Colin McRae’s legacy lives on with the back-to-basics gameplay of Codemasters’ Dirt Rally. A far cry from the over-the-top antics of the last few Dirt games, Dirt Rally is a comparatively real-world rally-driving masterclass.
Shunning arcade antics and arena stunt shows, Dirt Rally offers rally fans the same sort of apology Codemasters gave fans of their Grid games with their pure-bred street-racer Grid Autosport. I’ll you now, console fans, Dirt Rally is the rally game, and perhaps the motorsport game that you’ve been waiting for.
Players can choose to start a career, join a league on Dirtgame.com or compete in a custom event. The career mode offers up a full complement of race modes from solo championships to online events and multiplayer rallycross races. The game features three racing disciplines: rally, hillclimb and rallycross.
The rally option features events over a series of point-to-point stages in Greece, Wales, Monaco, Germany, Finland and Sweden. This variety of locations have afforded Codemasters with the opportunity to give players a range of surface types with which to traverse.
The courses have players driving on asphalt, gravel, ice, snow, concrete and cobbles, each rally stage featuring a number of different surfaces. Players will need to watch for surface changes and adjust their driving style accordingly. Stages offer varying weather condition and time of day- including night rallies.
As well as keeping an eye on the road and rally condition, players will also need to have a sharp ear listening to the co-driver’s pace notes. These advance warnings of upcoming road features and hazards are an important aid for drivers to achieve their optimum rally times.
Rally driving is not easy; in fact, it can be an absolute pain to begin with. Dirt Rally is as unforgiving as it’s real-life counterpart. There are a number of driver aids, but there will be plenty of tears as your car leaves the road and hits the tree. But once you get the hang of it, the Dirt Rally experience becomes fantastic.
In order to help players get over the game’s vicious learning curve, Codemasters have included a set of comprehensive tutorial videos. These videos introduce players to proper rally techniques to assist in the transition from arcade racer to rally driver. They are very accurate to the real-world instructions given to me when I tried my hand at real rally driving and the game’s preview event a month or so ago.
The point-to-point stages in rally mode are the game’s bread and butter and it is here that you will learn the skills required to branch out into the other rally driving types.
Hillclimb mode is a 20km time trial rally up the famous Pikes Peak track in the US. You can choose from the current all asphalt road or the historic mixed and all gravel versions of the track. You are on your own for this mode. There’s no co-driver and Pike Peak is notorious for tight turns and vertical drops. Whatever you do, don’t try to cut corners.
The third mode, Rallycross is a more traditional multi-car race, rather than being a solo timed stage affair. The circuits are relatively short featuring varying surface materials. In each race drivers must take the tight joker lap detour once or face time penalty. The events are a series of qualifying heats, a semi-final and a final.
There are three Rallycross locations, each with a small number of circuit variations: Lydden Hill, UK, Hell, Norway and Höljes, Sweden. This mode is absolutely recommended for players missing the direct competition offered by other racers. Rallycross still provides the deep driving experience of rallying with the additional hazards presented by other cars on the track.
Across all the racing modes, after each race or stage you have some time for repairs. How long repairs take depends on your crew (which you get to hire) and their particular area of expertise. It is a good idea to make a note of which parts of the car you usually break and hire engineers with high skills in that area.
Repairs are very important and not something that should be overlooked. Nobody wants to be starting a night stage with broken headlights! Be mindful though, it the career mode those repair costs will be deducted from your race winnings!
The cars range from the1960s’ Mini Cooper S to modern day Fiesta RS Rally. Cars are categorised by decades from the 1960s to 2010s, as well as Group A, Group B (4WD and RWD), F2 Kit Car and R4. The game offers players some vehicle set- up options to adjust the braking, diff, gears, dampers and suspension. The chassis tuning option come with plenty of instructions, allowing even the most novice virtual mechanic to adjust their car to their particular driving style and the rally conditions.
The graphics are breath-taking, honed from years of Codemasters’ experience in bringing rally driving to video games.
The environmental effects are superb, with cars hurling through kicked up dust, in the Rallycross events, limiting vision. The same with the weather effects as rain dribbles down the windscreen. The lighting is offering real-looking visuals that look beautiful, especially as the sunlight it darts between trees during afternoon rallies.
The game gives player the choice of a number of different camera views: car, cockpit, bonnet and bumper. Novices may find it easier to start with a view from behind the car to begin with, just to get to grips with sliding the car. But it’s the cockpit view that gives the most realistic sense of speed. This will keep your driving speed at a more sensible pace and keep you on the road.
Watching the post-stage/race replays is a must. Not only are the replays virtually indistinguishable for TV rally footage, the rewind, fast-forward, pause and camera controls allow you to analysis your performance and see where you can improve.
Unlike the extremely good Project CARS, Dirt Rally doesn’t need a steering wheel to get the best out of it. Whereas Project CARS is virtually unplayable without a wheel, using a controller in Dirt Rally works just fine. Of course, for the ultimate rally simulation experience you really need to play the game with a wheel. And with a year’s worth of tweaking, the force feedback modelling has been tuned to perfection.
I must admit that I often overlook sound design when reviewing games. Having recently driven a rally car, I can appreciate the lengths that Codemasters have gone to replicate the eardrum rattling noise of gravel hitting the underside of the cars. The almost overwhelming din sound identical to the real thing when playing with the cockpit view.
Turn the volume up on your headphones to the point that it almost hurts and that’s exactly what real rally drivers have to put up with. When play, of course, always have the volume at a sensible level to avoid actually damaging your hearing!
Dirt Rally is a return to form for one of the more immersive racing franchises in gaming. In removing all the Americanised shock and awe, and moving away from any condescendingly, dopey driver story rubbish, we have a pure racing experience in one of the toughest motorsports that there is.
If you fancy yourself as a hot-rod racer and think you are going to able to slide your car around on its arse right off the bat like you did in Forza, you are going to be in for a shock. Dirt Rally isn’t a game for the attention deficit set, I’ll make you earn your success.
If you want a beautiful-looking, deep, challenging and extremely rewarding racing game you need look no further than Dirt Rally.