I was lucky enough to talk to the cast and creators of Monlith’s upcoming action adventure RPG Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor at this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego. Myself and other members of media peppered Michael de Plater (Director of Design), Christian Cantamessa (Lead Writer), and Troy Baker (voice of Talion), with questions about the upcoming title which is set to launch on September 28th. Baker, who gamers might recognize from starring roles in The Last of Us and Bioshock: Infinite, had some interesting things to say about the voicing the game’s protagonist Talion and just how important Tolkien’s work is to nerds everywhere.
When there’s an RPG in my gaming rotation I generally try to bring in a more casual title to balance out the mix. Let’s face it, you can’t always pop into a game like SWTOR, Mass Effect, or Skyrim for 5 minutes but what do you do to scratch that gaming itch? For me (and probably many of you), that RPG is SWTOR and that other game, for me, is generally a racing game: Mario Kart, the NFS series (the arcade series, not the simulation one), and the DiRT franchise. I’ve written about my love of Codemasters DiRT franchise in the past, but just as sure as death and taxes I knew two things about DiRT 3 when it was released in May of 2011: a.) there will be an almost offensive amount of DLC, and b.) no matter what, this game will be less than $30 by the end of 2011.
Fast forward to the end of 2011, DiRT 3 goes on super sale at a local retailer for $10, and I need something to grease the grinding wheels of SWTOR. This game is actually pretty good, good enough that it’s worth talking about so many months after the game’s release… and you know what? This is a blog built around sharing our nerdy pursuits, and [Cartman voice] we’ll do what we want [/Cartman voice]. We always inevitably play catch up with all of the games missed in 2011, so I’m playing down my stack earlier this year. So indulge my mini-review, and feel free to tell us about what you do in your non-SWTOR/Skyrim time in the comments below.
What it’s all about
I think if I ever made crazy money (like whoever invented those “family” decals people put on the back windshield of their automobiles) I’d try my hand at rally car racing. And if this game is any estimation of my abilities I’d be terrible at it, but I’d be filthy rich, so it wouldn’t stop me. DiRT 3 is all about off-road racing… but not all of the races are off road. You’ll race in rally style races, head-to-head matches, and more traditional races in a variety of locations, terrains, and weather conditions. The most notable addition to DiRT 3 is the inclusion of Gymkhana which is sort of a tricks and skills course. You race against the clock, while performing various tricks at locations throughout the course: doughnuts, spinning, jumping, drifting… ok really most of these things are drifting-based with the exception of the jumping, but it still makes for a fun experience. Of course, you can just hit the course and dick around, it’s fun. Rounding out the experience are the various automobiles from multiple decades and a spirited online mode.
Let me reiterate something from the previous DiRT 2 review… Europeans do not mess around in online racing. I can only assume that most of these dudes (and ladies) have a racing wheel setup strapped to a desk or something and just kill it 24/7 in online modes. Stay away from the chat, run your own line, understand that you’ll probably never win a race, and you’ll find a way to have fun.
Look at this awesome race… it will cost you $10
What’s not so great about this game is the [butthead voice] penetration [/butthead voice] of DLC advertising. Upon signing into the game a news bar fills up the lower third telling you about a new car pack, or a new race location that is “now available”. Look, it’s 2012, and while “now available” is still technically correct, what they really should be saying is “newly discounted”… get the point? Almost every race schedule in the menu ends with a race that is unlocked with the purchase of a track pack. Want to pick a car for that next race? Well you can pick from the 4 you currently have unlocked, pay to unlock the remaining (as opposed to leveling) or buy a car pack with another set of cars. I think you get the picture. It’s a bit overwhelming. I believe at last calculation purchasing all of the additional content would set you back around $30, which is, like, GoW level DLC, and this game is not GoW. The DLC thing is too bad, considering how excellent all of the course environments are to look at, seriously, the game looks great.
More of what you want, less of what you don’t
Or what I don’t want, at least: I’m talking about the “extreme” culture. I think this X-Sports-esque styling of games is overplayed. “Hey bro, show us what you’ve got, and you’ll bust into the elite ranks in no time.” “Radical.” (do people still say radical?) After seeing it in Tony Hawk, Skate, SSX, DiRT 2, Shawn White Snowboarding (yeah, I had a Wii Balance Board, wanna fight about it?!) I’m pretty much over it. Also a welcome disappearance are licensed audio tracks. Look I like Yellowcard as much as the next guy (assuming the next guy doesn’t like Yellowcard… at all.) but I don’t need to hear Ocean Avenue played over and over again while I’m trying to race. Remember when you could play your own music while playing an Xbox 360 game? Oh, that’s right, you can still do that.
Conversely, DiRT 3 takes most of this nonsense way and gets you right into the game. [sidebar: I once knew a professional Madden NFL player, who, when asked what game mode he played the most he replied, the only thing I want to Play is “Now”. Well stated, my friend.] There are two British people who talk you through the game’s menus in some semblance of a story, but you never actually see them, and there are no avatars to interact with. Or, maybe they’re Australian, I’m really bad with accents. When you get to the Gymkhana parts, some guy, who I’m assuming is a hero in the sport, does a C+ VO job in getting you acclimated to the events. And, that’s another reason why the “extreme sports narrative” is overplayed… athletes ≠ voice actors. (See also, EA Sports MMA)
Power in the details
What is great about this game is that you can customize your car… and by customize I mean “set up” to suit your driving style and the conditions of the track. And the game doesn’t waste your time with money and purchasing “parts”, you just set the car up before the race… and you aren’t bothered with spending hours tricking out your car with fins, rims, carbon fiber parts and decals (I’m looking at you NFS). Complimentary to this are the number of modifications you can make to the race difficultly. I belabored the broken system of racing game difficultly in the DiRT 2 review, so it suffices to say here that you can adjust the difficulty of the CPU, as well as the assists on your car. I’m not looking to cheat myself here, I just want to be moderately challenged and have fun while my SWTOR companions are scavenging grade 4 compounds (about 22 minutes per bountiful yield, PS).
Finally, this game has a serviceable YouTube connection built into the replay function. I don’t claim to be great at this game, I’m actually pretty average at it, but somehow the DiRT 3 replay system does a great job of making me look good. I created a couple of videos so you get the idea, it’s just fun… there’s a theme here. You can upload videos that are around a minute in length (I believe) and it takes a few minutes to get it all uploaded… but again, that’s enough time to start crafting some Grade 4 Beam Generators for your starship and Level 13 Skill Mods for your custom armor.
So yeah, it’s an “older” game, but that’s how I roll. I seem to remember an $8 BulletStorm (“epic” edition, right?) sale that also occurred this past month, I don’t’ hear anyone complaining. What do you do to break up the RPG time? For me, it’s a spirited jaunt through the snow and mud. We’re all just trying to have a good time, man.