We haven’t seen a top-quality rally racing game on the current round of consoles, which is why you should be excited that Dirt Rally has been confirmed for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Previously a PC exclusive via Steam Early Access, this appears to be yet another simulated gem from the rally experts at Codemasters. You may recall their wildly successful Colin McRae franchise, which disappeared shortly after the tragic death of the legendary driver. Well, consider this game to be a worthy successor to that acclaimed IP and make no mistake: It is indeed a simulator in every sense of the word so if you stick to the likes of Burnout and Need for Speed, you may want to pass.
Even the later McRae games weren’t quite as realistic as Dirt Rally is, if the reviews of the Steam version are any indication. In order to cater to a larger audience and cast a wider net over the racing and car fanatics, Colin McRae did get more accessible and more mainstream as time went on. They amped up the off-the-track appeal and tossed in some flashier visuals and hard-hitting soundtracks, and yes, they backed off on the authenticity, too. Dirt Rally, however, returns to the developer’s roots and goes deep: They created a brand new engine for this one, and it’s important to note that lead designer Paul Coleman is actually a rally driver. In short, the team had the requisite passion and experience, so get ready for school.
Now, I’m sort of hoping the game gets a little more content when it drops for consoles. There are 36 courses in the PC version (with the new addition of a track set in Sweden courtesy of the Winter Wonderland update), and you can race through a wide variety of distinct, wonderfully detailed environments. But there are only 14 cars and while each has been lovingly handcrafted and meticulously produced, that does seem a little light for any racing game. You do get a nice assortment, though, as the vehicles range from the 1960 classics to present-day mainstays like Lancia, Subaru, and Mini Cooper. You can also expect cars that react in a very true-to-life fashion so each should have its very own mechanical personality, as the cars do in real life.
Even so, 14 is a little low, and while there are lots of courses, there are only three areas. Here’s hoping Codemasters continues to expand on the game throughout the winter, so when April rolls around, the game will be that much heftier for console players. The good news is you don’t have to worry about the simulation and depth and precision, nor do you have to worry about a lacking single-player mode. The Career Mode comes complete with all sorts of vehicle upgrades as well as team management, so while not as robust as a Gran Turismo or something like that, that Career should still be quite involving and satisfying. Also, don’t forget that you’ll have to test your skills against all sorts of terrain and weather; rally isn’t merely limited to dirt and mud, you know. The diversity is baked right in and it’s just a matter of building on the already solid foundation.
Obviously, the primary draw will be the gameplay itself, the driving. Those who want to feel as if they’re actually on a rally course, with a realistically-responding wheel beneath their fingertips, will want to give it a spin. You’ll have to consider just about all facets of the sport in question, from the intricate physics of your vehicle to the memorization of each bump and turn. You’ll start to learn your strengths and weaknesses and then you’ll quickly try to improve the latter; you’ll battle through snow, feather that accelerator, bomb down a final stretch for the best possible time, etc. It’s really all about embracing and ultimately encapsulating the rally experience, and you couldn’t ask for a more qualified developer. If everything runs smoothly, this should be fantastic.
Look for Dirt Rally on PS4 and Xbox One when it launches on April 5, 2016.
12/9/2015 Ben Dutka