We haven’t played a rally game this exciting since at least Rallisport Challenge 2, it’s been a long while since we played any racing games that was this good, and this is only Early Access. DiRT Rally is a return to pure Rally driving for the DiRT series, forgetting about the Gymkhana and Rallycross distractions of the last few mainstream games, instead creating a real Rally simulator with realistic rules, physics and vehicles.
You can reset on the track when you inevitably go thundering down a cliff or get stuck behind a wall, but it creates a time penalty, like in real Rally. You can fix damage to your car between races, but each repair you do will cost you a certain amount of time. Different road surfaces and weather conditions affect your grip and handling in realistic ways and even the weight distribution of the car just feels right as anyone who has driven too fast down a country lane will be able to tell you.
Thankfully Codemasters Racing Studio have avoided the temptation from many recent racing simulators to go into a hyper sterile and serious environment (see Gran Turismo 6) in order to make it seem authentic. The menus are snappy and look good, you earn credits at the end of each race (more if you resist the temptation to restart) and you can spend these on a range of different vehicles from early champion cars all the way to the most modern vehicles the sport has to offer. In your races there’s no minimap, just a co driver shouting instructions about the next turn and an arrow on the screen to give you an idea of what’s coming up. You can choose a third person view, but really this is all about the helmet camera view and throwing yourself around a corner with only blind trust in your co-pilot to let you know what’s happening next.
In the Early Access version there’s three environments and only the bare Rally mode (no Hill Climb yet) but there are 36 separate stages (a couple are going down the same route backwards) and a full campaign mode and regularly changing challenges. In our eyes, this is well worth the money already, with the promise of more content to come it’s simply a no brainer.