There's no point in pretending racing games from Codies will be anything other than great these days. It's like putting a Physics GCSE paper in front of Stephen Hawking, then feigning surprise when he gets every question right and still has time to knock out a critique of the syllabus. So you'll be pleased to hear that DiRT 3 doesn't buck the trend.
As you'd imagine, much like a rally car, if a game isn't broken, don't take a spanner to it and start pinging bolts off. Almost all of what made DiRT 2 a gloriously grimy romp remains in the game (more on that 'almost' later), and in many cases has been refined even further. If all you ever wanted from this game is more DiRT 2, you're definitely catered for. Then on top of that, DiRT 3 adds a fat dollop of entirely new challenges based around the new Gymkhana arenas, all of which require different car control skills from standard rallying.
Whichever discipline you prefer, there are a few things that remain constant. The first is that DiRT 3 is an exceptionally beautiful game. Environments in particular are detailed to an obsessive-compulsive degree, more densely decorated than any racer we've seen before, and the whole lot is bathed in stunning lighting.
Blasting through the shadows cast by trees in the evening sun, you'll feel like you've been transported to a forest in Finland and plonked in the driving seat. Looks may not be everything, but it certainly doesn't hurt that DiRT 3 is jaw-slackeningly gorgeous.
It's almost a shame that what you'll be concentrating on isn't the beautiful vistas - more avoiding launching your car into them. Fortunately, that pointy, pokey and predictable physics engine has been fettled beautifully for this edition, ensuring that if you go tumbling end over end it's probably a result of your own ineptitude rather than the car misbehaving. It's by no means a hardcore sim, though - the vehicles feel convincing but you won't need a degree in automotive engineering to make them go quickly.
Arguably more difficult is getting them to perform with the kind of precision required for the Gymkhana events. Inch-perfect drifts, dancing the car around donut posts and pitching the car into 1080 spins in a tight space are all required to top the leaderboards in these competitions.
There are undoubtedly going to be some veteran McRae fans who despise this YouTube-inspired nonsense, but it's rarely rammed down your throat. Complete a few initial runs and you should be able to ignore it for the majority of the Career. Embrace it, though, and even if you're unstoppable on the forest stages, you'll find this a fresh challenge.
It's just a shame that the scoring system isn't more developed - as long as you don't clout the barrier the game dishes out the same number of points for a scrappy donut or drift as a perfect one, and there'd be far more opportunity to excel if there was a more subtle rating system for the quality of the trick. You'll probably find yourself having more fun just tooling around the DC Compound, which utilises the same skills but has a more freeform mission structure.
There's only really one element from the second game that's inexplicably missing from DiRT 3, and that's the paddock front end. Instead, there's an admittedly slick menu system to carry you through the DiRT Tour mode. The problem is that some of the personality and pace has disappeared with it. While the banter between your manager, PR loony and mechanic is well written, performed and most importantly very rarely repetitive, it's not quite the same as having your feet planted on the ground in these international locations.