-go kiddy cart ring over by the hotdog stand.
Above: A screenshot taken while the game was being played. Nothing comes close to the EGO engine
Nowhere is this more obvious than during Codies' trademark ‘flashback’ feature, allowing you to rewind time at any point in the race before resuming at any point, turning spectacular wrecks into spectacularly well-taken corners. The game doesn’t even punish you too much for doing this - you’ll simply lose a little XP bonus at the end of the race. In case you haven’t seen it, let’s have an example of its brilliance in action:
The amazing thing is, these slow motion wrecks stand up to close scrutiny. Look carefully and you’ll see bodywork warping realistically as wheels clash with door panels, bending further with repeated impacts. And then there’s the snow drift flattening...
This detail even has an effect on gameplay, as tyres that appear to have survived more slight impacts wear down over time before giving up the ghost at the most inopportune moments, forcing you to drive defensively for the rest of the race, trying to preserve the place you hold instead of striving to advance up the order.
Above: Please note the brightness of these night race screens has been boosted for clarity's sake
It doesn't just happen to you, either - the AI cars can suffer blowouts too, often causing them to lose control and flip right in front of you. Look again at the pictures above and you'll see that's exactly what happened here.