Getting Down and DiRTy with DiRT 3
It’s an absolutely miserable day in South Wales. Cold, grey, damp – the kind of dampness that seeps right through your skin and soaks your bones. The wind is a gale-force maelstrom that threatens to lift me from my feet every time I step outside. The litterbins that pepper the streets are jammed with broken, snapped umbrellas. It’s one of those days that I’m glad that I live in an age where I can do my grocery shop from the snuggly comfort of my sofa and that, for once, my work is coming to me for a change today. As crappy as the weather is today, at least I don’t have to trek across the country in it.
The UK’s media hub is, and probably always will be, London. I seem to spend half my life traipsing across the country for previews and events. As much as I genuinely love the place, that two-hour train journey home can feel much longer when it’s 11pm at night and the guy next to you won’t stop gawping at your cleavage. So imagine my palpable delight on hearing that there was a global event happening right on my doorstep – I repeat, RIGHT ON MY DOORSTEP, PEOPLE.
Which begs the question – what the hell were Codemasters thinking, selecting the wind-swept capital city of Wales for the unveiling of their latest project?
It’s because Cardiff hosts the prolific UK-leg of the World Rally Championships. And surely there’s possibly no better venue on earth to launch a rally game than the WRC?
Before I begin, I’ll admit that racing-stroke-rally-stroke-testosterone games? These are not necessarily my thing. I’ve grown up on an array of genres and don’t consider myself particularly closed-minded when it comes to trying something new, but as my father’s always had a thing for car games of any description, I figured I’d seen enough Colin McRae’s Rally to last a lifetime as a kid. That said, F1 2010 and Forza 3 aside, it’s been some time since I’d spent any time in the company of a driving sim. I hadn’t spent any quality time with the series-previously-known-as-Colin-McRae’s-Rally, but researching DiRT 2 prior to the event elicited a begrudging but lasting admiration for the series. To be frank, I expected to go to this event, feign polite interest, and type up a report about a pretty if predictable title and leave it at that.
I was wrong.
Words cannot express how beautiful this game is. I know; it’s cars and muds, right? Except … well, it’s not. The environments are breathtaking. The cars have been constructed with painful, pixel-perfect precision. The dev team itself spent time driving the cars themselves, getting to grips with the sights and sounds of a real off-road racing experience. Car handling and the physics thereof are painstakingly accurate, with every car feeling different in your hands, every camera shifting just slightly, accommodating each individual vehicle’s different bonnet height. Throughout the day movies played footage of behind-the-scenes mayhem, cameramen stood on teeny platforms as real life, frightening-ass rally cars circle around them, just inches from their kneecaps. And to be honest? In this line of work we meet a lot of developers and designers, from the big boys multi-nationals to the small but perfectly formed indie companies, but I rarely meet a team this committed and this passionate about the work that they do. Seriously. Their enthusiasm was palpable. “DiRT 3 is bred from experience, insight and passion” stated Brand Manager Edd Newbury Robson, and I’m utterly convinced that that’s true … not least because a lot of that passion and experiences comes from the very fanbase itself.
I won’t attempt to break this down into the technicalities: one, I’m not versed with the previous titles, so can’t usefully provide a comparison, and; two, my performance in each segment that I played was abysmal – and by abysmal, think deranged-person-with-no-legs-and-no-spatial-awareness-driving-from-the-passenger-seat abysmal. But what I will say is that as a new recruit sampling the pre-alpha code, I nevertheless enjoyed the hands-on time that I had, and whilst I found the game a tad unforgiving for newbies to begin with, I did warm up to the nuances of the control scheme by the time I had to hand back the controller.
What I can tell you, however, is that the game will boast party modes (up to eight players), head-to-head, split-screen multiplayer, and the facility to upload and share your most awesome (or most awful) videos directly to YouTube. There are over 100 different routes across several different stages – including Norway, Kenya and Finland to name but three – and you can select from a huge selection of souped-up vehicles, including this year’s and next’s official WRC cars.
But that’s not all. For the first time DiRT features Gymkhana, where gamers can “test their car control to the very limit and drift, spin-dry and jump their way to stardom in all new Gymkhana events.” The YouTube sensation, devised and endorsed by the legendary Ken Block, is essentially a huge, industrial playground for cars. Based on real-life environments and featuring props and ramps, Gymkhana gives you a chance to practice your technique and let your car show you exactly what it can do. (Which, in my case, was crash a lot. I can only assume you’ll be better at it than I was – I think DEAD CAMELS would be better at it than I was.)
The day ended at the Monster VIP Party where I met Justin Lee Collins and he called me treacle. GOOD TIMES. It also gave me the opportunity to put our, um, ‘goody’ bag into context; a quick glance around the party and a view of the ‘Monster Girls’ was all the explanation required for a bag that contained a half-naked chicks calendar (which bizarrely had no dates) and a Monster condom (yeah, really). Polite note: yes, the gaming industry is still chiefly a sausage factory, please remember that not all gaming media are dudes!
DiRT 3 is scheduled for a Q2 2011 release. As always, we’ll keep you posted.
A big thanks to Andy G. and Codemasters for their hospitality. (Glad we got you to the Coal Exchange – albeit via detour – in the end!)