Codemasters have taken their rally franchise, DiRT, back to its roots with DiRT Rally, now available on PC as part of the Steam Early Access programme. Early Access gives players the opportunity to sample a game during the development cycle, for a reduced fee, months before release of the full game.
Codemasters have previously confessed that last year’s GRID Autosport, was created to appease fans that were disappointed with their GRID 2 racing game. Having tested out DiRT Rally, I’m wondering if they are trying to do the same for DiRT.
The DiRT franchise (formally known as Colin McCrea’s DiRT), seemed to jump the shark after the sad death of Colin McCrea. DiRT 3 with its Rally X and Trailblazer events was a bit of departure from straight rallying.
The next game, DiRT Showdown, focused even less on the down and dirty business of rally driving and more on spectacle. The game certainly injected a little too much “awesome” into proceeding for my palate. I’m not sure if the games’ change of direction was to try and appeal to the US audience, or what, but it certainly alienated a lot of fans.
DiRT Rally takes the series back to its roots. The glitzy stunt events of DiRT Showdown have been pushed aside in favour of tight, uncompromising and realistic rally courses.
As is the norm for Early Access games, DiRT Rally is far from finished, but even so it still manages to give players a fine rally experience. Quite a few game modes are already available. The Career mode has a championship campaign and a selection of online events to compete in. Player can also set up their own one-off custom events.
There are only four locations currently available at present: Agolis in Greece, Powys in Wales, Monte Carlo in Monaco and the recently released Pike’s Peak hill climb in Colarado, US. It may not seem like much, but each location does feature a number of different stages, each of which has their own time of day/weather etc. variants.
It’s not a bad mix of circuits, providing us with four very different racing experiences. From the dusty Mediterranean roads of Greece to the wet weekends in the Welsh woodlands and onto Monaco’s icy mountain passes, Codemasters have done a very good job so far of showcasing their vision for the game.
The developers seemed to have cracked the graphics engine and car physics to give us a game that, even at this early stage, is very, very playable.
Visually DiRT Rally is superb. Codemasters have modelled the tracks without barriers making it look like you are actually driving in a real rally environment. Dense woodlands stretch off to the sides and an understeer can send you ploughing down a bank off the track. The environmental effects and lighting give the game a very realistic look with beautiful sunsets and misty forests.
Vehicle handling also seems to be more realistic than previous DiRT games. The cars’ somewhat unforgiving handling takes a bit of getting used to and may be a bit challenging for players lacking patience. The game doesn’t reward driving with a lead foot. A hasty acceleration to full throttle is likely to have you spinning out of control. Careful use of the brake and disciplined application of the accelerator is a must to succeed in the game.
Whilst the game can most definitely be played with a gamepad, like most racers- it’s better with a racing wheel.
At present, out of the box, the game’s force feedback and steering wheel control is all over the place. This is currently the development team’s area of focus and an update has been promised to address this soon. But he FFB is bad right now, to the point of being unplayable. But, thankfully the community have stepped in and a custom settings file for FFB/steering wheels can easily be applied to the game to get you by until the patch comes out.
With the force feedback and steering fixed, DiRT Rally comes into its own giving players a great taste of what’s in store.
Like most Early Access games DiRT Rally isn’t for everyone, it is a work in progress that offers fans the opportunity to play a game long before release. Apart from the force feedback issue, I didn’t experience any issues, but that isn’t to stay that there aren’t any. Even though DiRT Rally is some way away for being finished, it most definitely worth checking out, especially if you intended to buy the game when it is released.