Dirt 3

The words “off-road racing” and “conservative” seldom appear in the same sentence, but that’s Dirt 3 in a high-octane nutshell. It bucks the conventions not just of its genre brethren, but also of previous entries: There are fewer vehicles (though thy garage will still runneth over) and also dramatically fewer event types. As a result, the “Dirt Tour,” or single-player campaign, is a more focused experience, though a less varied one that eventually loses momentum.

Mostly gone: the extreme-sport aesthetics, like the dune-buggy races. In their place: a strong emphasis on rally racing. Dirt 3 introduces other new events, like Head2Head, but even that is a modified version of rallying—only you race multiple times in the same course against one other driver. Since Dirt 3 carefully straddles the line between an arcade racer and a sim, though, the AI isn’t overly aggressive. Typically, once you volley for position and take a healthy lead, they aren’t a threat unless you spin out or crash.

Most of the tracks aren’t, either. Courses are plucked from exotic locales like Kenya, Finland, and Norway, as well as more familiar ones, like Michigan and the L.A. Coliseum. Stunning though they are, the best tracks don’t recreate real places. For example, one race takes place along a country road that segues into a dusty dirt path littered with rain puddles. Navigating so many different types of terrain is much tougher than an enduring snowy path.

But even the most trying challenge is short-lived. Expect to spend no more than two minutes anywhere. Why are the races so brief? Probably to encourage players to take advantage of their capacity to upload 30-second clips to YouTube, which you’re reminded of between every race by your manager and mechanic’s disembodied, almost parental voices. (“This is amazing! We’re so proud of you!” “Totally, dude! How’s it feel to be one of the big dogs on live TV?” goes one installment of blindly positive praise.)

The other big feature is gymkhana, an obstacle course for cars. It’s available both as an open-ended playground and as part of the campaign. But like the rallies, without meaningful variety around it, it all gets to feel familiar and repetitive by the third or fourth time around.

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