Previews

DiRT 3: A masterclass in driving thrills?

Gymkhana anyone?

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It sounds like an odd inclusion - especially seeing as there's not a horse in sight - but after devoting well over an hour to the mode we can safely say that gymkhana is the best new feature in a Codemasters racer since Flashback.

Tearing around the gymkhana compounds and checking off the tricks in as fast a time as possible proves to be frighteningly addictive. More so than the Finnish rally that made up the other half of our hands-on demo, even.

TRICK AND TREAT
Every gymkhana course comes with a list of stunts to be completed in any order you choose. These come in three categories: Showpiece, Drifts and Donuts.

For the opening DC Compound course there are six tricks in total. First up are the Showpiece tricks. 'Airborne' is awarded to drivers who leap between two ramps while Blockbuster' is given to those who smash through all of the six foam blocks in the compound.

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As these blocks are lined up into two perpendicular rows of three it's possible, with immense skill, to smash all of them with a ridiculously well-judged hairpin turn in between some scaffolding that sees you hit each row with the side of your car.

'Trailer Trash' and 'Pipe Dream' make up the Drift challenges. 'Trailer Trash' involves skidding underneath a couple of trailers; 'Pipe Dream' demands you slide the whole way through two tunnels made from curving half-pipes.

Finally, Donuting means throwing your car sideways into a controlled donut and driving multiple rings around the same object. For 'Pole Dancer' that object's a lamppost. For 'Can You Dig It', it's a digger.

Like any new mode, it's tough at first. Really tough. And we don't mean working out the order in which to perform the tricks to string them into one stopwatch-busting blitz of glory, we mean just performing one of the stunts.

Complete control is necessary to stand a chance. Mastery of feathering the throttle and the ability to balance the steering is a must. It becomes second nature with time, but we can foresee a situation where some people aren't willing to put in the hours to become one with their car first.

If you so much as even tap an object your stunt is invalidated and you need to begin all over again. Thankfully, Codies have a solution for those without spare time to practice. While the joy of gymkhana will ultimately come from learning the hard way and honing your skills until perfect, instant gratification can be earned by switching on assists.

With these aids activated the game will help you into a stunt and auto-correct slip-ups, so in the case of a Donut you'll get to pick how fast and how wide you want to spin, but the actual tricky job of keeping the donut going is taken out of your hands.

Whether you've used the helpers or you've put in the graft, successful completion of the gymkhana courses is going to result in some outrageously impressive footage. And for the first time YouTube integration will allow you to show the world what you've been getting up to by uploading a run onto the web.

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It's destined to be a great boon for a title that - with its new wealth of rallying content - is in pole position to take 2011's racing crown.

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