Rally games have struggled in the last generation and it’s hard to fathom why. Beautiful landscapes, noisy cars, unpredictable surfaces – it’s a huge amount of fun for anyone involved, but not since Rallisport 2 has there been a game that attempted to take on the genre in a remotely realistic way, until now, with Dirt returning to its routes with Dirt Rally.
From the very beginning of the game taking underpowered old Rally Cars round precarious woodlands tracks, right up to the most modern and hilariously powerful hillclimb cars, Dirt Rally is incredibly pure in its purpose. You are expected to take on every aspect of a real Rally Driver’s job, listening to a code-speaking co-driver while simultaneously trying to hold your nerve on some of the most punishing tracks in the planet. This is not a game for the faint hearted or the impatient. A single mistake on a corner can cost you 13 seconds easily, and that could cost you a whole event. It’s tempting to repeatedly restart everytime you go wrong, but this is just madness and with the races being so long and so unpredictable, you’ll end up having to accept less than perfect races with alarming regularity. Of course as time goes on you get better, you start to learn routes, you start to instinctively follow the commands of your co driver even if you can’t see (driving at night with a broken headlight is akin to turning off your pilot assists in the Death Star Trench) and you’ll start winning events. Then you’ll unlock races in a new, more powerful car and be back to square one all over again, but you’ll learn to love it.
For all of its punishing eccentricities, this is a beautiful and incredibly well polished game. The lighting is fantastic and we’re not sure how they’ve done it but the sense of speed is much more palpable than in other recent realistic racing games. Of course there’s all the expected leaderboards and asynchronous multiplayer (like a really rally league) but there is no direct head to head, which might be a disappointment to some racing fans. Thankfully this means you don’t have to worry about people pushing you off the track on the first corner, and means once you have set up a ‘league’ you don’t even need to be online at the same time.
Put simply, this is a rally game for rally fans, and within that specific brief, it does everything you’d want it to do. This is brutal, unforgiving and beautiful, and would take precisely one corner for you to decide if this is for you or not. If your reaction when you career off the edge of a hillside into a tree because you dipped your tyre into some loose gravel is to throw your controlelr across the room, perhaps it’s time to go back to Forza Horizon. If you accept the 13s penalty to get your car back on the track and go on to finish the stage with your bumper hanging off, welcome to Dirt Rally.