We've recently gotten the wonderful news that Dirt 3 will be moving from Games for Windows Live to Steamworks, so that previous DLC exclusive to GFWL will be moving over to a more standard platform. Whether or not you care about GFWL, here's a review I thought was appropriate given that this will be a kind of re-release of the game.
I'm not an everyday racing fan, and previous Gran Turismo titles I picked up for PS2 left me wondering what the big deal was. It's a bunch of cars, on a road, and they handle pretty much like they would in real life. I think Codemasters was thinking the same thing when they started making the Dirt series, because it thumbs its nose at, and generally likes to show up sedate tarmac racing games at every turn. Dirt 3 is what a sequel should be, the culmination of 1 and 2. It's more than a great racing game - it's just a great game.
This is mostly because Dirt, as an offroad rally racer, constantly switches up track types, terrain types, car types, weather, basically everything it can, and it all affects how you drive. First, you have to learn how drifting on dirt feels different in a four wheel drive versus a two wheel drive. Then, once you've gotten used to dirt, you'll get to a track with half tarmac. Once you're used to switching up between road types... it starts snowing.
All this with the sort of split-second timing and attention to detail in cornering that I thought was reserved for Super Meat Boy because, whereas in most racers you're trying to squeeze alongside a car that won't let you on either side of it, here it's just you and a diabolically twisted dirt road. The handling is as tight as it could possibly be, and, amazingly, it works equally well for the car-circus-performance Gymkhana events as it does on point-to-point dirt roads. I realized somewhere in the middle of Finland that shaving a half second off of that track felt exactly like getting a top grade in a platformer, but with turning instead of jumping. For my money, if it's a really tough track, that's one of the best feelings you get playing a game.
You've got to learn how to drift at the right time, in the right car, and when not to be showy and just brake and turn. Get a car type you like, then learn it. Offroad racing here doesn't mean uncivilized chaos with buggies, semis, and jeeps careening past each other. It means your only task is to master the track, and any road in the world is fair game. There are rules, but it's stripped racing of the clinical sheen that F1 or Nascar brings to mind, and just throws you off the Indiana tarmac into the wild. You'll be racing point to point through Kenya, with the African sun blazing on the horizon, then in the next event your car will take on snow during a Finnish winter. I don't have to tell you how pretty it looks - just look at the screenshots.
Then, in your first Gymkhana final, try not to squeal with glee when you place gold for a triple pirhouette you pulled off more gracefully than a Russian dancer.