I played Dirt Rally extensively in Early Access and unlike most unfinished titles I get my hands on, I loved it from moment one, and I like it even more now that the full package is out. Codemasters have been absolutely true to their word with what they’ve delivered with Dirt Rally, with each successive update adding stacks of new content to mess around with.
What we’ve got on our hands is a proper rally game the likes we haven’t seen for years. Dirt Rally is blisteringly intense, in part due to its towering difficulty, but also owing to its total lack of forgiveness. There’s none of the rewinds which have embedded themselves in every racer in the past decade. Instead Dirt Rally is the racing equivalent of walking across a frayed tightrope, suspended 20 feet above a waiting shark tank, where one wrong move can be the difference between glugging champagne or ending up in a useless heap of crushed metal.
It makes every corner crucial, and every millisecond count. It certainly takes a while to get to a competent stage as well. I was lurching around the tracks like the village idiot tanked on scrumpy during the early sessions, forced to dial back my ambitions somewhat. Trotting out a Dark Souls comparison is over-used by now, but Dirt Rally’s purity and reliance on dedication, practice and sheer force of mind certainly recalls From Software’s entire ethos. One over-egged turn can put you off the track with a 14 second time penalty, which can easily be enough to gazump your chances of a podium finish.
It’s rally driving for rally driving fans then, and it wastes no time getting down to business. The modes on offer are, I would have to say, a little sparse. The majority of your time will be spent straight up rallying, but there’s also Hillclimb events and Rally Cross, the latter of which actually puts you against other cars. The problem is there aren’t a great deal of maps for modes other than Rally, with Hillclimb bizarrely limited to just variations of one track. I’d hoped Codemasters' work in Early Access would have seen this number bumped up, but perhaps it has post-launch plans. It’s not like there’s a lack of tracks overall though, with more than 70 squeezed into Dirt rally, but it’s just with a very heavy bias towards Rally mode.
I did say during my preview as well that there was little to thread you through from event to event, and that’s unfortunately still the case in the final product. Progression boils down to selecting from a list of events and ploughing through the races presented to you. Each win earns you bit of a cash, which in turn can be spent on new cars. It’s all a little staid and joyless, so it’s just as well it’s more than made up for by the racing nirvana on offer.
If you loved the previous Dirt games there’s no guarantee you’ll enjoy this, however. It’s borrowed the name but that’s about all. This is much more an homage to Codemasters’ own Colin McRae games. In terms of authenticity it feels a lot more nailed on. At least, how I would imagine rally driving would feel. Every surface, be it gravel, snow, tarmac, etc, demands a totally different level of control, and this also applies to each and every one of the 39 cars. Wrapping your head around their strengths and weaknesses could probably take months, and if you’re the sort to obsess over shaving seconds off your time then Dirt Rally is going to be an extremely worthwhile buy.
I’ll finish up by relaying my exact thoughts of the Early Access version. This is enthralling racing action across varied and beautiful landscapes. It’s just you, the road, glorious countryside and a revving engine. Total racing bliss. If the image below doesn’t grab you, then you’re probably in the wrong place.
Shorn of gymkhanas, energy drinks and blaring angst rock, Dirt Rally is the simulation racer fans of the sport have been waiting for. Don’t let the name fool you, this is not a Dirt sequel in any shape or form, this is the return of a breed of rally racer we thought was long forgotten.