Throw in the cover of night and the challenge is amplified, as is the excitement. Driving in the dark also sheds light on the visual progress taken by DiRT 3; Codemasters' racing games have always been a handsome bunch, and this is no exception.

Rich lighting brings the locales alive, and it's at its best in the early-evening light that bathes many of the forest-bound stages. Shards of sun peer through the trees, catching flies that flit above the gravel and dancing across the well realised car models (and they're models that are again served by a damage system that's still unmatched in the genre). It's a pleasantly hazy aesthetic that's well matched to the autumnal palette of DiRT 3.

Away from the action, it's as slick as ever, although the re-introduction of a cool and minimal front-end comes at the expense of the welcome excesses of Codemasters' more recent games. In place of the virtual paddock that starred in both F1 2010 and DiRT 2 is a menu more in keeping with that seen in the original DiRT, and while it cuts down on the loading times that blighted those games, its absence is felt.

There's a levelling system that's fuelled by reputation points and in-game meta-achievements, though there's not quite the same persistent tug of progression that marked out GRID and DiRT 3's immediate predecessors. Events over the four seasons that make up the single-player DiRT Tour are neatly grouped and presented in stylish unfurling pyramids, becoming longer, harder and more demanding as you work towards the ultimate goal of the DC Superseries.

There's the thinnest of narrative threads - and in a hilarious extension of the all-inclusive ethos, the voiceovers are now delivered by an English woman, an over-enthusiastic American and a deadpan Australian in what sounds like the set-up to a joke whose punchline I don't have to hand. But having been showered in context by Codemasters' previous games, it falls comparatively flat.

2
DiRT 3's soundtrack is, typically for a Codemasters game, excellent, though it's confined to replays and menus.

The real pull, and the real innovation, is elsewhere. Gymkhana, a new and balletic form of motorsport that's tinged with a little extreme sports attitude, is sprinkled throughout the DiRT Tour in events that task players with freestyling their way around a confined arena, performing tricks to rack up points in a fashion not dissimilar to the early Tony Hawks games.

It's a novel addition that truly shines in the DC Compound, an automotive playground set in and around the shell of Battersea Power Station. Here the freestyling becomes more fluid, with the compound opening up as progression is made to reveal an expansive, open-ended arena that's rich with mini-missions. It proves captivating for hours on end, and suggests a new direction for driving games that others would do well to follow.

An online suite of rallycross and staggered point-to-point events caters for the multiplayer side, and it's bolstered by the addition of two-player split-screen that is sturdy while staying largely faithful to DiRT 3's glorious visuals. The DC Compound is home to some of the more outlandish multiplayer modes: there are four-wheeled takes on online staples such as Capture the Flag, and there's even room for a game of zombie-themed tag that's in keeping with the gaming trend that refuses to shuffle off and die. They're sideshows, admittedly, but they're sideshows that are agreeably bawdy and riotous.

And for the main event, Codemasters has succeeded in curating another superlative festival of driving. It's a package more inclusive than any of its predecessors, shot through with the quiet innovations that have defined the studio's more recent efforts. With its off-road events celebrating the series' past and Gymkhana presenting a potentially bright new future, it's another great racing game from an outfit that's proving itself to be a master of its craft.

9 /10

About the author

Martin Robinson

Martin Robinson

Features and Reviews Editor

Martin is Eurogamer's features and reviews editor. He has a Gradius 2 arcade board and likes to play racing games with special boots and gloves on.

More articles by Martin Robinson

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