This month’s first free game on Xbox 360 with Games with Gold is Dirt 3. I’ve enjoyed rally games down the years, especially SEGA Rally, but not been overawed with recent games so when you get a rally game for free it is well worth a go!
I started off with single player and had a very poor first impression. I spent the majority of the first 30minutes of playtime in the GUI, typically listening to annoying voice overs telling me what the UI screen is for. This is just BORING. A decent UI doesn’t require explaining (and the UI for Dirt 3 did the job) so there’s very little need to force the player to sit and listen to someone waffling on about the options.
Surprisingly the game seemed to insist that I listened before I could select my option. I could read the self-explanatory options yet it could be 20-30 seconds before I can select one. This all adds up and meant that in the first 10 minutes I was utterly bored.
Strangely the controls weren’t communicated. Given I’ve played racing games before it wasn’t hard to figure out steering, accelerate and brake, but still it seems odd to spend sooooo much time in tutorial mode explaining the game yet at no point the most important thing you need to know to play a rally game, i.e. how to drive, was never mentioned. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it was necessary to have the controls explained but it seems dumb to explain that to play online you have to select multiplayer but not press RT to accelerate.
I get that they want to build the career experience straight away but the problem here is that this is a rally game. I launched the game to throw a rally car around a track, not set up my career. I appreciate that the designers may want to ensure that you get the experience the depth of the game to avoid players doing a few quick races then quitting but this shouldn’t be at the expense of a very boring start.
Perhaps a better approach would be to throw the player straight into a quick rally and give them a quick go of what the game has in store. Then you can explain the deeper options. Alternatively you have a “first time” menu that lets the player skip the intro, then providing a link from the menu for the player to setup their profile later.
Once I got rallying, the game was fun. The cars felt fast and, admittedly with assists still enabled (on by default), I was enjoying giving it some welly, throwing the car into corners. The game was surprisingly forgiving as well, although maybe again that is a difficulty thing. Unlike a footballer, after a hefty bump and roll my car just kept going (maybe minus a bumper!). It took a serious cock up for the game to decide to interrupt me. I liked that.
The staggered starts was quite interesting, especially in local multiplayer. Catching up with someone was a challenge and a frustration, but this is of course realistic and in a way, it was fun. When playing multiplayer, or I guess in general when the race is tight, it can be a bit annoying though. I was surprised by how well I felt it worked in local multiplayer. I thought that having the delay would mean one player is bored but the staggering what quite interesting as you saw the other player get away for a few seconds or once you finished you could watch the opponent and see how they did. It added a touch more suspense in “how did I do?”. Going around the course at the same time with ghosts for the other player gives a very clear indication of your position. Also you may find yourself “racing” against the ghost, rather than concentrating on yourself.
Whether it is a realistic challenge, I can’t say as a) I’ve never been a rally driver and b) I didn’t challenge myself with the difficulty. Having spent more time drinking than sleeping over the weekend, I was little worse for wear so still being able to do well even when my eyes are shutting mid way through a lap was nice!
Perhaps I should have tried removing more of the assists and ramping up the difficulty, but all that matters was that we had fun!