Man, I loved DiRT 3. When that game arrived back in 2011, it was the culmination of what I’ve come to expect from Codemasters as a developer, and a true summing-up of what I wanted a rally racing game to be. Plus, on top of that, its YouTube support was ridiculous. I uploaded so many racing videos that people were wondering if I was getting into the sport itself. (Sadly, no – I have no budget for a rally car.)
Alas, that was so long ago, and there hasn’t been a peep from the series since then, save for the decent spin-off Showdown, which was easily eclipsed by other racing games at the time. But I’m happy to report that Codemasters is on the road again with DiRT Rally, a game that has become my new favorite in the series – though it didn’t quite take the easy journey to get there.
Let me just get this out of the way right now – DiRT Rally is a beast. Even if you make tweaks to your ride on the same level as you did with DiRT 3, you’ll find the pacing to be quite different, so that it’s more on a realistic level. That’s going to throw a lot of folks off, especially if they’re looking for an “easy way out” option. There isn’t one. As a result, you’re probably going to wreck a lot in the beginning (as I did) before the learning curve starts to set in.
It’s good to have tutorials that teach you some of the driving basics, but I was kind of hoping for a better simulation to provide you details on how to master cornering (especially around tighter turns – there are a lot here) as well as modifying both braking and acceleration. But DiRT Rally, it seems, was made for you to learn on the fly – and it seems to be more rewarding that way.
The game takes a very fair route when it comes to letting you master your skills and eventually unlock some cool stuff within the game, including new engineers to help modify your ride to be better suited for each track, as well as new vehicles that will provide you even more of a rush. Best of all, it does so without microtransactions, though the build to earn enough in-game moolah to purchase the top elite cars can take some time. To build this foundation, it seems, you need to do some serious bricklaying.
Fortunately, DiRT Rally was built with speed in mind. Each race feels absolutely exhilarating, whether you’re riding right there on the bumper and come into a sharp collision (remembering it for next time so you can maintain better speed), or sitting outside the car and watching the scenery whoosh by. It’s a game that definitely has its challenges, but is a good time once you nail down the physics. It reminds you of real rally racing, and stays the course as a result. And it does so while keeping fun in mind – something I didn’t quite experience with either Codemasters’ F1 or GRiD series. (Maybe it’s just me.)
There are a number of activities that you can partake in throughout the game, including Hill Climb and Rallycross, but you’ll more than likely spend a majority of time working your way through the championship circuit and slowly beefing up your racing times. It can be tiring, especially in the earlygoing when all you want to do is keep up a proper speed, but you’ll feel accomplished after a few races, even if you’re not necessarily the top dog. Keep progressing, buddy.
The online racing is sweet as well (based on what we’ve seen with preview races), as the competition can be quite heated against experienced players. It helps to build up your nerve with single player racing first, just so you’re ready to go when the challenge comes.
As for the presentation, it’s razor sharp. The visuals move at a fast clip, with nary a loss for detail; the cars look absolutely fantastic, with real-time dings, lighting and other effects to make you feel like you’re actually in the vehicle (or, if you prefer an outer view, near it); and the track designs – in which there are over 70! – are beautiful, making something like Driveclub resemble a clunker. No, seriously, this is one of the boldest next-gen racing games I’ve seen since the days of Forza Motorsport 6. That’s good news for PS4 owners who have needed such an alternative.
As for audio, there are only slight bits of music here and there, mainly between races, but the co-pilot is absolutely authentic, calling out turns to help you better for what’s ahead on the road. He certainly sounds monotonous as he reads “tighten” and other instructions in rapid order, but that’s exactly how the real rally racers do it, so you’ll feel right at home if that’s what you’re into. The sound effects on the vehicles are also top-notch, and differ depending on what model you’re behind the wheel of.
In short, DiRT Rally is an essential rally racing experience. That’s not to say it’ll be everyone’s speed – the difficulty setting may leave some players running off towards the inferior Sebastian Loeb competitor instead – but those who stick it out will find intense racing action, solid controls, and a wonderful presentation that really makes the most of its surroundings. Oh, and did I mention the racing was insane? DiRT Rally possesses the kind of action that will make your teeth sweat.