DiRT Rally is the latest entry into the Colin McRae Rally series from CodeMasters. Currently in Early Access on Steam, we managed to get our hands on a copy and I’ve sunk a fair few hours into the title. I’d like to point out that I have no real experience with rally games. I own WRC for the Play Station 2, so that’s the extent of my rally gaming career! Also, because I’m a filthy casual and only own a wheel for my Xbox, so I played with a game controller.
Since I’m a newbie to Rally games I was expecting a steep learning curve. What events are what? How do I enter them? etc., but the game has a very clean and self-intuitive interface that immediately dismissed those woes. As you boot the game for the first time there is a great tutorial that introduces you to all the features it has to offer, and gets you up to speed and ready to race in no-time.
In career mode there are currently 2 championships available: the Rally championship, and the Pikes Peak USA hill climb that was recently added. The hill climb challenge was added mid-review, so I unfortunately don’t have enough credits to try it out! You need 175,000 credits minimum to purchase the right car, and I don’t see me getting that any time soon!
The rally championship consists of 5 tears: Open, Clubman, Professional, Elite and Master. At the end of each championship your points will dictate whether you are promoted, relegated or just stay the same tier.
Each championship then consists of multiple events, each of which has multiple races. I’m just approaching the end of my first championship which consisted of 3 events, each with 4 races. That’s the crux of the game, complete a number of races to complete an event, complete enough events to complete the championship.
Online play includes Daily stages, Weekly stages and Monthly stages that allow you to compete against others for the best times to earn credits. In the daily stage you get provided a car, but in the weekly and monthly event, you’ll be using the car from your garage. So get racing and earning credits so you can perform on the online stage.
The first car you have access to is from the 1960s. As you play and earn more credits, you have the option to buy cars from later decades, all the way up to the 2010s. Including the hill climb cars, there’re 20 in total to unlock. That’s plenty to go at, and since the game is still in early access there’s almost certainly more to come!
You are only part of the equation in DiRT Rally. Alongside yourself, you have a crew of up to 5 engineers that will travel with you throughout your career. You start with 2 slots, and the others are unlocked as you wrack up miles in the stages.
Each engineer has 10 skills, with each being more apt at some that others, so it’s important to pick the right engineer for your team so these are as balanced as possible. No use have 5 engine specialists on your team when no-one can change a wheel! Each engineer also has a contract length and cost, so that has to be taken into consideration also. If you hire a top-notch bunch of engineers, then can’t afford to renew their contract they will be gone.
From what I’ve played so far, I don’t know how much the makeup of your engineering team actually effects gameplay. For a casual player such as myself, content with finishing 5th and not blowing up in the process, I imagine the makeup of my team will bear little effect on my results; it hasn’t so far. For serious players however, I imagine striking the right team balance will help a lot. It’s a fun feature, which gives more control and connection to the team.
Racing feels great. With no mini-map, it’s vital that you listen to your engineer describing the upcoming roads. “Left 6” and “right 4” will be phrases that you’ll hear a lot. If you stop paying attention, and miss the upcoming warning if a hairpin, things are about to get real bad.
The car is a constant fight. You’re always riding a fine line of being in control of the car and sliding towards a tree or cliff … or at least I was. The controls are tight enough so that you can stay just on the right side of that line so long as you give the car your upmost attention. Again, I used a game controller for this, so my comments should be disregarded for wheel users and that’s usually a different ball game.
If you get the guts to up your speed, and start using your handbrake, there’s lots of fun to be had, and crazy high-speed turns to nail. The faster you go however, the more punishment awaits should you screw up. I was 86% through a nice ice stage, went over the edge and received terminal damage. I DNF’d the race and overall lost 800 credits that race. Bad luck, next race awaits … NO. Terminal car damage brings a swift end to your entire championship. So, so punishing.
The cars are detailed nicely, as are the environments. Some of the scenery as you fly past a rock face is spectacular. Also it runs great. I’m sitting on 4 hours play time and haven’t run into a single issue.
One thing I did feel with DiRT was a bit restricted. There are no side-objectives: ‘Complete X track in X time’ etc. time-trials, challenges, it’s just straight-up no-nonsense racing. Now that’s not a bad thing, the game is true and absolute racing sim, but those looking for more than that won’t find it.
Tl:dr – DiRT RALLY is an out and out rally sim. With a pure focus on racing alone, and no gimmicky additions, it offers a great rally sim experience; those looking for more won’t find it. It looks great, runs great, and feels great.
Rating – 9/10