Oh look, it's another rally game. Cue even more jokes about skid marks...

The high-speed thrills provided by motor sports have been a popular subject for videogame designers since the birth of the industry, with games like Namco's Pole Position and Micromega's 3D Death Chase showcasing what could be achieved on even the most basic hardware. The technological grunt of today's consoles ensures that driving games are more exciting and realistic than ever before, and they don't come much better than Codemasters' DiRT3.

Hardcore petrolheads and arcade racing fans alike will find plenty to enjoy about this spectacular driving game, which takes the series to incredible new heights for gameplay and graphics. For those unaware of the series' heritage, DiRT3 is actually the sixth game in what originally started life as the Colin McRae Rally series. However, the past two iterations have seen a shift away from traditional rallying to a more 'X-games' style approach to off-road driving events accompanied by obnoxiously brash commentary and flashy presentation that's was clearly designed to open the series up to a wider audience - something that didn't always go down too well with fans of the original games. Well, DiRT3 is ready to welcome you all with open arms, mixing its more 'extreme' driving challenges with more good old time-attack rallies.

'Give all you've got'
Away from the numerous tracks spread across three continents and the exhaustive collection of more than 50 different rally cars from the sport's past five decades, the big new addition this time around is the Gymkhana. These arena-based events see you crashing through destructible blocks, performing donuts and powerslides and pulling off epic jumps in an effort to rack up points and wow the crowds before the clock runs out. Stringing moves together launches multipliers that encourage you to pull off more and more stunts as you aim for spectacular scores. It's like the extreme motor sports equivalent of Burnout's stunt mode (only without quite as much wanton destruction) and is every bit as much fun.

Of course, none of the game modes would be worth a jot if it wasn't for the handling physics - and Codemasters once again demonstrates that it has a better handle on this aspect of driving games than most of its competitors. In combination with stunning dynamic audio and incredibly responsive controls, the realistic handling physics mean that before long you'll be controlling slides around hairpin bends and hurtling along narrow dirt tracks with the best of them. There's also a plethora of optional driving aids (including automatic brakes and a dynamic racing line) and endless engine and suspension setup options to enable players to tailor the game to suit them.

'Gonna make some noise'
DiRT3 also excels in its presentation as well (so long as you discount the annoying menu screen voiceovers). The stunning graphics make the most of the breathtaking locations and cry out to be seen on the biggest screen possible - something that can also be said of the refreshing split-screen multiplayer mode - while the sublime audio fills your cinema room with the sound or revving engines and bone-crunching impacts. And if the car models aren't quite up to the standards of Gran Turismo 5, they certainly come close enough for us - not that you get much time to study them in detail during the races, unless you opt for a behind-the-car camera position.

Incredibly, the range of gameplay options is even broader online. Not only do you get the expected multiplayer versions of the conventional singleplayer modes, but Codemasters has also added a few extra treats such as a motorised version of tag dubbed Infection, the capture-the-flag-inspired Transporter (sadly there's no bonus Jason Statham action, despite the title) and the wonderfully weird Invasion, that sees you smashing your way through cardboard cut-outs of alien armies while trying to avoid buildings and other collateral damage. And if that's not enough online fun, the game also allows provides an easy way of uploading your best bits to YouTube. Each clip is limited to 30 seconds, but that's generally enough time to capture you're most spectacular stunts and most gratifying overtaking manoeuvres.

'Wanna get dirrty'
All told, DiRT3 is a remarkable gaming experience. Not only has Codemasters mastered the off-road racer genre, it's also produced a truly varied and enjoyable series of events and races for players to work their way through – and it's one you'll keep coming back to time and time again (or at least until the innevitable DiRT4 turns up). It plays, looks and sounds brilliant and any racing game fan who doesn't give this title a spin in their home cinema must be completely bonkers.

Xbox 360 (version tested)/PS3/PC, Codemasters, £50 approx, On sale now