Dirt Rally

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Code­mas­ters For­mat PC Release Out now

PC

Amo­men­tary lapse in con­cen­tra­tion is all it takes for our Stratos to end up fac­ing the wrong way, rump buried in the shov­elled snow at the side of the stage. It wasn’t a big im­pact, and cer­tainly the most sig­nif­i­cant dent is to our pride, but for this to have hap­pened in the fourth split is dis­as­trous – there’s no rewind func­tion to undo our mis­take, only the choice of restart­ing the stage en­tirely or sol­dier­ing on in the hope that we can claw back the lost time dur­ing the next stage. Rally driv­ing is a bru­tal sport, and Dirt

Rally goes out of its way to make sure you know it. Af­ter nearly eight months in Early Ac­cess, Code­mas­ters’ lat­est Dirt en­try has emerged as a snarling, un­tamed beast of a game – one with an un­apolo­getic sim lean­ing that seems pur­pose-built to shake it­self free from the bag­gage the se­ries has amassed in re­cent years. The blus­ter, gar­ish colours and histri­on­ics of Dirt: Show­down have drained away to leave only de­sat­u­rated mud, driz­zle and the fe­ro­cious roar and pop of tuned en­gines putting down far more horse­power than is sen­si­ble un­der the cir­cum­stances.

In Dirt Rally you don’t so much race as go into bat­tle. Where most rac­ing games only ask for in­ter­mit­tent con­cen­tra­tion from play­ers, Dirt Rally repli­cates the minu­tiae of mo­tor­sport driv­ing and re­quires con­stant in­puts. You’ll need to wres­tle with an ar­gu­men­ta­tive wheel that keeps tug­ging in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions; stay on top of shift­ing your car’s weight to shore up grip in cor­ners; feel your way to the op­ti­mum power out­put by con­stantly mod­u­lat­ing the throt­tle; and pay close at­ten­tion to the road sur­face as it hurls loose gravel, ice patches and ad­verse cam­bers your way. Even com­plet­ing a stage in the rel­a­tively tame clas­sic Mini Cooper S will leave you feel­ing bat­tered and fa­tigued, and once you graduate to the Lan­cia Stratos and then more mod­ern ve­hi­cles, things get really hairy.

The sense of power th­ese cars ex­ude is bol­stered by some out­stand­ing au­dio work. En­gines howl and spit in ac­com­pa­ni­ment to the con­stant me­chan­i­cal chat­ter of strain­ing gear­boxes and de­pressed springs. Gravel pep­pers the un­der­side of the car and the in­sides of the wheel arches, and your co-driver’s route notes be­come more har­ried dur­ing faster, more vi­o­lent sec­tions. It’s a ca­cophonous as­sault on the senses be­fit­ting of Rally’s piti­less han­dling model.

Your ef­forts to tame the game’s 39 iconic ve­hi­cles play out across sev­eral real-world lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing Powys, Höl­jes and Pikes Peak (the game’s only ex­cur­sion to the US). Each area has its own char­ac­ter­is­tics to deal with, whether it’s the tight, wind­ing for­est paths in Swe­den, Greece’s pre­car­i­ous un­fenced hill­side roads, or a muddy drench­ing in Eng­land. They’re all beau­ti­fully recre­ated, too, com­bin­ing aus­tere min­i­mal­ist colour pal­ettes with sweep­ing views of the course snaking off into the dis­tance. The game dis­penses with the Ego en­gine’s char­ac­ter­is­tic vase­line smear, offering up a con­sid­er­ably sharper look and cooler hues that make it feel like the el­e­ments are soak­ing into your race suit. Dirt Rally spreads its events across rally, Ral­ly­cross and hill climb­ing. Rally makes up the bulk of the game and inar­guably pro­vides the most en­gag­ing driv­ing, but Code­mas­ters has se­cured an of­fi­cial FIA World Ral­ly­cross li­cence and three real-world tracks which, when com­bined with a bit of con­vinc­ing UK driz­zle, are gen­uinely thrilling. Ral­ly­cross also pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity for the stu­dio to in­clude some head-to­head on­line rac­ing. The afore­men­tioned Pikes Peak is the only hill climb on of­fer, but is pre­sented in two flavours: one neutered all-tar­mac version, and a tar­mac/ gravel split. Along­side the cham­pi­onships and sin­gle events, there are also daily, weekly and monthly chal­lenges, which pay out more hand­somely if you can put in a strong enough per­for­mance.

Even with th­ese ad­di­tional pay­outs, how­ever, Dirt Rally’s struc­ture re­quires a lit­tle too much grind­ing right now. While the old­est cars can be bought with the pro­ceeds of a couple of fourth-place fin­ishes, prices quickly ramp up. And you won’t be able to take part in events for which you don’t own the right type of ve­hi­cle, which means your choice of ac­tiv­i­ties is rather lim­ited at the be­gin­ning. There’s lit­tle in the way of guidance or tu­to­ri­als to break you in, and all of this, in con­cert with the game’s pun­ish­ing dif­fi­culty, can make it feel a lit­tle over­whelm­ing.

There are other nig­gling is­sues. You can re­cover your ve­hi­cle, and even mag­i­cally in­flate burst tyres, at the cost of a time penalty, but you’ll of­ten be au­tore­cov­ered in sit­u­a­tions you could’ve ex­tri­cated your­self from more quickly than the 15 sec­onds that get added to the clock. It can be frus­trat­ing to have your hard-won ef­forts com­pro­mised by a hair­pin taken too tightly, but for the most part mis­takes feel like your re­spon­si­bil­ity – if you ig­nored your co-driver’s warn­ing about not cut­ting that de­cep­tive left two over the crest, then you only have your­self to blame.

In its cur­rent form, lack­ing as it does a slick, eas­ily read­able in­ter­face and Code­mas­ters’ usual re­fine­ment when it comes to struc­tur­ing, Dirt Rally feels like it could’ve done with a month or two more in Early Ac­cess. But those rough edges feel like a price worth pay­ing for the re­moval of all the clutter and non­sense that’s in­creas­ingly bloated a se­ries ap­par­ently more in­ter­ested in court­ing the main­stream US mar­ket than it was in its own her­itage. What re­mains is a pas­sion­ate, un­yield­ing ap­prox­i­ma­tion of rally driv­ing that not only evokes mem­o­ries of the se­ries’ purist beginnings, but also rep­re­sents the most ex­hil­a­rat­ing driv­ing game Code­mas­ters has cre­ated in years.

Even com­plet­ing a stage in the rel­a­tively tame clas­sic Mini Cooper S will leave you feel­ing bat­tered and fa­tigued

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