Dirt 3 - Gymkhana Uncovered

By Matt Bailey and Richard Pilot


The Event

Friday 8th April was a surprisingly hot day in London, but instead of heading to the lush green grass of one of the capital's parks Richard Pilot and Matt Bailey found themselves in the dusty concrete surroundings of the disused power station at Battersea. The reason; Codemasters' "Gymkhana Uncovered" event to promote the upcoming launch of the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC off-road racer Dirt 3. World Rally Championship and YouTube star Ken Block brought along his Ford Fiesta RS to show off his skills amongst the scaffolding, skips and trucks that made up the makeshift course in front of the power station, mirroring the DC Compound available in the game. We have some photos of Ken's antics below.

Dirt 3 at Battersea Power Station Dirt 3 at Battersea Power Station Dirt 3 at Battersea Power Station Dirt 3 at Battersea Power Station Dirt 3 at Battersea Power Station Dirt 3 at Battersea Power Station Dirt 3 at Battersea Power Station Dirt 3 at Battersea Power Station Dirt 3 at Battersea Power Station

In addition to getting sprayed with gravel from Ken's Fiesta, we also got an extensive hands-on experience of the game, and gleaned some information from the Q&A session. We've put together a summary of the new facts alongside our thoughts in the preview below.

Preview

Gymkhana is set to be one of the more exciting additions to Dirt 3, it’s an exciting mix of drifts, 180s, donuts and jumps set within an urban environment, for a sneak peak take a look at the trailer at . Whilst we didn’t get to fully experience the event itself, we did get to check out the DC Compound, a practice arena of sorts where you get to try out the various moves and tricks that will be required of you in the main event. Set around Battersea Power Station, an area that fans of the previous game will be all too familiar with, the DC Compound mode gives you freedom to roam around and work on your skills. There are three areas to the compound and we got to try our hand at one of them. The game was a little too hands off in this mode, offering almost no support to the players, it encouraged you to figure out the objectives yourself with the actual details hidden away in the menu system. How much this will appeal to the fans is dependant on how much assistance they need. Control freaks will love the discovery aspect of this mode, completing missions by merely driving around the area, but those who would like to be directed a little more (such as myself) will constantly find themselves hitting the menu button.

That said, there was a surprising amount to do with a large range of objectives for you to complete. This ranged from the simple: perform a donut around object X, to the more tricky: slalom between the two posts, maintaining a speed of more than 30 mph. There were also hidden packages to find and statistics based missions to complete (e.g. drive more than a certain distance). All in all, we’re excited to see what this new mode has to offer us, the event offering something new that we haven’t seen before in other racing games. If the Gymkhana events themselves could be a little more direct in focusing our attention then Dirt 3 is on to a winner.

The EGO engine has taken another step up as these screenshots demonstrate

The EGO engine has taken another step up as these screenshots demonstrate

While there are plenty of impressive new modes to talk about in Dirt 3, one thing many fans wanted to know about in this sequel was "What about rallying?". Well, from early on Codemasters had been promising there would be a greater focus on the discipline in this game compared to Dirt 2. This was reemphasised at the event, and part of this push includes the return of snow driving in Finland, as well as rain thanks to the efforts of Codemasters on the EGO engine for F1 2010. Varying conditions make for exciting rallies, and, with a wide range of events promised, we remain hopeful that rallying will be back at the forefront in Dirt 3.

While we didn't get to see Finland, we did get to try out a rally in Kenya, scattering dust and dirt with the Mikko Hirvonen's Ford Fiesta RS WRC across baking African roads. Handling felt similar, but this is certainly not something we have complained about before, and the twists and turns felt just as engaging. The track felt more natural and open than in the past; there was quite a lot of room to go wide, unless you fell off one of the numerous cliff edges. The Kenyan desert was captured beautifully, and there was a nicer sheen to the game even if the improvements are less noticeable than in the previous version.

Further concessions to the rallying crowd include many classic rally events, encompassing the best of the sport from the 1960s through to the present day. A variety of World Rally cars of previous decades were confirmed at Battersea, including the classic Mini Cooper, Fiat 131 Abarth, a 1970s Ford Escort, Ford Sierra RS500, Ford Escort RS Cosworth, Audi Quattro, Metro 6R4, and the more recent Ford RS200. All that remains to be seen is whether the events provide enough variation and depth to keep the fans happy after the relatively lightweight selection in Dirt 2.

Split-screen racing returns in Dirt 3

Split-screen racing returns in Dirt 3

At the Battersea event we got to try some of the multiplayer modes that Dirt 3 has to offer. First up was multiplayer rallying. There was the option to race head-to-head or through a staggered start like traditional rallying. Also unveiled was Dirt 3’s collection of multiplayer games, dubbed ‘party mode’. This added a collection of game modes that are typically reserved for a first person shooter.

‘Transporter’ (aka capture the flag) sees you collecting flags that are randomly spawned throughout the arena. Bumping into the flag carrier will see the ownership transfer to you. This means that matches are frantic sessions where everyone chases after the flag carrier trying to bump him. ‘Outbreak’ mode is essentially a game of tag. One driver becomes infected at the start of the match and must infect the others by bumping into them, this infects that player and they both then chase down the remainder of the players. Once infected, your car as well as your heads-up display (HUD) turns green and you get to see the locations of the remaining players in the game. The final mode we got try was ‘Invasion’. Cardboard cut outs of robots and skyscrapers begin spawning in the game. Taking down the robots adds to you score and its a race to rack up points.

All of these modes can be played cooperatively in teams or individually and we had a blast playing them. The game will support eight players in these modes over Xbox Live or System Link. They all had a sense of fun and its nice to see a new take on multiplayer driving. We can’t wait to play more when the game is released next month.

Also welcome was the return of split-screen multiplayer, something we haven't seen in a Codemasters racing game since the days of the PlayStation 2. It will be possible to take part in Gymkhana with 2 people on the same console, and you can also race against each other in a head-to-head battle.

We were standing right about here

We were standing right about here

For those wanting to show the world their Gymkhana skills, or their stunning crashes in a rally, Codemasters are providing a new YouTube upload feature to Dirt 3. The series has long included visually impressive replays which you could save, but now you can produce a 30 second clip to put on Google's video-sharing website. You'll be able to adjust the speed of the action but the overall length will still be limited to 30 seconds. This, along with a maximum resolution of 480p for the clips, has been implemented to keep the bandwidth requirements low, encouraging more people to take advantage of it. On the other hand, those of us with faster broadband connections will just have to make do with a shorter wait times rather than a higher quality.

If Dirt 3 can successfully bring all these elements together then we probably have the best racing game of 2011. But if it fails to live up to its promises, then fans may look elsewhere in future. We're rather hopeful, and a little excited, that the final game will demonstrate as much fun as we had at Gymkhana Uncovered.

Dirt 3 is out on the 24th May on the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.

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