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DiRT Rally Intent on Carving its Own Careening Path

Dirt Rally (3)

Like most Americans during the mid ‘90’s, I was distressingly unaware of the virtues of rally racing. Fortunately, that obliviousness was eventually upended by a procession of games like SEGA Rally Championship and Rally Cross, which demonstrated just how rousing point-to-point time trials could be. But it was the stateside release of Codemasters’ Colin McRae Rally that showed the potential of the sport, with the PlayStation game offering one of the first simulations of the sport. Being raised on circuit-based titles that tasked players with the memorization of a tracks, rally’s winding routes and varied weather conditions required a new kind of spontaneous proficiency. Another plus were the cars- which looked far closer to my functional hatchback than any kind of exotic, low-slung, Formula One.

Subsequent iterations of the Colin McRae franchise improved the visual output and accessibility, with American voice-over work signaling Codemasters desire to win over even more Yanks. But after McCae’s passing, the series gradually adopted a different approach that phased out simulation in favor of petrol-guzzling spectacle and track-based competitions. Although the DiRT series was thoroughly enjoyable, it gradually disregarded its original fan base of rabid rally enthusiasts, pushing players to the WRC FIA games.

Dirt Rally (1)

With the Early Access release of DiRT Rally on PC, Codemasters triumphantly returns to their roots. Much like Demon Souls or Bloodborne, the game offers little in the way of immediate gratification, forcing players to dig in, survey, and master its sophisticated mechanics. Approach the title like it’s a follow-up to DiRT Showdown, and you’ll quickly send vehicle, driver, and co-driver plunging over the first sharp curve. Likewise, expect a contemporary convenience like GRID’s Flashback function and you’ll be thwarted. DiRT Rally brings anxiety back to racing games by locating peril just beyond the brink of every winding bend. While you can reset your car should you lose control of your precious Lancia, doing so will have serious repercussions, most likely inhibiting a podium finish. Hell, even restarting a round seizes some of your in-gaming winnings. Expect a sweaty, iron-tight grip on your controller of choice, your grasp tightening with each time you’re able to recover from impending peril.

Like every racer, a deep-rooted tension exists between speed and control. Drive sluggishly, and navigating each twist of the road becomes a trouble-free undertaking even for novices. But since you’re not trying to edge out a pack of competitors but rather shooting for the shortest completion time, you’ll feel the compulsion to sprint across each of the thirty-six stages offered in the current build. It’s here that Codemasters nails that balance, pushing players toward the precipice of control as they hug every curve and rocket across each straightaway. The game is especially adept at conveying traction, using sound to articulate road type and controller vibration to signal tire grip.

Dirt Rally (2)

But there’s also apprehension in almost every turn, with a microsecond of braking determining either achievement or a debilitating disaster as you careen right off the road. Much of this has to do with the game’s fastidious pursuit of accuracy. Whereas many rally titles widen the road a bit, DiRT Rally likes to keep your racing path precariously thin, mirroring the breadth of actual locales. This is especially notable in Monte Carlo, when traversing the narrow, snow-caked road at night can feel like threading a needle in the middle of a rainstorm.

Driving is persistently (and rightfully) tricky, but fortunately the Codies provide an ample number of assists to players, from traction and stability control to ABS braking-even allowing players to start races with the handbrake engaged for a bit of acceleration off the starting line. While vehicular handling is consistently contentious in racing gamers, DiRT Rally’s physics seem particularly adept, with cars reacting realistically under a multitude of road conditions and weather types. More importantly, the game’s fleet of cars- culled from the ‘60’s to today, demonstrates a sense of balance. Traditionally, titles favor the most recent vehicles- and while the Countryman Rally Edition and Fiesta RS Rallys offer more control and power over the old Mini Coopers and Fiats, the elder soil speeders are certainly no slouches.

Dirt Rally (6)

Given the game’s Early Access state, DiRT Rally has the fundamentals down and appears to be focused on adding content. A menu selection hints at a Hill Climb mode in a forthcoming update, while Codemasters assurances gamers of more courses, vehicles, and locales. The latter is especially needed, with Greece, Wales, and Monaco providing pleasing backdrops and a variety of weather conditions, but ultimately the trio of settings feels incomplete. A recent update that fixed the voice of an intermittently taciturn co-driver shows the developer is using Early Access to listen to fans; hopefully, the studio will persist that process. As for pricing, the developer is taking an interesting approach. The sooner you buy the game, the cheaper it will be- with upcoming content being added for free to all purchasers. Once the final build is released, Codemasters will sell additional content as DLC. Let’s just hope they’re not holding back on any of the really cool stuff.

Codie’s past releases have been accomplished performers, with Grid and DiRT offering over visual fluidity on even middling laptops with an integrated GPU. Largely, DiRT Rally continues that tradition. With resolution, multisampling, and graphical options set to Ultra, the game ran at a steady sixty frames per second on our GeForce GTX 770 outfitted i7 and nearly as well on our gaming laptop with an integrated GeForce GTX 860M GPU. Deftly, DiRT Rally indulges in the elements that make rally racing unique, offering dense forests filled with distinctive flora, picturesque vistas, and during night races, lighting that adds to the already overwrought level of tension. Rarely do you forgot that DiRT Rally’s courses weren’t designed for racing; the game thrives on the feeling that you’re assailing these diminutive country paths with raw, urban horsepower. Sonically, the game also excels, offering head-nodding electronic rhythms in menus and a sound of gravel hitting the undercarriage that’s downright uncanny.

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For rally aficionados, DiRT Rally is nothing short of compulsory. While the Early Access build might be shy on content, the tenets are there, delivering what is the hands-down best rally racing experience found on PC. Hopefully, Codemasters will build on this very strong foundation, potentially winning back the admiration of simulation stalwarts. To paraphrase Robert Frost, DiRT Rally chooses the path less taken, and its skilled execution makes all the difference.

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert ‘DesertEagle’ Allen is Tech-Gaming’s resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

20 comments

  1. Robert, do you have an English background? The name Allen sounds like it could be from the UK. That might explain your passion for rally.

  2. Sounds pretty difficult. I know you mentioned assists, but are there difficulty levels? I think the Dirt games had those, right?

  3. Codemasters seems to just release this without any hype. Of course, I bought it. Don’t regret a thing. Really fun game if you like rally. Just like the review said, I hope they put more in the game.

  4. Sims are cool, but I wonder if they’ll give the game an easy mode for players. I don’t know just how many people are really into hardcore rally sims (besides you, Deagle).

    • I’d argue that there’s just as many people who play these type of games as the anime/loli ones. Maybe even more.

  5. I’ve seen some good deals on DR from non-Steam key retailers, but I always worry they’ll deactivate my game sometime down the line.

  6. How many cars are in the game right now? Does it support any driving wheels?

    $34.99 isn’t bad at all. I loved the old Colin McCrae games.

  7. Good preview. Almost a review.

  8. What price will the game go up to? Thinking about getting in now.

  9. Here’s the list of additions, taken from https://www.dirtgame.com/uk/timeline

    Scheduled date May 2015
    Pikes Peak returns to DiRT. Rebuilt from the ground up and now featuring the modern full tarmac route alongside the mixed surface variant. We’ll also be including a full Hillclimb season mode and putting some Hillclimb Online events into the rotation. Obviously you’re going to need some wheels and you’ll find a collection of hillclimb cars added too.

    Tarmac Terrors

    Scheduled date June 2015
    This month we’re heading to Germany to tackle some of the most technical and challenging tarmac stages in the world.

    Classic Icons

    Scheduled date June 2015
    This collection of classic rally cars are the cream of the crop, true rallying legends from days gone by and some of the finest machines you’ll ever have the privilege of driving.

    Rallycross Pack

    Scheduled date July 2015
    Rallycross comes to DiRT Rally with two brand new circuits, a pack of rallycross super cars, a brand new single player career and of course fresh Online Events.

    PVP Pack

    Scheduled date August 2015
    Competitive multiplayer comes to DiRT Rally for the first time.

    Rallycross Expansion

    Scheduled date August 2015
    Launching alongside the PVP Pack we’re also adding new cars and a new Rallycross circuit to the DiRT Rally roster.

    Flying Finland

    Scheduled date September 2015
    We head to Finland for some of the fastest sections of road in rally with two legendary cars from two legendary drivers to go with it.

    Modern Masters

    Scheduled date October 2015
    A whole new class of car for you to master in career containing some firm fan favourites

    Winter Wonderland

    Scheduled date November 2015
    With a new environment to tackle and new cars to master can you keep your cool in this winter wonderland?

  10. Here’s what you get right now:

    17 Cars – Having hundreds of cars doesn’t interest us, rally is about having the right car and we intend to give you those cars. These 17 are just to get us started and we’ll be adding more cars over more classes as the year goes on.

    36 Stages – Winding paths through forests, death defying drops off hillsides and narrow mountain paths are what this is all about. It’s you, your codriver and your car versus the road ahead and to get us started we’ll be heading to the muddy forest tracks of Wales, the dusty trails of Greece and the icy tarmac of the legendary Monte Carlo rally.

    A-Synchronous Events – Take on the world in Daily, Weekly and Monthly challenges. These are the ultimate tests of skill and determination and it’s going to take everything you have to finish on top.

    Simulation handling – We’ve accurately recreated how every part of the car works and to support this we’ve developed a brand new physics model which simulates everything from the way the surface of the road behaves to limited slip differentials. This is how these cars drive and to achieve this we’ve had our very own rally driver on staff working alongside the most talented car handling designers in the world. We’ve had countless visitors in from the world of rally, rallycross and friends from the community, helping us to make sure that we’ve got it as right as we can, ready for you.

    Team Management – Hire and fire your crew members, each of which will have different skills improving repair times for different parts of the car, unlock new perks as they gain experience and work together as a team to improve your performance in events.

    League Support – Get together with friends and run your very own racing league. You can join up to six leagues at any one time and run them how and when you want. For more information on setting up and joining a racing league visit dirtgame.com

    As a thank you for supporting us during Early Access we are giving you a special DiRT Rally livery for the Subaru Impreza 1995.

    • Seems like the writer should have done their research instead of speculating what the developers might add.

  11. Graphics look really good. Some of the best I’ve seen for a racing game. I really would love to see the game on PS4.

  12. A word of warning, my Logitech Driving Force GT doesn’t not work with Dirt Rally. Codemasters if you see this, please fix it!

    • Try reinstalling the drivers for thew GT. I saw others with the same problem on Steam.

  13. Just picked it up. It is pretty hard core. I’m good at racers and struggled to get 6th place.