Colin McRae’s name may be gone, but the third DiRT reconciles the high-octane off-road driving of its predecessors with its roots in the purebred rallying games that bore the deceased champion’s name.

There’s now a greater focus on traditional time trials, the introduction of weather effects and more refined car handling.

Not that the thrills of DiRT 2 have gone by the wayside. This is still an off-road driving game rather than a simulation. The addition of the freestyle stunt-driving challenges of gymkhana to its range of off-road motorsports is proof enough of that.

But what these nods to the past do is give the series a new meatiness. The cars feel like wild beasts that need to be tamed. Each challenge a battle to maintain control while zooming and drifting across uneven terrain.

Thankfully the game offers a wide choice of assists so players can find a level of challenge that suits them. With every assist turned on, DiRT 3 plays like an arcade game where you’re free to hit the throttle and concentrate on steering. With all of them switched off, DiRT 3 offers some of the most challenging driving around.

Add to this the generous choice of off-road motoring and DiRT 3 emerges as a driving game capable of appealing to everyone.

It looks and sounds great too – static spectators aside. Nor does it shirk from vehicle damage a la Gran Turismo. Paint gets scratched, windows crack and shatter, crushed bumpers cling on for dear life.

Finally there are the multiplayer games that depart from reality to glorious effect. The crazed demolition derby of Transporter, a ‘capture the flag’ game with cars, is especially good.

With its variety, depth and exhilarating speed, DiRT 3 delivers on almost all fronts. It says a lot that its most jarring moment is the dull, stifled banter between your English, Australian and American advisors.

Stuff says... 

DiRT 3 review

Mud-churning fun with surprising new depth to its handling