This week has been a busy one for rally fans, with Dirt Rally being released from Early Access on Steam. This was not the only announcement as Codemasters also went on to reveal that the game would be released on Xbox One and Playstation 4 consoles early next year. I have put over 40 hours into the game since it was first released as an Early Access title on Steam, and so far I have been impressed with the experience. My first impressions from earlier this year can be found here.
As of late Codemasters have been at somewhat of a low point. F1 2015 disappointed many fans of the series and garnered mediocre reactions from the press. F1 2014 was a similar situation, with Dirt Showdown again lagging behind the competition. This new title being developed in early access is a step into the unknown for Codemasters, however this new approach may have done the game some good. Unlike their recent releases, this game gives of a vibe of quality over quantity, something that is always welcome.
This approach has also given Codemasters feedback from the community that they can act on in real-time, something they have done very publicly. Having played the game for more than 40 hours, I have not encountered a single bug or issue with the game, reiterating this point.
Unlike previous installments to the franchise, this game is not forgiving for new players. As a player that has experience with a wide range of racing titles it took me several hours the master the art of not wrapping my car around a tree at the first sight of a corner. The car moves around, reacts to the surface of the road and if done correctly will give the player a fantastically immersive rally experience. Gone are the overly American Gymkhana enthusiasts urging you to “put that clip on Youtube”. Not that this was ever a terrible direction for the Dirt franchise, but it did seem to detract from the actual rally aspects of the game somewhat.
Alongside this, the game is graphically impressive, something we have learned to expect from Codemasters. The environment is rich and true to life, with sparks and other particle effects lighting up the screen.
The damage model is realistic in both the visual and the practical sense. If a player is careless they will pay for it, as repair times and repair costs will begin to climb. The car will begin to lose bodywork, wheels – and steam may even star escaping from the car. All of the mentioned effects reinforce the potential consequences of a mistake. This coupled with the solid audio and sound effects grounds the player in an immersive and believable gameplay experience.
The player can enable a number of assists if they are looking for a more casual experience, however it must be noted that to really make the most of the complex handling model in this game, assists need to be disabled, especially the traction control and stability management assists. This keeps the game at a level where it is still approachable for new players, and anyone familiar with the previous Dirt 3 shouldn’t have too many issues settling in. The most notable absences are the Flashback and Racing Line assists, features that have been present in previous Dirt titles. Hardcore players can operate the car with fully manual controls, utilising the clutch and sequential gearbox to find additional scraps of time.
The car roster is impressive, with cars from each and every notable era being included in the base game. You can take a ride in a modern WRC car or, if you feel like something a little more interesting, take on one of the Group B monsters from the 80s. These different car classes are unique, each requiring a drastically different approach. The Delta S4 was a personal favourite of mine and it’s a great feeling pushing these Group B icons to the limit.
The game holds a host of unique rally locations, from the high speed tarmac stages of Baumholder to the icy cold mountain roads of Monte Carlo. Each environment requires a unique approach, with players additionally having to pay attention to their co-driver who will warn them of potential hazards ahead. The player can adjust the speed and timing of the delivery of pace notes to suit their own preferences in the options menu.
Stages are varied in distance, but generally longer than anything found in Dirt 3. The player can choose from a list of shorter stages that will be over within 5 minutes, or longer stages that often combine a number of smaller stages for a longer 20 minute plus session.
For players looking for some PvP competition, the Rallycross stage offers exactly what they need. Players can currently compete in 3 locations, Lydden Hill, Hell (yes, that’s a real place) and Höljes. Each circuit comes with several different layouts each with its own style. I found lapping Lydden Hill to be one of the best driving experiences I have had in a racing game for a long time. The track moves around in the same way that it would on TV, with a mix of gravel and tarmac keeping the racing alive. This mode also comes with a full roster of licensed World RX cars and drivers, something that definitely adds something to the experience. These races run with the same system as seen in the real World RallyX series. Heats followed by a final event, with players taking strategic “Joker” laps as they jostle for position.
Pikes Peak makes a return to the Dirt franchise, often being hailed as the Nürburgring of rally. This course is as unforgiving in the game as it is in real life. There is a choice of 3 cars, the Audi Sport Quattro S1 Pikes Peak, Peugeot 405 T16 Pikes Peak and the Peugeot 205 T16 Pikes Peak. The long winding tarmac sections mixed with dirt and gravel sections represent the ultimate challenge for any rally driver.
To get the edge, players can dive into the multi-layered car tuning options. Multi-layered in the sense that your average player can adjust their car setup with the most basic options that are presented. However if a player wants to go further they can open up a whole new world of torque bias and camber angle with the click of a button. These settings will drastically change the handling characteristics of the cars. This system on its own shows that Codemasters are fully committed to both their core and more casual audiences.
Wheel support is super important in a game like this. From what I have seen the wheel support for this game is good, certainly better than what you would see in most racing titles (bar your hardcore sim racers). However, I found that the game is equally enjoyable with a controller which is one hell of an achievement for a game that aims for a more “realistic handling” model. Naturally I cannot suggest playing this with a keyboard; it’s never going to end well.
I would have to recommended this title to anybody with a keen interest in racing games or indeed the rally scene itself. More casual players should be more cautious as this game could be frustrating to players who aren’t as familiar with more sim focused racing games. It’s easy to put a lot of hours into this game, and racing around the high speed forest stages in Finland is extremely fun once you have mastered the new handling model. This title could be a real turning point for Codemasters who have struggled to really hit the nail on the head as far as its more recent titles are concerned.