We don't know quite how Codemasters managed it, but they seem to have burrowed into our brains and dug out everything we like about cars and racing.
The fascination with iconic rally cars from the '60s onwards; barrelling down a country lane as fast as we dare; or simply arsing about on an expanse of concrete in a car that we can thrash to death. Even the slightly overexposed visuals make it look like something from our dreams...
DiRT 3 could so easily have just wheeled out more of the same and - knowing how great the core mechanics of Codemasters' racers are - we would have lapped it up. As it turns out, they've delivered a superb evolution of the series, a heap of new ideas and easily the best racing game of 2011 so far.
It's also satisfying to see our past criticisms well addressed. Okay, so modern, in-your-face energy drinks and sports fashion sometimes feel a little incongruous when merged with a '60s classic car rallying around Monaco, but the "Woah, gnarly!" attitude has definitely been toned down in favour of a greater sense of professionalism.
The profession being, of course, rallying. Trucks and buggies still rear their heads (and still feel like DiRT 3's weakest suit). However, their presence has been reduced in favour of much more point-to-point rallying, Rallycross and Head 2 Head (better known as Super Special Stages) events in a much broader range of cars that we actually want to drive. While DiRT 2 had a distinctly modern range of vehicles, DiRT 3 allows you to test your mettle with a fantastic variety of motors - and the rapid-fire way the events unfold stops the gameplay from going stale. This has long been a speciality of Codemasters' racers, and hopping from behind the wheel of an Issigonis Mini to an 800-horsepower Pikes Peak Toyota Tacoma, then into
a Sierra Cosworth, means dull moments are simply not on the agenda.
BLOCK 'N' ROLL
We were impressed to see that DiRT 3 has introduced a number of new rally locations, too; what we assume are specially made events will now take place in spots such as Michigan, Aspen, Monaco, Kenya and Norway, and will reintroduce snow and night races to the mix. In all honesty, we would like to have seen a few more, but you need only look at the screenshots to see what an amazing job has been done; DiRT 3 looks consistently jaw-dropping.
There are no GT5 cut-out trees here - just stunning vistas across African savannas, grimy American saw mills or lush Norwegian forests. It's an absolute beauty.
Of course, it handles fantastically, too. With the combined expertise of Ken Block and IRC rally champ Kris Meeke on board, propelling a Group B rally beast around a course is as sublime as ever, and some of the higher-powered cars feel blisteringly quick. We still think it leans slightly more towards accessible handling than out-and-out simulation, but for feel and pace, DiRT 3 really is second to none.
Even after heaping on all this praise, we still haven't mentioned DiRT 3's brashest new feature: the Gymkhana events and the DC Compound. This automotive playground actively encourages four-wheeled hooliganism and allows you to ditch the bowler hat of rally caution and don the baseball cap of off-road recklessness.
The DC Compound is effectively a free-roaming area for you to practise donuts, jumps, spins and drifts without any repercussions before heading into the timed Gymkhana events in career mode. It's awesome fun that could only be made more enjoyable with the addition of a Gymkhana track editor
- and who knows whether Codies already have that in the pipeline?
Some might argue that they're still missing a straight-laced rally experience, but we'd say they're missing the point of DiRT 3; that is, a brilliantly all-consuming celebration of the rally car.
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We thought that this rally series couldn't get better. We were wrong: DiRT 3 is the best yet.