The DiRT series has been an arcade-centric rally franchise for quite some time now. Alongside GRiD, it allowed Codemasters to establish itself as a major company for racing game fans. However, going with an arcade style did alienate some of the hardcore rally-racing fanbase since the franchise wasn’t much of a traditional racing game. It was an outstanding racing game, but wasn’t much of a sim. Now, the franchise has both the mainline DiRT games for an arcade-style game, and the debuting DiRT Rally is here for those seeking a tougher challenge.
DiRT Rally’s mode selection is lean, but well thought-out and perfectly executed. Basic rally pits your times against those of rivals, hill climb tests you against tight turns while also scaling dangerous hills, and rallycross has you racing against other racers. The recent Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO actually has more modes, which surprised me, but in playing them back to back here, it struck me how much better-executed DiRT Rally’s versions felt – and a lot of that is due to how the game plays.
The franchise’s Ego engine is back, but the play mechanics have been tweaked a bit. In the mainline games, you didn’t have to worry as much about precision and careful throttling and braking. DiRT Rally is all about being careful, and only taking great risks when absolutely necessary. This can result in some short-term frustration, but it makes for a more rewarding experience as a whole. You have to be smart and can’t just rush into things.
As the game itself will tell you, going at 80% speed is the safest overall bet for most of the race – no matter which type it is. If it’s rally, you don’t want to rush and risk hitting an obstacle. A restart will cost you 15 seconds – an absolute deathknell here, and in hill climb modes. Of course, a crash is never something you’ll want in a rallycross event either since that is both against rivals and the clock. Plus, excessive damage will force you to fix it – and that will cost you quite a few credits.
A time-limiting system has also been put into place to ensure that you don’t just gun it throughout every race. If you wear your car down, you won’t be able to fix everything due to the time constraint, and then you’ll have to go into your next race with a weakened vehicle. Sometimes, this is a good thing to do because you’re going to naturally race smarter – you know you’re going in with a handicap, and don’t want it getting any worse. Unlike the mainline games, you can’t just rewind – so that crutch isn’t available.
If you want to excel in DiRT Rally, you’ll have to actually get better. This gives the game a steeper learning curve than prior entries, but also makes you a more versatile player for this and other games since you’ll think more about racing conservatively to win the race. This approach will alienate some players – but if you come into it with an open mind and are willing to play the game the way it’s meant to be played instead of playing it like another game entirely, you’ll have a lot of fun.
DiRT Rally has been something Codemasters has been working on for quite some time – and the public has been able to play it on PC since May of 2015 thanks to Steam’s Early Access program. As a result, expectations for the game are fairly high and in some regards, it does disappoint. While you do have a fairly diverse roster of vehicles – at least for a rally game, at nearly 40, they feel far too similar to one another. There are also some odd visual quirks – like the cars driving over surfaces in the menus, sometimes just driving over nothing with tires that may or may not move. It feels strangely unpolished for a Codemasters game, and it really shouldn’t given how much real-time feedback they’ve been able to obtain on it. Luckily, these issues don’t kill the game – and could be remedied later with patches.
Visually, it looks pretty good except for those wonky menu graphics. Car models are detailed, and while they aren’t on par with the Forza franchise, you can still see things like paint chipping and dust and snow building up over the course of a race. Tiny details like this add to the immersion, as do the crashes – especially from the cockpit. Windshield shattering adds a layer of destruction, as does the in-game screen going black and white when you have a huge crash. Otherwise, the environments look excellent – with things like weather effects and showing wear and tear on the track adding to the experience.
From an audio perspective, the sound design is about on par with the graphics. The soundtrack consists of a lot of light rock for the menus, while races themselves have no music. This is a very good thing as it allows the terrain itself, the crashes, and your co-driver to be heard. Each kind of terrain makes its own noise when you drive over it, slightly changing the experience for every area. Crashes are just as visceral hearing them as seeing them, and seeing your car crumple and/or go flying results in a satisfying thud as it either makes contact with the ground or another car.
Overall, DiRT Rally is a well-crafted game and a must-buy for rally racing fans. Prior DiRT players may want to give it a rental before committing to a full purchase though because it is so different from those games. The learning curve is steep by comparison, but a rental would allow you to learn the game and figure out if it’s right for you. Otherwise, it controls like a dream, looks and sounds great and provides a satisfying and thrilling racing game. It’s the best rally racer on modern consoles, and a fine debut for this DiRT sub-series.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Deep Silver
This review is based on a digital copy of DiRT Rally for the Xbox One provided by Deep Silver.