Now that it seems every new racing game comes strapped with a super-sized gimmick on its hood -- think Split/Second's catastrophic takedowns or Blur's real-world Mario-Kart weapons -- a game that relies mostly on, you know, just racing seems almost like a quaint anachronism.
Not that Dirt 3, the latest iteration of the Series Once Known as Colin McRae Rally Racing, doesn't have a few tricks up its tailpipe. The game just chooses to backload them, forcing you to win and unlock several other race challenges before letting you drive your sponsored rally car through Gymkhana, an extreme! play mode that focuses more on executing jaw-spinning tricks than blazing past the competition. Specifically, you're rewarded for how tightly you can drift, turn donuts, fly off jumps and make sets of explosive crates go boom.
Clearly, that's where Dirt 3 begins to veer away from hard (and hardcore) driving sims like the Gran Turismo series, and closer to the gimmick pack. Other examples: Depending on which difficulty level you select, you're given a certain number of flashbacks, instances where you can rewind time, Prince of Persia style, and undo that hairpin turn you just totally botched. If, like a lot of virtual drivers, your drift and donut skills typically leave you kissing a tree or facing the wrong way on the course, driving assists like Tricksteer can make things a little smoother. And if you're really looking to drive on easy street, you can even opt to have the optimal driving angles show up as a neon trail on the course. It's great to have those options available, and ensures that clumsy drivers can still have a prayer of placing and raising their driving rep.
Dirt 3 spends most of its horsepower on first-rate presentation and social media-readiness. Whether you're drifting through the forests of Finland, slipping in the snow, or blazing the bleak and sludgy turns of a deserted oil refinery, you may find yourself missing the next mid-range curve while you're admiring the scenery. Oh, well -- at least you don't have to worry about a flaming skyscraper dropping on your grill while you do. And if you nail the turn, you're a click away from showing YouTube Nation what a rally beast you really are.