Dirt 3 is so cocky that it features an opening “cinematic” that firmly dares you to doubt it. It’s a very, very short intro that features nothing more elaborate than a few lingering shots of the title card, accompanied by a tinny and entirely unmemorable dub-step ditty. The reasons for doing this are instantly unambiguous; we don’t need pyrotechnics, overbearing pop music and rapid-fire editing to win you over. The fact that an intro movie appears thirty seconds later featuring all of those things, doesn’t even unhinge the gesture. Dirt 3 is admirably concerned with perpetually cutting directly to the chase, and that latter piece of video aside, it’s a game that completely avoids badgering you with kaleidoscopic nonsense.

It’s also far more varied than games of this ilk often dare to be, with each racing discipline containing a surprisingly disparate assemblage of goals and tasks to complete. Once you’ve earned enough reputation points – a couple of victories should do it – you’re free to bounce around them pretty much at your own leisure. So if the nervy excitement of the rally time trials are a bit too intense for you – and on the tougher difficulty tiers, they may be – then you are always able to take a break and relax with a trip to the Gymkhana Festival at Battersea power station, in which you can do things like see how briskly you’re able to rack up three perfect donuts in quick succession.

As far as the threadbare “plot” is concerned, you’re spared the overly familiar struggle to reach the top of your field, and Dirt 3 starts you off as a hardened professional, replete with your own agent and hard-won contract. Dirt 2‘s on-the-fly tuning options are still here, and adapting your vehicle’s handling to the different types of terrain before each race only accentuates the sense of reward that you’ll feel when you cross the finish line in first place. There are still only six of these – Gear Ratio, Downforce, Suspension, Ride Height, Differential and Brake Bias – and each one has only a small handful of different variants, but it still strikes a perfect balance. Tuning-up is not too involved, but it isn’t an afterthought either. It’s just right.

You also don’t have to worry about raising funds to buy new cars – a genre trait that is now pretty much the standard, despite how effectively it leads your attention away from the actual racing – because the sponsors now present a selection of relevant vehicles to you before each race. F1 2010‘s marvellous shifting weather system has also been implemented, meaning that things like snow and rain now feature prominently. So whether you’re hammering around the Kenyan plains as sunset approaches, or awaiting a burst of the wet stuff in gloomy Battersea, Dirt 3 is never less than jaw-dropping to look it. The outstanding damage modelling – the best seen in any racing game to date – is the icing.

Staying true to the single player experience, the multiplayer component boasts an exceedingly generous amount of different gameplay options, and whilst you can always keep things serious and engage in eight player rally races or leaderboard-led time trials, there are quite a few rowdy party games on offer too. Outbreak’s riff on Zombie mode – which sees one player swerving around an arena in an attempt to infect everyone else – is such an inspired idea that you may wonder why it hasn’t been done before, but it’s the Capture The Flag offshoot Transporter that really scores highly; turning proceedings into a hilarious batch of aggressive smash ’em ups that call classics like the original PSOne game Destruction Derby to mind.

Dirt 3 is an authentic, hyper confident and endlessly rewarding racer that’s refreshing primarily because it doesn’t ever mess about. It’s the best game in the series by quite a substantial margin, and in a year that has already seen the release of two ambitious (and very successful) titles in the same genre – Need For Speed: Shift 2 and Test Drive Unlimited 2Dirt 3‘s downright virtuoso package is so invigorating that it may arguably be better than either. If you thought that Dirt 2 was pretty great – and it was – rest assured that Codemasters have trumped it in every conceivable department. Whether they can pull it off again with Dirt 4 is anyone’s guess, but there is so much content here that you won’t be anticipating another sequel for quite some time.

Watch the Dirt 3 trailer here:

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