As a spectator sport, watching a rally is kind of stupid. You’re standing on the side of a random road, waiting for a chance to see one of your heroes blitz past you with several hundred horses under their hood that has enough force to turn mud into deadly shrapnel as they take a corner. Sort of like a lethal autograph from your automobile hero then. Stupid, but insanely fun as well in a manner that catapults the sheer illogic nature of being a spectator into a herd of cows on the other side of the track.
And what more could you ask for, from a rally game? Thing is, rally games died out several years ago. Gone were the precise point to point races, replaced instead by the roaring thunder of cars doing fancy tricks and power-sliding like there’s no tomorrow as various energy drink companies plastered their garish logos over everything.
It didn’t help either, that the only official games of the last couple of years, have been five games of mediocrity and half-arsed attempts to translate the sport onto a digital medium. Yes, I’m looking at you WRC game series. Get back in your hole. And now there’s DiRT Rally. It’s a back to basics approach with a take-no prisoners attitude that will caution you to avoid cutting but ask you to be brave when going through a corner.
And sweet Colin McRae, it’s what I’ve been after for so many years ever since I took a muddy corner during the golden age of rally games.
On the surface, DiRT Rally has plenty in its console port. when you’re looking for checklist of features. Plenty of cars, varied tracks, terrain that impacts your handling, traditional point to point races, Hillclimb and Rallycross events. All there, well and fine. Anyone can rattle off those features to you and call it a day. But here’s the thing: DiRT RALLY has what I like to call “the zone”.
It’s something that the best racing games can achieve. It’s this state of concentration, where mind, body, soul and controller become one. It’s a focused moment where your unblinking face is firmly attached to your TV as you flick your thumbs in perfect harmony to nail a corner with the precise amount of speed and control. When you’re an unresponsive organism who is deadset on getting past the split time in a section and earning enough points to be the champ.
That is “the zone”. And it’s something that DiRT Rally has in spades.
What rally games of the past have absolutely failed to do over two console generations, is to capture that feeling of joy and precision. That hard-fought skill needed to power through a corner and work your way towards shaving off those precious few seconds from your lap time. In that regard, DiRT Rally is a joy. When you’re running an engine at dangerously high temperatures over various bumps and turns as your navigator reads out numbers like some sort of binary savante, you shouldn’t feel bored.
It’s hard to accurately articulate how DiRT Rally manages to actually translate the idea of speed and power on dangerous courses into a properly exciting spectacle, but it just does. It just does. But here’s the rub: You’re going to have to work for it.
DiRT Rally is a punishing game. There’s a learning curve here steeper than Pike’s Peak, as the emphasis is on proper control and speed over lavish power-slides and rubber-burning spins. It’s something that’s going to leave some enthusiasts steamed, but it’s also rewarding in a bizarre and masochsitic way.
Thanks in no small part to a robust physics engine and decent video tutorials, it’s still satisfying to actually see progress that has been earned through actual skill. Learning how to listen to your navigator or actually approaching a race with the mindset of not breaking the laws of gravity, is a boon. And you’re going to need every bit of that skill to survive.
Whether it’s coming to grips with different engine setups, taming a snowy tundra or holding on for dear life when you jump a bump, everything around you plays a role that impacts on your race results. As far as ports go, DiRT Rally is keeping pace with the last year’s PC version quite nicely. On Xbox One at least, the action never dipped below the silky smooth 60 frames per second benchmark, while the persistent damage models made me whinge every time I snapped back to a first-person perspective to see a huge crack in my windshield that had been present since I tried to murder a tree in my first race of the lengthy event.
It all flowed into an idea of not automatically hitting the restart button. Of actually starting something the first time and properly finishing it as a team of mechanics kept my ride in relatively stable shape.
DiRT Rally’s biggest problem right now however, is that it’s too little of a good thing. All that fantastic racing can feel dull when you’ve only got a handful of tracks per event to tackle, while the grinding setup to unlock better setups for every vehicle in your garage tends to get tedious with every new purchase. There is an effort at least to throw in some lower-tier rally vehicles for a taste of the other events, but there’s still a steep climb to surmount when it comes to truly unlocking the best of the game. A bare-bones multiplayer shows potential however, with the idea of monthly, weekly, and daily challenges.
Last Updated: April 25, 2016