When game companies were smaller and a AAA game meant the next Final Fantasy, there was room for all sorts of titles that we took for granted. Rally driving was one of them. There were many rallying titles across consoles, PCs and handhelds and with a modest budget, teams could make a decent enough rallying game for it to be a success. As the technical requirements increased with each generation, game budgets needed to be bigger to accommodate for larger teams and ultimately that meant you were either a huge AAA developer or a small indie team and medium sized developers went by the wayside last generation. Along with this, we had many of these rallying games being turned into similar games that suited more American tastes. This eventuated with Colin McRae being replaced with the Dirt franchise to try and find a larger audience over in the States and as well as games like Motorstorm (Evolution Studios made the previous WRC games), Fuel, Pure, MX vs ATX. The rallying fanbase were crying out for an authentic rallying game to sink their teeth into wondering what happened to their genre. With the advent of early access on Steam and steady income stream before a full game release, rallying games were made possible once again and with that Dirt Rally, a very focused rallying experience which has turned into an amazing game.
If you were a fan of the early Colin McRae games on Playstation and have a decent PC, go ahead and pick this up right now. You won’t be disappointed. This is a fully re-imagined version in the spirit of those games. It’s that Colin McRae combination of simulation driving (more sim now than ever before), testing and imaginative track and pure and utter requirement of concentration that makes a Colin McRae game (now Dirt Rally) what it is.
The game for those unfamiliar with rallying is simple. There aren’t any other cars on the track with you, and you’re racing against the clock, but the track is testing enough for all but the most expert of drivers. There are different surfaces available, gravel, tarmac, snow, dirt and all of them handle as beautifully.
The early access version last year started with three locations (Wales, Greece, Monaco) and the final version has three more (Germany, Finland, Sweden) and all of them have at least six tracks with reverse versions as well. That’s 72 tracks all up and a fair amount to test yourself on. There are some small sections that are repeated across tracks, but nothing as obvious and glaring as in the current WRC series. There’s also Rallycross mode with super stages on a special track where you race against another car and a hill climb mode also with unique tracks including Pikes Peak.
There’s two things that really stand out that I mentioned before. The first one is that Dirt Rally has the most amazing and fun feeling in a car yet I have played in a racing game. While Assetto Corsa probably still edges it in terms of pure accurate simulation, Dirt Rally cars are still incredibly sim-like but way more fun. Every bump and grind, turn can be felt. Putting the pedal on the floor is now a huge risk and reward mechanic. How fast can you push your car on a dirt track before losing control of it? Playing with a wheel such as a Logitech G27/G29 is literally the pinnacle of racing video games.
The second thing that stands out are the tracks are incredibly well realised and test every part of your driving skill. The surfaces feel great, though what impressed me the most is the nuance and subtlety of all the turns and how the course is designed. They are all there to test competency in driving, how well you can take a level 6 turn, brake and get into a level ‘1’ turn. Verticality and steepness is also there to test braking and handling skill. Every turn is critical in getting the best time. Did I mention this game is hard? This game is really hard to get first place, but sometimes you get the best time for a section and wonder why you can’t do it more often. The answer is that, skillful driving is a finely balanced on a knife edge and finding that edge takes a lot of practice.
While Dirt Rally is certainly an amazing racing game, it is a little bare bones in terms of the single-player career mode. You start at the bottom of Division 5 and have to work your way up to Division 1. There’s an opportunity to be promoted at the end of each season to the next division if you finish in the top 3. It’s a fine career progression system, but it lacks a lot of presentation, the game simply moves you from race to race with a points tally table in between. There is literally nothing in between races. What would have been nice would be fleshing out some other aspects of rallying like focusing on working with the team or upgrading the car. You do get to hire engineers to give you stat boosts to repairing your car, but there’s nothing besides actually hiring them.
The game also looks and plays like a dream. It is one of the most beautiful racing games on the market. Technically its as good as Project Cars and far better than Assetto Corsa. It doesn’t quite hit that almost photo-realism look of Driveclub, but then again its not running at 30fps. Its the art design that really takes it a notch above something like Project Cars and games of that ilk. As the game does not have the license for the real tracks, that gives a lot of room for the artists to really explore beautiful landscapes. There isn’t a country that looks dull. I was also remarkably surprised at how close Germany in game looks to the real life Germany tracks on TV.
If you have a steering wheel, this is an absolute must have game whether on PC or PS4/Xbox One. The game is not easy, so give it some time, enjoy what is possibly the best balance of simulation racing and fun driving in a video game yet.
Score: 9.5 out of 10