Rally racing fans really are spoiled for choice this year. Within the scope of less than a year we’ve seen three major releases for next gen consoles and PCs. We previously reviewed WRC 5 and Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo, and now it’s time for Codemasters’ Dirt Rally – which just came out for PS4 and Xbox One. We took the Xbox One version for a spin.
What sets WRC, Sebastien Loeb and Dirt Rally apart from each other is where they fall on the scale between simulation and arcade racing. While WRC sits near the arcade end of the spectrum and Sebastien Loeb sits somewhere in the middle, Dirt Rally is a firm believer in portraying the sport with as much realism as possible.
This is mainly true for how the game is controlled and how unforgiving it is while playing. Even with steering aids turned on (and being more sim-oriented, they are limited in Dirt Rally), it takes some getting used to before you steer your way through an event flawlessly for the first time. As experienced rally racing gamers this took about an afternoon of practice for us, and when we had some others test the game it felt like an impossible challenge to them.
A lot of this difficulty comes from the attention to detail and the amount of things that can be customized in Codemasters’ latest rally sim. Pick a different car, and it’s way more than just a different paint job or a bit more in the horsepower department. Each and every car handles differently and this is even more true for the different surfaces you’ll find yourself racing on. You can drive on dirt, mud or snow – and they all require different handling skills. When you find yourself back on the asphalt, like in the Monaco track, it’ll feel like something else entirely again.
To further add to the complexity, each of Dirt Rally’s game modes handles differently. There’s rally racing, rallycross and hillclimb – and it’s best to just stick with one of them for a while if you aim to master it. Keep mixing it up between tracks, car types and game modes – and the game will stay overwhelmingly difficult for long time. Stick with it, and learn one thing before tackling the next, and you’ll find the rewards are sweet and a step towards even more options down the road.
In terms of audiovisual performance, Codemasters did not compromise. Between the three rally games mentioned, Dirt Rally is the most visually pleasing and survived the conversion from the PC original very well. The game looks excellent and maintains a steady framerate no matter the track that’s currently being displayed. Adding even more detail is the damage model, which is incredibly detailed and also impacts the gameplay. This is obviously true within a single stage, but part of the damage you incur also carries over to other stages within the same event.
Luckily, to help with all these challenges, Dirt Rally also features some handy tutorials that help you with the rally racing basics. As long as you stick with these and don’t get too adventurous when you’re done, you’ll soon reap the rewards from your practice. This is not just true for car handling, it also applies to how to interpret the instructions from your co-driver effectively.
With three different rally games on the market in the last few months, there’s a lot to choose from. If you’re a real rally racing enthusiast and serious about your simulation however, there is no other choice than Dirt Rally. It’s easily the best rally game ever made thus far, and Codemasters has reclaimed the throne they once held with the Colin McRae franchise. It may not appeal to casual racing fans and those who prefer Need for Speed or Burnout, but the amount of difficulty doesn’t devaluate Dirt Rally – it just shows how good a simulation it is.