Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: December 7th, 2015 (early access)
Genre: Simulation Racing
Don’t. Cut. This is a phrase frequently mentioned by your co-driver, and also on various loading screens throughout Dirt Rally. It’s a tempting prospect, but when cutting a corner invariably means completely writing off your car for the sake of shaving a few milliseconds off your time you’d do well to listen to the brave man in your passenger seat. How he stays calm when I plunge off a cliff at 80mph on my roof is beyond me. That aside he is the most important noise you’ll hear whether you’re driving a banged up Mini from the 1960’s or the beefy Subaru Impreza, and every now and again he throws caution to the wind and advises you to “be brave.”
This is the beauty of Dirt Rally. One second you’re being screamed at not to cut, then the next you’re barrelling towards a jump and your co-driver is telling you to hit it at full speed. You as the driver will need to alternate between pin-point precision and balls-out aggressive driving amidst split-second reflexes and decision making, or else you’ll… well, plunge off a cliff at 80mph on your roof, as I have more than once. You’ll need to be daring, and you’ll need to be cautious, but favouring either decision at the wrong moment will cost you precious seconds.
Dirt Rally is first and foremost a racing simulator, so you’ll need the correct setup to get the most out of the game. As with most games a control pad and those cheap speakers you paid less than a burger for will do the job, but to get the most out of this game you need either a good set of headphones and most importantly a wheel, my recommendations would be either the Ferrari Italia Thrustmaster, which I own, if you want a budget wheel or if you’re more of an enthusiast the Logitech G27/G29 is the one to go for, which is what Alan has recently splashed the cash on. A good setup really adds to the immersion as there is nothing quite like sitting on the starting line with a wheel in your hands being able to hear the roar of a V6 engine before you put your foot down and hope for the best.
Hoping for the best is what you’ll be doing a lot of in the early stages of the game. It is punishingly difficult as despite various hand-holding options like automatic gear boxes and traction control you do not get some of the features more arcade racing fans might have come to appreciate – assisted steering and breaking for example, or maybe the green, yellow and red arrows that tell you when to turn, break and accelerate. For the most part you’re on your own, so Dirt Rally takes a long time to get the hang of. There are 21 tutorials available, not that this matters much as they’re not playable. Despite throwing you in at the deep end there is a progressive sense of satisfaction as you throw your car sideways through a corner at 60mph, the same one you hit a wall on the previous time and drove through like an old lady the time before that. And the game looks stunning on a high end PC as you’re doing this too, and its PS4 and Xbox One Counterparts aren’t far behind either.
The majority of the career mode is made up of competing in various rally championships across various stages in all kinds of treacherous conditions. These are often long events split into stages where you generally compete against the AI to set the fastest times, and occasionally come together in multi-car races in rallycross events so you’re not always racing against the clock. Damage received throughout these events is carried over from stage to stage unless you use up available time to have a team of engineers fix any problems, so light damage will become progressively worse if not dealt with. This further adds to the overall challenge and a catastrophic accident will put you out of whatever championship you’re involved in entirely, which is frustrating but again this is where the satisfaction comes in – if you get it right. One negative in career mode is that it can be a grind-fest as you work towards new upgrades for your existing cars or new vehicles entirely, and a series of poor performances can make you feel like you’re being left behind in the later stages of the game.
The only other negative aspect with the game is with the multiplayer. It’s overly-complicated to get a session going as it needs to be done via the Race.net website, and once you’ve set up an event you can only start it at 15 minute intervals so a quick drop-in racing session is out of the question. I tried setting up a rallycross event for Alan and I to race in together at the same time as our standard time trial event didn’t go well with Alan hurtling off a cliff within a few hundred meters of the starting line, but we found ourselves in completely different heats against the AI and disappointingly found no way to race together with any ease. What would work here would be a co-op campaign, with both of us being members of the same racing team, but that isn’t a feature in nearly all racing games outside Formula 1.
Multiplayer issues aside Dirt Rally is a fantastic game. Racing enthusiasts in particular will revel in the excitement it offers as it is the best rally simulation in a number of years, and even more casual racers will enjoy the enormous satisfaction it provides. With a lot of practice.
Plenty of cars and tracks to choose from
Progressive sense of satisfaction as you progress
Career mode will keep you occupied for a long time…
…but it’s a bit of a grind
You’ll need expensive hardware to get the most out of the game
Multiplayer is poor