Codemasters has been listening. It knows some people were less than impressed by DiRT 2's effort to appeal to a wider crowd. It's aware of objections to the game's unashamed bombastic stance, the leaning towards fun at the expense of realism. It recognises the argument that the game reduced the core rally content to such a degree that it was at odds with the essence of the Colin McRae titles.
It's interesting to note, then, that McRae's name is nowhere to be seen in DiRT 3. There's no need to panic, though - this decision may seem indicative of a new direction for the series, but DiRT 3's content suggests the opposite is true.
Sure, Ken Block's involvement is more prominent (both in-game and in reality, with the WRC driver apparently visiting Codemasters' offices on an almost monthly basis to provide feedback). But just because Block keeps Pirelli's shareholders grinning by going everywhere sideways, doesn't mean he's not passionate and serious about the sport he's involved in.
That passion is reflected by the Racing Studio team currently assembling the third DiRT. There's no suggestion the finished product will roll out of development with the same the sombre, restrained overtones you'd normally associate with an official WRC title. But by the team's own admission there's been a rethink in response to some of the DiRT 2 feedback which appeared on forums.
Critics will no doubt appreciate that the majority of the game – 60 per cent of the six race disciplines taking place on over a hundred routes, says Codemasters – is dedicated to rallying in the traditional sense.
That means the locations have shifted more towards the sport's typical stomping ground, with Rally events taking place in a greater number of traditional European locations. These provide the perfect opportunity to implement the game's promising snow and rain models, as well as night time events. Kenya and Aspen circuits also feature.
This renewed focus on the basics is echoed in the car selection. An influx of rally vehicles has powered its way into the 50-odd roster. In fact, out of the 15 classes nine are dedicated solely to rally, with examples from both this year's and 2011's WRC season.
On top of this models from the Rally America and Super 2000 categories share disc space with classics from the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties, including a selection of Group B monsters.
Codemasters has yet to reveal the full list but those spotted thus far include a Peugeot 405 T16, Mk2 Escort, Mini Cooper S Works Rally, Renaults Alpine and R5 Turbo, Audi Quattro and, naturally, a Lancia Delta HF Integrale. The usual suspects, in other words, but they're classics for a reason...
Other classes include the Raid vehicles (which only run on Rally and Trailblazer events to better fit in with their open road nature) and Hillclimb (replacing DiRT 2's modified cars on the Trailblazer tracks). There are also LandRush buggies and trucks, which are now smaller and more nimble.
For many, the most exciting four-wheeled inclusion is likely to be the Gymkhana cars. New to the series, these highly tuned powerslide junkies can be unleashed at a series of competitive events held within the Career mode and at specially built locations - the LA Coliseum and Monaco harbour.
If all you want to do is hoon it like Block, though, there's always the DC Compound at Battersea Power Station. Think of it as a personal playground of car-destroying opportunities waiting to be explored - there are lamp posts to doughnut around, cargo containers to drive over, scaffolding structures to jump on and and sewer pipes to squeeze through. In short, the tyre-shredding possibilities are considerable.
In the preview code we went hands-on with the DC Compound – one of only two elements of the game Codemasters has made playable to date – serves a couple of key roles. Most immediately, it showcases DiRT 3's excellent damage model.
A few minutes in, following a high-speed encounter with a concrete block, a misjudged dirt jump and sideways arguments with an excavator's arm and a lorry's trailer, Ken's Monster Ford Fiesta was holding onto little of the lovingly detailed bodywork it began the session with.
The other aspect so brilliantly highlighted by the gymkhana event is the intricacy of the handling model. Codemasters has used feedback from Block and IRC champion Kris Meeke (mentored during his early years by McRae, fittingly) to ensure the cars in DiRT 3 feel right.
There's also been technical input from the likes of Bowler on damper response characteristics which, in turn, affect weight transfer behaviour, and the way cars load up the tyres and suspension.
Keen to break traction at the slightest blip of the throttle, the 600bhp gymkhana Fiesta is a handful, sure - yet driving it never feels frustrating. It doesn't take long to get the hang of gloriously long drifts.
That said, mastering the vehicle to Ken Block's standards will involve some effort – as it should – and considerable carnage. It will also prove hugely rewarding. (When you do get there, do as the man does: at the touch of a button you can upload your performance to YouTube.)
Jump in an Audi Quattro to blast through a fast Finland stage and the evolved handling model reveals a little more of its character. Along with the feeling of increased weight in the vehicles, compared with DiRT 2's approach, comes greater feedback.
This is a result of the way the car reacts more realistically to changes in the road surface, combined with the increased yet still delicate use of controller pad rumble. You can apply real-world techniques – as demonstrated by Kris Meeke on Codemasters's D-Box hydraulic-powered simulator running a PC version of DiRT 3 – and the car behaves as you would expect it to.
Ultimately, the acid test for any rally game is the intensity of the experience it offers. Powering through Finnish forests at 90-plus mph, the deafening Quattro roar masking the frantic clicks of the analogue stick as you battle to keep Audi's beast from firing you into a tree, promises to be one of the most exhilarating digital racing encounters yet.
More will be divulged before the game's planned Q2 2011 release, of course. It'll be interesting to see if the EGO engine can handle the planned split-screen option (a first for the series) with the same aplomb as it does the single-player alternative. Then there's the eight-player online feature along with an all-new selection of Party Mode offerings.
For now, though, DiRT 3 is on course to deliver the immense amount of fun you'd expect from the series. However, there's also a renewed focus on balancing the content and revising the handling characteristics.
Will this be enough to ensure the finished production enthralls both casual and dedicated rally game fans? When the time comes, let Codemasters know - it will be listening.