It’s been a long time since the release of Colin McRae DiRT, almost ten years in fact. Similarly, it’s also been a long time since Codemasters have released a truly worthy sequel. With the release of DiRT Rally however, Codemasters have returned to form and shown gamers why they’re one of the premier racing developers in the market. There is no ifs nor buts about it, DiRT Rally is the best rally racer on consoles to date, and dare I say, of the past decade.
Unlike the previous instalments in the franchise, DiRT Rally has stripped away all non-rally events and consolidated everything to just three disciplines – rally, hillclimb and rallycross. In rally, you’ll race alongside your co-driver as he reads out pace notes describing upcoming corners and obstacles. Rally events are broken down into a series of stages, with the option to repair your vehicle after each second stage. Hillclimb sees the long-awaited return of the legendary Pikes Peak, as you tackle the mountain and walk the line between gunning for insane speed and keeping all four wheels on the road. Rallycross then goes in the complete opposite direction, trading fast-winding roads for tight technical circuits, as you drive alongside your competitors for pole position in elimination-style events. Each discipline of course bringing with it their own unique challenges.
One of the greatest (selling) points behind DiRT Rally is Codemasters’ focus on realism, and of that, the most significant feature is it’s difficulty. Make no mistake, DiRT Rally isn’t just tough, it’s absolutely brutal.
Typically Codemasters have been known for holding the hands of gamers, because if they weren’t the ones to implement the rewind feature then they were certainly the company that popularised it. However with DiRT Rally their hands are well and truly in their pockets as this game represents a proper no-holds barred off-road racing experience. Throughout the game you’ll be fish-tailing, rolling and crashing as you master both the controls and multiple terrains, where I expect racing enthusiasts will be revelling at the challenge, while I suspect casual fans might be somewhat turned off.
The difficulty in DiRT Rally comes in the (very much improved) physics model, and it’s here that Codemasters hits its realism factor quite well. In many racing titles I’ll often judge its authenticity by the ‘weight’ of the vehicles, however here in DiRT Rally there’s so much more. Absolutely, the vehicles in this game do feel heavier than what we’re used to from the developers, but it’s the other elements that you’ll discover as you move between stages, locations and vehicles that add to the experience.
For starters, weight transfer plays an important part as you navigate between corners, your entry speed and aggressiveness all determining how cleanly you’ll clear the corner and in-turn, your approach for the next one. Come in too quick and from the wrong angle and while you might end up making it through the turn, you’ll be unable to brake sufficiently and end up in a ditch or row of trees further down. Alternatively, you might hit a crest (and believe me, there are plenty of them) too fast and at the wrong angle and end up missing the road and landing front-first into the forest instead. Unlike your track racers there’s hardly enough space for two cars, let alone run off, so one wrong move can mean the difference between a repair bill and a stage win.
Oh, and in addition to no rewinds, each time you restart the race or reset your car you’re penalised. Should you drive into trees or drive off the road and need to reset your car to the track, you’ll incur anywhere between an 8-13 second penalty, which will definitely cost you first place, but further push you down the pack as well. Going further, the game will refuse to respawn your car if it flies off a corner that would realistically not be possible to drive back from, in-turn terminating your run. Should you wish to restart the race you can, but each restart reduces your ‘no restart’ bonus, therefore reducing your earnings at the end of event. Don’t finish in the top three by the end of the championship and you’ll be denied the chance to progress to the next tier in career. Like I said, no-one’s holding your hand this time around.
I mentioned mastering different vehicles earlier, and it’s something that’ll keep you in check the entire time throughout this game. At the beginning you’re forced into 1960s rally cars like the Lancia Fulvia HF, and while their acceleration and top-speed aren’t amazing by any standards, the challenge comes in mastering the handling and brakes as you muster your way through the game’s six different locations. You might get the handle of the car in one location, and then be thrown a curveball at the next. Similarly, you might jump from the Fulvia into a hillclimb Audi Sports Quattro S1 PP, and now you’re not dealing with stiff handling, but incredible speed and just fighting to keep the car on the path itself. This summarises the difficulty in DiRT Rally – the struggle between wanting to go flat out, but also just wanting to make it to the end of the stage. I found myself on edge of my seat as I would drive dangerously close to trees or a ditch and end up either in a crash or rolling… and then crashing. It’s satisfying when speed and control work, and devastating when it doesn’t, and believe me, the latter will happen a lot as you work your way through.
The devil is in the detail, and it’s the cherry on top of the ice-cream when it comes to the realism factor in DiRT Rally. Mirrors and windows crack, tyres puncture and headlights will break in collisions. Windscreen wipers come on when dust, snow or water accumulates on your windscreen and you can hear the sound of your brakes on those older vehicles as they get worn throughout the stages. You hear the sound of dust, sticks and stones hit the undercarriage of your car, turbos spooling and there’s the sign of dust and snow spray as you hit embankments on either side of the path. It’s the production value that is often lacking in other racing titles that Codemasters completely nails in their games, especially this one.
It needs to be said, while the content in DiRT Rally is certainly diverse, there are some moments when it would be nice to have a little more. Perhaps I’m scrapping for negatives here, but with only six locations, and while the main terrains are crossed off, it would be nice to see perhaps more dust/sand/dessert tracks. Australia is a noticeable exclusion in this game, and I think back to how enjoyable the outback tracks were in Colin McRae DiRT. Furthermore, while there’s certainly a nice range of car categories, the number of vehicles in each are fairly limited – sometimes only two or three cars each. A few more Mitsubishi Evolutions or even some Toyotas wouldn’t go astray. It’s also slightly disappointing that cars are discipline-specific, where it would be nice to tackle Pikes Peak in a Subaru WRX for example.
As I said at the beginning of this review, DiRT Rally is well and truly the best rally game on the market. While the game doesn’t boast the same number of tracks as the WRC-licensed titles, there is still enough content to master. I’m still not sure if the difficulty will be off-putting for non-racing fans, as it’s a game that is as punishing as it is beautiful, however for rally enthusiasts it’s certainly not going to be a pick-up and dominate-type title. Success will only come with time and patience. I’ve already crashed more times than I can count and I’ve failed in progressing through two of the three disciplines in the campaign already. Guess that just calls for more practice!
DiRT Rally was reviewed using a promotional disc on Xbox One as provided by the publisher.
Review: DiRT Rally