DiRT Rally Review (XONE)

The Dark Souls of Rally Games

DiRT Rally screen 1
Codemasters

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Imagine if Dark Souls fans made other games.  They’d all be 1-hit permadeath with no checkpoints and if you asked for help someone would come to your house and kick you in the nuts and scream “Git gud!” at you until your ears bled.  That’s basically how DiRT Rally turned out.  Codemasters asked its community what they wanted in a new DiRT game, and the hardcore rally simulation fans responded in droves to ensure they got the realistic rally sim they always wanted with little regard for other folks who enjoy rally games, and the DiRT franchise in particular, but may not be such hardcore sim fans themselves.

  The result is a truly fantastic realistic rally sim that die-hards of the sport will love, but one that may be too hardcore for more casual DiRT fans to embrace.  DiRT Rally is great, but won’t be for everyone.

Game Details

  • Publisher:  Codemasters
  • Developer: Codemasters
  • ESRB Rating: “E" for Everyone
  • Genre: Rally Racing
  • Pros:  Gorgeous visuals; good sound; great gameplay; satisfying challenge
  • Cons:  Zero accessibility options; not a ton of courses; will be frustrating for more casual fans; load times

DiRT Rally is a hardcore rally racing simulator.  It has more in common with the Colin McRae series that came before DiRT than the DiRT series itself.  Calling it Colin McRae Rally 2016 probably would have been smarter than calling it DiRT.  What do I mean?  Well, DiRT has always been more of a sim (except for DiRT Showdown), but it had accessibility options like assists, rewinds, and a dynamic racing line to ease players into it.

  Hardcore fans could enjoy them, but more casual players loved them as well.  Calling it “DiRT” creates certain expectations, but DiRT Rally is totally different from past DiRT games which makes it sort of misleading for mainstream and casual fans who won’t be prepared for what DiRT Rally really is.

DiRT Rally tosses all of the accessibility options out entirely.  Likewise, the goofier X-Games aspects of past DiRT titles are gone as well, though that’s a change we’re totally okay with.  DiRT Rally strips away the fluff and the clutter and the gymkhana in favor of a pure racing experience.  So pure, in fact, it is almost bare bones.  The menus are plain and simple.  The events consist only of traditional stage-based time trial rallies with some hillclimb and rallicross events thrown in for variety.  There are only six rally locations, each with multiple routes, along with the handful of rallycross courses and the Pike’s Peak hillclimb course (complete with the current paved version as well as the classic gravel surface).  All in all, though, there isn’t a ton of content here.  There are lots and lots of different cars to drive spanning multiple decades and classes, but not very many courses to drive them on. 

You end up driving on the same courses over and over again, but considering the nature of the gameplay, that was probably the intention.  As mentioned above, DiRT Rally is a hardcore rally racing simulation.  It doesn’t hold your hand and baby you along.  All you have is your guts, your skill, and your co-driver telling you what’s coming up ahead.

  In order to be successful, you really do need to play and replay courses in order to memorize them.  And even then, a single mistake can spoil an entire event for you. 

The handling is brutally realistic and uncompromising, but still feels surprisingly great.  You always have a wonderful feeling of control and when you make a mistake it is always your fault.  The game uses the haptic feedback in the triggers of the Xbox One controller, and being able to feel things like when your tires lose traction really does help you drive better.  This makes a game that is really, really satisfying when you do well.

  You have to earn every foot of the course you drive over, and when you have a clean run you really feel on top of the world.  And when you make a minor screw up and crash out of a multi-stage rally early on, it is pretty darn frustrating. 

Not only is the handling model challenging (but admittedly fun), the A.I. difficulty is pretty crazy, too.  Even in the very first rally events or rallycross races at the start of the game, in the slowest vehicles, you have to put together pretty much perfect performances in order to even come close to winning.  The handling keeps you on the edge of your seat because it is challenging, but the knowledge that one little mistake is probably going to ruin a whole event for you makes DiRT Rally one of the most intense racing games I’ve ever played.  Immense satisfaction comes just as quickly and easily as crushing defeat and frustration.  It really is Dark Souls.

Hardcore rally fans will love DiRT Rally.  Period.  No question.  It is the best pure rally game to ever appear on consoles.  There are a lot of racing fans out there that aren’t hardcore rally sim fans, however, who loved past DiRT titles that likely won’t enjoy DiRT Rally very much.  The simple addition of a dynamic racing line option to help people learn to brake properly and take corners correctly would make the game 100% more appealing to mainstream players, but there are no plans to add it in.  Practice and effort will, of course, allow anyone to eventually have fun with DiRT Rally, but telling people over and over to “Git gud” is not a valid replacement for just giving people options.  Just about every other hardcore racing sim on the market gives you accessibility options so everyone can play and have fun with them, so why Codemasters chose to take such a hardcore stand with DiRT Rally is mind-boggling. 

Graphics & Sound

There is no debate over the presentation in DiRT Rally, however.  It is absolutely gorgeous.  The environments are incredible looking and weather effects for snow and rain are some of the best in the business.  As is the fantastic lighting engine that makes racing at various times of day look great.  The cars are meticulously detailed, but also crunch up and tear apart fairly believably when you hit something. 

The sound is also very well done with some truly excellent engine sounds.  There isn’t any music during races, so the roar of the engine and the precise verbal instructions from your co-driver are the only soundtrack, but it works extremely well. 

Bottom Line

In the end, it is pretty easy to say DiRT Rally is the best pure rally game to grace a game console yet.  Hardcore rally sim fans will absolutely love it.  If you aren’t a hardcore racing sim, however, things become a bit murkier.  You can definitely put in some work and eventually have fun with it, but if you come in expecting something like DiRT 2 or DiRT 3, you’re in for a rude awakening.  If you are a more casual fan who wants a current-gen rally game, Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO might be a better choice.  It has much more accessible gameplay and way, way, way more content.  For sim fans and gamers looking for a realistic rally challenge, however, there is no doubt DiRT Rally is the new king and it is well worth checking out. 

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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