Dirt Rally is published and developed by Codemasters ‘DiRT Rally is the most authentic and thrilling rally game ever made, road-tested over 80 million miles by the DiRT community. It perfectly captures that white knuckle feeling of racing on the edge as you hurtle along dangerous roads at breakneck speed, knowing that one crash could irreparably harm your stage time. Every stage tests you differently, as you race on the edge of control across snow, ice, tarmac and dirt and tackle a variety of weather types. As the car suffers attrition and stages string together, your dedicated rally team tries to keep you competitive and each rally becomes a marathon-like test of concentration and skill. DiRT Rally also includes officially licensed World Rallycross content, allowing you to experience the breathless, high-speed thrills of some of the world’s fastest off-road cars as you trade paint with other drivers at some of the series’ best-loved circuits, in both singleplayer and high-intensity multiplayer races.’
One of the first things you will be presented with when starting Dirt Rally is a message from the developers explaining their drive (geddit?) to make a rally game as realistic and as close to the real thing as possible. They’ve succeeded. Performance wise the game doesn’t falter, maintaining fantastic graphics regardless of weather, environment, amount of opponents etc. Even the HUD and title screens feel clean and clutter free giving a next gen feel, very similar to what the original Colin McRae: Dirt managed on the 360. My only gripe would be the occasional long load times.
Unlike its recent predecessors, Dirt Rally has chosen to stick to one field and execute it as well as possible. With only three types of event to choose from (Rally, Rally Cross and Hill Climb), gone are the days of unnecessary padding with events such as gymkhana and smashing foam robots against the clock. After ditching its somewhat arcade style roots, what we’re left with is a hardcore racing simulation of the highest quality that Codemasters have executed with aplomb. During each race you’ll find yourself scrutinizing every bump, bend and ditch in minute detail, with the help of your much needed co-driver, to ensure you don’t end up with a disadvantage ranging from a time penalty to a wrecked car.
Being a simulation, this game is difficult, but with that comes a much greater sense of accomplishment at the end of every race or in some cases, each bend. This is where your co-driver becomes absolutely crucial to winning races (as there is no mini-map on the HUD), letting you know of every upcoming bend; it’s tightness, it’s distance, whether it is safe to cut and so forth. He can be tweaked to give his instructions earlier or later for when you find yourself forgetting instructions prior to taking a corner.
Sound wise the game excels, all the cars have their own dirty, spluttering sounds and after playing a while, you’ll become to know each vehicle by the noise is makes. Even the soundtrack is what we’ve come to expect from racing games, the chilled menu music perfectly contrasting the filth you’ll hear while racing.
Customization is another area where this game shines, with 46 cars at launch; multiple liveries per vehicle, 7 countries to traverse with multiple locations in each one, differing weather and road conditions as well as day and night cycles, very few races will feel the same. Even when you happen to visit the same location twice the chances are you will be in a different vehicle, 100bhp front wheel drive 4 speed Mini one time, 400bhp four-wheel drive Audi Quattro the next. It won’t take long for you to find a car you love and using anything else will feel different or wrong (looking at you Citroen C4 Rally). This pretty much guarantees that no two races will be the same. On top of this your vehicles and the engineers you hire also have special perks to unlock, ranging from increased horsepower to advanced tuning options to reduced repair time between races. Tuning will also become your best friend, of which there is a lot to tinker with, and especially when it comes to the Rallycross game mode where the margin for error is tiny. Acknowledging the haptic feedback from your controller will help massively too, with a slight flick of the wheel the other way during turns helping to reduce both slow down and risk of spinning out.
On top of the standard career the online leagues, Dirt Rally offers daily, weekly and monthly challenges. Some of these aren’t accessible until you own the car itself, where as some will give you the option to loan the car for that specific event. One thing people might not enjoy quite so much, is you sometimes only get one crack at these races. This can be quite daunting when you’re going from a front-wheel drive Renault Alpine A110 to a rear-wheel drive Ford Escort Mk II considering the cars handle totally different and you spend the majority of the race getting accustomed to how the car drives.
The difficulty won’t be for everyone, but as a masochist I enjoy the challenge and it makes a change from regular racing games where winning races simply becomes a checklist, racking up win after win with very little effort; Dirt Rally makes you work for your victories. The distance of the Rally and Hill Climb courses can exceed often 10 kilometers, such as in Hill Climb events like Pikes Peak. Even the damage your car receives makes a huge difference. Got a puncture? Suck it up or take the hefty time penalty you’ll receive. Damaged radiator causing engine problems? See above.
A glaring omission from the game is a rewind feature that has become a staple for most racing games these days; this manages to keep the tension alive throughout most races, knowing a single slip up could cost you the race. While this can be infuriating at times, it fits in with the hardcore feel the game is trying to achieve. The closest thing you get to this is the restart race button on the pause menu, the only punishment for this being you lose your credit bonus at the end of an event. This can easily be worked around however by simply quitting the race and joining back in, if you can stomach the load times each time.