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DiRT 3: Real or ridiculous?

We get behind the wheel and go all Gymkhana

Like a hypnotic lava lamp or a busty girl on a trampoline, watching rally guru Ken Block doing Gymkhana at mental-miles-an-hour leaves us hopelessly transfixed.

What's Gymkahna? Only the sexiest thing motorsport has to offer. It's got it all: 180 degree spins, 360 degree spins, parking boxes, figure 8s and death-defying weaves. And no-one does it quite like Ken.

In fact, when Codemasters projects Block's latest Gymkahna run on the wall at its latest DiRT 3 event and puts it on loop, it immediately stuns us into an aghast, unsociable stupor.

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It's mesmerising. Like Jimi Hendrix pulling dive bombs on his guitar, playing the thing with his teeth and exploiting feedback like no-one else had quite managed before, Block manages to move a box on four wheels in ways that we still don't understand. It almost doesn't look real.

Imagine how we feel, then, when we sit down with DiRT 3's brand new Gymkhana Mode. Where do we start?

Our virtual arena is Battersea Power Station - or at least a playground of poles, cones, trucks, cranes and scaffolding just in front of it - and our weapon is Ken's own Gymkhana-ready Ford Fiesta rally car.

With the main objective of simply sliding and slaloming around littered objects - and away from the jaws of death - we begin with what we know best; a couple of handbrake turns here, a drift or two there. Trouble is, it's not quite as easy as super-cool Ken makes it look. Ten minutes in, and we're were still no nearer to looking anything close to cool.

Gymkhana is pretty easy to do, just near-impossible to do well. Not only do you need to be thinking one step ahead - moving seamlessly from one petrol-pumped pirouette around a pole to a 360 drift around two dustbins - you need to have full control over a car that handles completely differently to something you'd take onto a regular track.

That 'feel' is something that Codemasters is desperate to nail. Real-life, no-fooling rally driver Kris Meeke has been a part of the Codies DiRT 3 team for the duration of the game's development; helping pump the physics of the title with real-world knowledge. This isn't just a blanket 'realism' formula applied to every car either. Meeke tells us that every rally car has unique handling qualities - and they've all been painstakingly recreated.

Block's Gymkhana car, for example, has to be able to maintain momentum as it glides between cones and under trucks. It has to execute turning circles that would seduce a spinning top. We're not mechanically-minded enough to tell you how the real car is tuned to do this, but we sure has sugar can tell you how that tuning felt in-game.

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Block's Fiesta is quick. Really quick. Ken reckons it can get from 0-to-60 in two seconds flat, which is a key part of all these rally acrobatics.

DRIFTING AWAY
It's also super drifty (there's our technical knowledge again). You probably wouldn't want to take this baby on a rally track because she's just so sensitive. That's important, because drifting in continuous circles around a crane, for example, is all about approaching at the right trajectory; nipping into the drift at the right angle at the right time.

If we're honest, we spend a lot of our play time crashing. Sometimes we crash side-first into scaffolding because we misjudged our drifty donut; sometimes we crash head-on into a pole because we mistime a turn around a post; and sometimes we crash because just we're going so damn quick.

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