DiRT Rally Review – Dirty Fun (PS4)
It’s hard to believe the last proper DiRT game that we saw was in 2011, with DiRT 3. Sure, there was DiRT: Showdown a year later, but that was a sideshow compared to the gritty realism typically on display in the DiRT series. So DiRT Rally represents a promised return to form, with a heavy focus on hyper-realism, utilizing all the processing power of the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and current-generation PCs (last-gen consoles are given the cold shoulder this time around). Has Codemasters brought the series back to the forefront of the genre, or does the narrow focus give the game a sense of tunnel vision? Time to read and find out!
Beautiful, Just Beautiful
As screenshots and videos can attest, DiRT Rally is a beautiful-looking game. If you’re in the cockpit view, you can really only catch glimpses of the outside world that Codemasters has crafted. Take the camera out behind the car for the best view. Included in these virtual landscapes are sweeping vistas, arid prairies, and forests so dense that you easily get lost staring into the abyss of tree trunks. The world around you looks so good, it’s a shame you have to whiz right on by the sights. Or at least, you have to try to whiz right on by.
You see, DiRT Rally is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an easy game. This is a simulator, first and foremost. You’re told as much when the game boots up for the first time, as a matter of fact. There are in-vehicle assists, such as ABS, traction and stability assists, but these only help so much. With tracks that have unpredictable routes which you can only learn by driving through them repeatedly, DiRT Rally does not hold your hand. Having said that, posting times within the podium level was relatively easy during my playthrough, but securing that top spot was a challenge, requiring that I ran through a stage perfectly. DiRT Rally has a learning curve that casual gamers may never be able to overcome, which is unfortunate if anyone was curious enough to try the game out, only to get frustrated in the early stages, not knowing that practice really does help in a game as seriously realistic as this.
As you make your way through a stage, your spotter is constantly dictating the course’s next turn or feature. He does this by using true-to-life pacenotes. For those unfamiliar with these, in real-life rally races, each driver has a co-driver whose chief task is to alert the driver to what lies ahead. They do this by reading notes from a rather thick notepad. A dictation such as “Left 6 over crest into Right 2 keep in” indicates that an easy left turn up and over a hill is followed by a rather sharp right turn, where it is recommended that you stay on the inside in order to best be lined up for the next feature. The co-driver sounds so authentic, I think Codemasters must simply have taken a professional co-driver, and had them dictate these virtual courses in real-time.
Speaking of sound, whether it’s the whir of a turbocharger, the slosh of tires whirring through the mud, or the unfortunate ticking of a damaged radiator, Codemasters have done their homework when it comes to capturing the sounds of rally racing. Yet, everything appears to have been recorded for stereo sound. Hooked up to a 7.1 surround sound system, the only time I heard directional audio was while in the cockpit view, and even then, the sound was rather muffled. It’s a minor complaint in what is otherwise a stellar design.
Keep It Simple
DiRT Rally also focuses on its core mechanic, which is rally racing. As a result, there aren’t a whole lot of modes to play. There are a few other event types, such as rallycross and hill climbs, but they are not the stars of the show. Generally, you race through the open championships in order to earn credits, hire engineers, and purchase new cars. Your team has an overall rating, and the more miles you put into a car, the better upgrades your team can unlock for that individual car. It makes sense — in real life, the more time you spend with a car, the more you get used to how it operates, and how best to unlock its potential. Engineers can also raise their skill levels over time, and if you don’t like the performance of one, you can let them go, though since you’ve already paid for their contract you’ll end up wasting some cash.
You can take your race online, and participate in rallies with others. Rally racing really is perfect for online competition, because its asymmetric nature means that lag is not an issue: the best driver who drives the course the fastest, wins. Plain and simple. There is also a custom championship mode, where you can mix and match your favorite stages. With over 70 tracks, there are a lot of combinations possible here, and fans will become experts at these courses in no time. You can also expect to earn every car with in-game credits, as well — no micro-transactions here, I am happy to say.
This is the game rally fans have been waiting for. DiRT Rally boasts a simple title that reflects its deceptively simple goal: to be the best rally game, or even the best racing game, released to date. While they may fall a little short of being the best racing game ever made due to its purposely limited scope, DiRT Rally is by far the best rally game we’ve ever seen. DiRT Rally sports world-class visuals, visceral, challenging racing, and true-to-life audio design. This is really a complete package for rally fans the world over.
DiRT Rally review copy provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.