DiRT Rally Review

After a few enjoyable, but somewhat forgettable rally style games in three successive DiRT entries and the most recent and DiRT: Showdown, developers Codemasters have gone back to the drawing board. Revisiting the glory days of Colin McRae Rally games, they came up with DiRT Rally a title that was put up for early access feedback on Steam in April 2015 and have been constantly modifying and adding content to it in the time since. As a consequence DiRT Rally is ultimately a much more realistic, challenging rally driving simulator than anything fans of the motorsport have seen for a long, long time. The question is, has it made a favourable transition to consoles? Let’s find out…

DiRT Rally is a difficult and unforgiving simulation game and it is this difficulty that makes every second of every race exciting. As your faithful navigator constantly points out the ins and outs of the track ahead, players will need to not only take his advice and battle the course itself (and learn some Rally racing lingo to figure out what he’s saying in some instances!), but also try to maintain control of the car as they are required to drift around corners, weave through obstacles and navigate bumps, dips and undulations at breakneck speed. This is not an easy thing to get a handle on for newcomers, but thankfully the game is quite accessible for the willing as it provides a series of relatively in-depth and incredibly useful tutorial videos to help introduce and explain various rally driving techniques to players.

In transitioning to a simulation game, DiRT Rally has dropped some of the more user friendly arcade-stylings of its more recent outings and in pushing for realism, many of the recent additions to Codemasters racing titles such as the ability to rewind time a short distance to reattempt a bad turn or avoid a crash have been completely done away with. In fact, DiRT Rally takes almost the opposite approach. In this instance a crash (and there will be plenty) will be met with either damage to the car, impairing its ability to function correctly not only in the current stage, but often the following stage as well or a decision to restart a stage or being re-set on the track, both of which will accrue time penalty that will ultimately affect your overall performance.

Whilst this sounds like Rather than making it frustrating, the difficulty actually makes the game that much more enjoyable – a good comparison I’ve seen bandied about is Dark Souls. Like a Dark Souls game, DiRT Rally is tough but fair and will not hold hands but instead relentlessly punish players for their own mistakes. This encourages players to try and try again to master that tough rally stage or a particularly tricky section of track. It’s all the more thrilling when you manage successfully pull off that tight bend, knock some time off an established personal best or finally achieve a podium finish after hours of trying.

The driving itself features a brand new physics engine for the series which has been built from the ground up specifically for DiRT Rally and the way it impacts upon the car and handling feels fantastic. To give it a workout, the game features a number of different surfaces to race on, each of which will alter the car’s handling significantly. For example the dirt tracks of Greece play witness to a great deal of sliding, whilst the snow drifts present along the stages in Sweden will spin out or slow down cars, at the same time Monte Carlo’s iced over roads will keep you constantly on your toes and the Welsh countryside features an abundance of gravel, mud and puddles requiring quick thinking and frequent changing of driving styles. The focus on different surfaces adds another dimension to the game which again ratchets up the challenge and forces players to adapt and learn how to deal with the conditions.

The game’s main championship mode features 70 stages across six locations. The goal here is to race in the open tournaments to accrue credits which can then be spent hiring crew members for your car, purchasing upgrades or acquiring new vehicles. In addition to the championships, players can also partake in the infamous Pikes Peak hill climb challenge as well as participate in four player Rally Cross races at the Lydden Hill, Holjes and Hell tracks. The latter Rally Cross is an excellent albeit undercooked addition to the title, with the experience feeling much more hectic with other cars competing head to head on the track.

The online portion of the game allows players to race one another rally events and due to the nature of the event, everyone will be racing by themselves asymmetrically, which means players are essentially racing the clock and a leader board of best times at the end. If you feel like a little company, the game also allows players to partake in Rally Cross events online for some solid car on car racing entertainment. In addition to the individual events, players can also take part in daily, weekly and monthly challenges in which you can compete with the best players from around the globe for in-game currency and join a racing league (or set one up with some friends) to ensure that there is always some competition to go up against or a challenging time to beat.

In terms of presentation DiRT Rally does a good job. The cars all look excellent and the various tracks in the six locations on display feature an abundance of detail, nice draw distances, particle effects and lighting. Combine that with the noise of the car’s engine getting a work out, the sounds of cars flying around the courses, tearing up gravel, snow and mud as they go and the ever-present voice of the navigator and his quick-fire directions blend the entire presentation together into an excellent package that brings authenticity to the experience.

Unfortunately, DiRT Rally has several issues that tarnish it a little. As mentioned, the game is brutally difficult, especially for newcomers and the absence of lower difficulty levels will lead to a lot of frustration for those not patient enough to learn the ropes of rally driving, the handling of the various cars or gain the knowledge of tracks that only comes through practice. The other major issue with the title is that DiRT Rally is quite short on content. Whilst there are 70 stages, the lack of different world locations (six in DiRT Rally when compared to 30 in Project CARS) makes the game feel familiar a lot faster and the staleness factor kicks in much earlier than some of its contemporaries. A few more Rally Cross or hill climb races would also be welcome as the limited courses on offer make them little more than an entertaining distraction.

DiRT Rally is essentially rally enthusiast’s dream come true but in this regard as an excellent simulator it is most definitely not going to be for everyone. Without spending some solid time with the tutorial videos learning and practicing techniques, getting to know a little about the tracks and how to best adjust your style of driving to compensate for a range of conditions, DiRT Rally can be an incredibly punishing and frustrating experience. If you commit some time, prepare for races, make plenty of practice runs and learn how to best use the cars on offer, the game provides an incredibly rewarding racing experience that will be hard to top.

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