DiRT Rally is a racing game from the veteran company Codemasters. Currently in Steam Early Access, it's the closest we've seen to a big budget rally simulator for many years.
The cars are the stars in focused rally stage racing
There are currently 17 cars, from the 60s to today. All are classics that any rally fan will recognize, from the Mini Cooper, to the Lancia Stratos, and even the ridiculous MG Metro 6R4. Each car looks and sounds just as it should, with a full range of camera angles to race from.
Currently, the game features three locations, Greece, Wales and Monaco, each with a variety of stages. There are day and night courses, different weather conditions, and varied road surfaces that make a huge impact on handling. The difference between each location is vast. The Greek landscape is parched, contrasting the mountainous Monaco courses that go from tarmac to ice and snow, and Wales, with its rain, mud, and muted colors.
DiRT Rally has the usual array of driving settings. You can choose from manual, sequential, semi, and full automatic transmission. Driving aids, like traction control and ABS, come with a sliding scale, so you can get your driving set up just as you want it. But that's not to say it will ever be easy. Even with all the assists, DiRT Rally is not an easy game, and nor is it supposed to be.
A seriously great driving experience
DiRT Rally has a new driving physics engine, and it shows. You can really feel the differences in surfaces as you drive, and car handling changes dramatically from vehicle to vehicle. Damage also realistically affects how cars control.
The excellent physics model means that once you've mastered a front wheel drive car like the Lancia Fulvia, jumping into a rear wheel drive machine such as the Sierra Cosworth will require that you completely relearn how to approach each track, as the difference in handling is so large. Most of the courses are narrow tracks, requiring accurate driving. There's rarely space for taking a radically different line through corners, meaning you have to drastically change your braking and timing with different cars.
Completing races gives you credits, and credits allow you to buy new vehicles, unlock upgrades, and improve your racing team. The latter helps you during competitions, especially fixing damage between stages. Unlocking new vehicles is not quick, but it seems fair. You won't get enough credits to buy a vehicle in the next category until you've really got to grips with the current one. Being a simulator, more or less, you really have to learn to drive well.
If you're used to arcade-style driving, coming into DiRT Rally will be a shock. But a little perseverance pays off, and there's a great feeling of flow when you get to grips with a car and a course.
Fans of the DiRT series may be surprised by DiRT Rally. It's currently a game laser focused on traditional rallying. There are no fancy menus, like previous games (especially the ridiculous trailer menu from DiRT 2). Presentation is clean and functional, aimed at getting you to the meat of the game: driving. The only soundtrack to a race is the sound of your car and your co-pilot's instructions.
Ken Block and other celebrity drivers are gone, as are showcase driving events like the gymkhanas. It's still possible that user feedback during Early Access will see some of these things return, but the developer's initial idea seems clearly aimed at creating a realistic rally simulator, with no bells and whistles and a firmly European feel.
DiRT Rally looks amazing on high graphics settings, but this is not a game you can play while pushing your PCs limits. Any drop in frame rate makes driving harder and can result in your car wrapped around a tree. As this is an Early Access game we can expect further optimization, and perhaps smoother performance at higher graphics settings, in the future.
Even unfinished, this is the rally game to play
DiRT Rally has great potential. This Early Access title in Steam is already super playable and the best rally game for many years. Hopefully this will only get better as more features, cars, and courses are added to the game. If rally is your thing, DiRT Rally is absolutely essential.