Dirt 3 is like the cool uncle of racing games. It knows how to behave itself in polite company, offering a full suite of standard racing modes for rally purists who prefer to race against the clock on winding dirt roads. But when it cuts loose, it really cuts loose, as showcased by the ridiculous and thoroughly entertaining collection of party mode multiplayer offerings. From robots and zombies to a capture-the-flag type of match, Dirt 3 knows how to get a little goofy once in a while.
We got a chance to play three new multiplayer party modes, all of which can be experienced either using local two-player split-screen or with up to eight players online. Our personal favorite was Outbreak, the zombie mode. Eight cars start out in a small cluster, with a five-second timer ticking down before one of them gets infected. This turns the car in question into a bright shade of green, which immediately alerts everyone else to stay the hell away from it. If the infected car runs into another, then there are suddenly two infected cars on the course and then more and more until the last car is infected or the timer runs out.
Besides just the absurd image of a zombified rally car, Outbreak is fun because of the sense of mounting chaos as more cars become infected while you frantically try to outmaneuver them. The party mode matches are played in various lots around London's Battersea Power Station, meaning there's a lot of open room to drift around and various industrial objects to hide in/on/behind. Conversely, when you're the infected one and finally smash into a car that makes one small mistake, it's immensely gratifying. And not just for the shower of debris that falls off the chosen vehicle when you collide into it with a devastating thud. (The damage in these modes is merely cosmetic, of course.)
Another similar mode is Transporter, the aforementioned capture-the-flag type of match. We played this one with four teams of two. In this mode, a "flag" will spawn randomly and when you drive through it, your car turns into your team color to show that you've got the flag in your possession. Then, you need to zip around to the nearest drop-off point on the track to score a point. What's fun about this mode is that--just as in Outbreak--the simple joy of smashing into other cars plays a key strategic role. Said smashing allows you to steal the flag from the other team, though generally there's such a swarm of cars around the flag holder that it takes a metric ton of luck or skill to make it to the flag drop unscathed.
Finally, there was also Invasion. While Outbreak and Transporter offered a surprising level of strategy to go with the car-crunching wrecks, Invasion was decidedly lighter fare. Cardboard cutouts of robots and skyscrapers randomly pop up throughout the course, and you get one point for smashing robots but lose one for smashing a skyscraper. This mode felt a little too aimless for our taste, and we don't imagine it'll develop quite as much of a following as the other modes.
As a complement to the more standard multiplayer game modes included in Dirt 3, these party modes struck us as fun, irreverent, and a completely ridiculous way to cruise around in a rally car when you want to take a break from the usual tracks. Like we said, Dirt 3 is a game that knows how to take itself seriously, but it also knows how to have some fun--and what better way to have fun than to pretend that a Subaru WRX has turned into a zombie?