[Review] DiRT: Rally

ESRB:E
ONLINE:Yes: Asymmetrical + PVP ( Up to 6 for Rallycross )
INSTALL:40+ GB
RELEASE DATE:December 7, 2015
PLATFORM:PC/Steam, Playstation 4, Xbox One
PUBLISHER:Codemasters
DEVELOPER:Codemasters
ONLINE PASS:N/A

I first want to preface this review by stating that I do not currently own a VR device of any kind. Not PSVR, not Oculus – nothing. Therefore, I will not be talking about the VR features that were just recently added – I have no way to test them out.

Presentation


Much like I mentioned about Evolution in my DRIVECLUB review, Codemasters are also no slouch when it comes to making a beautiful racing game.

DiRT: Rally is possibly one of the finest-looking racing games I’ve played in recent memory. Cars are highly detailed, liveries are clean and sharp, damage looks authentic.

The actual gameplay looks amazing.

That said, there are some places where the game falls a little short – especially in comparison to other Codemasters titles, like the GRID series.

DiRT: Rally looks great – but it’s not without its shortcomings.

There are a few spots here and there that just aren’t of the same quality as the rest of the game. Some are to be expected – crowds don’t exactly look amazing, some minor things on the sides of the stages don’t look great either – but they’re minor flaws in an otherwise beautiful game.

Others are a little bit more impactful, though.

Mainly the UI.

When being compared to previous Codemasters titles, like GRID 2 & Autosport, or even the previous DiRT titles, Rally‘s UI isn’t exactly spectacular.

I don’t mind the simple look – that part is fine, in fact, I welcome it over some of the gaudier menus Codemasters has done – but it looks very much like it was meant as a placeholder, especially the HUD during gameplay.

The main gripe I have with the HUD is that, much like Final Fantasy XV, if your television has overscan, then quite a lot of it is cut off on default settings. Your timer, the speedometer and, worst of all, your progression meter for the stage.

Thankfully, DiRT Rally is a title that adheres to the PS4’s screen settings – and does so without creating a black border around your screen, so capturing footage and sharing screenshots is simple and doesn’t end up looking terrible ( *cough*Square Enix*cough* )

The HUD also extends all the way out to the corners – which just looks really strange.

Granted, other than the overscan issue which is easily remedied, none of these problems really detract much from the game itself or the overall visual quality. They’re just grievances that I personally have.

It’s still a beautiful, technically sound game – it runs at a solid 60 frames all the time. I never had a single framerate drop during my play time, ever.

I will say I’m disappointed that there is no real soundtrack to speak of – no licensed tracks like the DiRT series, and no original music that plays during events like the GRID series – just a little bit of very subtle, calm original electronic music that plays in menus and during loads.

DiRT: Rally overall has a much different tone in comparison to the rest of the series. Where DiRT 2 and DiRT 3 were very much a party/X-Games heavy atmosphere, DiRT: Rally goes for a much more professional, much more serious feel.

There are no peppy young drivers here, telling you that you “should upload that last run to YouTube!”. Instead, the only other voice you regularly hear is that of your co-driver, calling out pace notes and letting you know how badly you just damaged the car.


Gameplay


In sticking with the more professional and serious tone, DiRT: Rally eschews the arcade-y formula of the previous DiRT titles, opting instead for a much more hardcore, simulation approach – and it pays off.

Events are long and grueling – there is a real good chance you might not even finish an event when you’re just starting out. Either because you’ve damaged the car beyond repair – or because you might be feeling like the game is beating you down.

There are a plethora of tutorials – but they’re all videos. It would have been nice to have some more hands-on training available.

The physics engine is much more geared towards being a simulator. The various road surfaces all have their own characteristics – even similar surfaces behave differently. Driving on cobblestone feels nothing like driving on concrete, which feels nothing like driving on asphalt.

This means that a change in road surface requires a change in your driving method. Going from asphalt to solid ice in Monte Carlo, for instance, is going to require you to adjust and start braking much, much sooner. Hitting an ice patch on the asphalt can easily send your car into a slide if you aren’t careful.

One bad event, and you can start to drop in the ranks like a stone.

One single mistake and your 10 out of 10 perfect run could turn into disaster – from a slow run that’s difficult to come back from, to a catastrophic crash that ends your entire event early.

Road surface matters immensely – change your gameplan accordingly.

Coupled with the much longer, tougher tracks and much more realistic physics is a much more punishing damage system.

Using DiRT 3 as a comparison, as that’s the other racer I’ve been playing alongside Rally, after a stage, your vehicle is fully repaired of all damage and you have no penalization for any damage sustained.

In DiRT 3, and previous DiRT & GRID games, you could even set damage to just be purely cosmetic. Even on full damage – it didn’t track much else aside from damage to your engine, and damage to your wheels/chassis.

Not in DiRT: Rally. At the end of a stage – even if you were amazingly clean and barely even scraped a shrub, your car will have some kind of wear and tear. Your brakes will be slightly damaged, your tires slightly worn, the engine slightly overheating.

This wear and tear is not automatically repaired after a stage. Instead, you must repair it yourself inbetween stages – and you’re given a limited amount of time to repair as much of any damage as you can.

The cleaner you were through a stage, the more you can repair your vehicle when the time comes – and the less you’ll end up paying out of your prize at the end of the event.

Another place DiRT: Rally punishes mistakes is in resetting and restarting. Gone is the Rewind mechanic that nearly every Codemasters racer since GRID has used – if you make a mistake, you have to correct it manually, or reset yourself onto the track.

This will cost you precious seconds on your time – especially when using the reset feature. You’ll either lose the time it took you to manually get back on track, or a set amount of time determined by the game when using the automatic reset.

Keep in mind, though, going off course on some tracks is an instant event retirement. Particularly tracks in which one side of the stage is nothing but a cliff.

DiRT: Rally‘s damage system also tracks damage to just about every conceivable important part of the car – wheels, engine, axles, chassis, exhaust – you name it, and it can likely get catastrophically damaged here.

Thankfully, to help with this during your career, you can hire various team members that will allow you to repair parts faster and more efficiently – as well as fast tracking progress on upgrades for different cars.

Your team not only helps you make more efficient repairs – but as you drive, they can earn perks that allow you to earn upgrades faster.

“Wait, upgrades?” Yes. As you complete events, the car you’re using gets upgraded.

Don’t expect Gran Turismo or Forza levels of customization here. These upgrades aren’t purchased – you aren’t going to be swapping out engines or installing new suspensions.

No, these upgrades are passive and require no input from you – just drive the car and complete events and your upgrade progress meter will fill. Once it’s full, the car gets that upgrade automatically.

These upgrades do help quite a bit, so it’s a good idea to try and stick with a car you like and get it upgraded rather than spending a chunk of change on a new vehicle. Every vehicle within the same class has a chance to win events – it’s less about the car, and more about the skill of the driver here.

As far as vehicle customization goes, you can choose from a selection of preset liveries on each car. That’s it for visual customization. For stuff under the hood, you have a little more control – but not much. To start, you can adjust a few sliders for your chosen car and adjust the car’s handling and a few other features. After a while, you’ll unlock advanced tuning, which gives you a much more granular control over your car’s setup, allowing you to control your gears, the ride height, etc.

As you drive, you’ll also unlock perk slots for your team members as well as open up slots to add more team members later.

More team members means a higher team level, and overall faster repairs. What once might have taken a full 10 minutes out of your 30 minute allotment for repairs, could drop to 4-5 minutes depending on your team.

The perks they can get are also helpful, as they can fast track upgrade progress. Drive a lot of 4WD cars? Choose perks that focus on 4WD upgrades. Find yourself mostly driving vehicles from Britain? Give your team perks that cover all British makes.

Perks range from covering a wide range of vehicles – such as covering all 4WD cars, or all German-made cars – to extremely granular, down to speeding up upgrades for a specific model of car.

Speaking of the career – it’s not exactly the most deep Codemasters has put out – but it serves its purpose.

DiRT: Rally‘s career isn’t exactly deep – there’s no rags-to-riches storyline, or even a ton of events, really. It’s a very basic “Win enough events and move on to the next rank” kind of deal.

That said – the game itself is so punishingly difficult, it doesn’t need a lot of events. Unlike the DiRT games, Rally‘s events are extremely long – with single stages alone taking 8-10 minutes, depending on driver skill and stage length.

DiRT 3‘s longest events barely even hit that amount of time taken – most stages there take a mere 2-3 minutes.

You also have careers for each race type – Rally, Hillclimb and Rallycross. You can choose to focus your efforts on 1 career path, or spread yourself out over everything if you want – much like GRID: Autosport‘s setup.

Race types are limited in comparison to previous titles – there are only 3.

The most disappointing part of DiRT: Rally, I find, is the lack of race types. There are only 3.

Granted, the Rally event type has a lot of different stages across quite a few different locations, Rallycross and Hillclimb do not.

That said, the amount of actual variety in the locations does help make up for the lack of variety in event types – though I do wish that something like RallyX was here as well. Even DiRT 1 had that.

What I do appreciate, however, is that the events that are here are far more authentic. Rallycross has rules – including the need to take a Joker lap ( A lap that takes an alternate path that ends up leaving you at quite a disadvantage if timed poorly. ) at least once per event.

Rallycross is a lot of fun – but also quite difficult.

Normal Rally events are you against the clock. Your goal is to try and set the fastest possible time for a given stage. You have no map or GPS – all you have is your co-driver, calling out pace notes to let you know about upcoming turns/obstacles on the course.

Listen to them. Take the time to learn what the pace notes mean. And for the love of all that is holy, if your co-driver says don’t cut – don’t cut. The game jokes about and mentions this quite often, and it’s sound advice. It means there’s a nasty obstacle on the inside of the corner, and at best, cutting will cause you to lose more time than save any. At worst, you will end your event with a mangled mess of a vehicle.

Seriously. Don’t cut.

Hillclimb is probably the simplest of the 3 event types. It’s you and the course – no co-driver or pace notes. You are attacking the legendary Pikes Peak course – one of 4 variants, either smaller sectors of the track over a series of events, or the entire 19KM/12M course.

Unlike Rally, Hillclimb has you starting at speed.

Hillclimb events are a best of 2 affair – meaning your best time out of 2 separate runs of the same course is the one that gets counted.

All in all, DiRT: Rally is not a title for players who prefer a more casual, arcade approach to rally racing. It’s punishing and unforgiving, and it doesn’t really hold your hand at all, outside of a few assists that you can turn off or lower to suit your tastes.

The more assists you turn off, the higher your payouts will be as well – certain assists give you a small percentage bonus for not using them – like turning off the HUD, turning off Traction Control completely, or locking your view to the first-person camera.

Tinker around and find something you like.


Replay Value


The replay value for DiRT: Rally is somewhat decent. There aren’t a lot of actual race types, but there are plenty of tracks to keep things fresh. There is also an online component, so when you get tired of the career, or you’ve done everything it has to offer, you can compete online against other players

There are 2 kinds of online gameplay here – asymmetrical and PVP. Asymmetrical events are you against the leaderboards, essentially. These are generally Rally and Hillclimb events, where all you’re trying to do is set the best time you can and place in one of the 3 tiers – Top, Middle or Bottom – to receive a payout once the event is over. The higher your tier, the better your prize.

There are a total of 5 events – Daily, Weekly and Monthly. Daily events have 2 variants – one where the car is provided for you, and one where you must own the car.

The provided car generally cannot be tuned in anyway, while the Owner’s event usually allows tuning.

Daily events update every 24 hours with a new stage and car to use. Weekly events update every 7 days. Monthly events are unique. Not only do they update once a month – they aren’t available all at once.

Monthly events are quite long – generally 24 stages long. These only go in 6 stage chunks – one for each week of the month.

The game also features custom leagues – which can add even more events for you to partake in.

On the PVP side of things, you can partake in full fledged Rallycross events against other players at the same time.

Unfortunately, I didn’t play around with this too much – Rallycross was my least favorite event overall, so I never really tried it out online.

Trophy-wise, there isn’t anything ridiculously hard here – but don’t exactly expect a walk in the park either. DiRT: Rally is not an easy game to play – especially with a controller.

To point out – I never won a single Rallycross career event, and Clubman ( The second tier of a career ) is as high as I got in the Rally career before this review. Most of my time was spent doing Daily and Weekly events online, and custom events offline.

Some trophies are simply a grind – like getting 1M credits from custom events – most simply require you to win/complete events with specific cars and stipulations, like winning an event in first-person with every assist turned off.

Overall, the trophies aren’t hard, but the game is.


Final Verdict


Honestly, this is a hard one to pass judgment on.

Due to the nature of simulators, and the fact that DiRT: Rally is un-apologetically one – it’s hard to really recommend DiRT: Rally to anyone outside of the fanbase. It’s not like Gran Turismo where there’s enough forgiveness in the game that even someone who casually plays racing sims can have fun – messing up usually isn’t a death sentence for your runs there.

DiRT: Rally is punishing and sometimes unforgiving. It makes you realize how badly you messed up, and it doesn’t coddle you when you do.

It doesn’t kiss the ouchies to make them go away.

One bad crash and your entire career event is over. Start back over from event 1 of your current level.

It’s a game that hearkens back to its series roots in the most pure way possible – and I love it for that. I can only hope that the recently announced DiRT 4 keeps with this trend.

The Verdict: If you’re a fan of simulation racing and proper Rallying, then DiRT: Rally is certainly one of the best I’ve played. I can highly recommend it.

Even with the lack of event types, there are more than enough stages, tracks and cars to keep things interesting for a good, long while. The fact that every car is unique, and every road surface is unique also helps a great deal.

DiRT 4 has potential if this is the route Codemasters wants to keep going. Had the game been announced before my last Top 5, it’d be on that list – it certainly is after playing this. I can’t wait to see what they do.

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PROS CONS
  • Once you learn how to play, nailing a stage is an extremely satisfying feeling.

  • Plenty of cars and tracks to get DiRTy in.

  • Aside from some more minor flaws, the visuals are breathtaking and the game runs at a buttery smooth framerate.
  • The lack of event types can be off-putting.

  • The difficulty of the game can be quite unforgiving to newcomers & DiRT fans alike.
  • FINAL VERDICT
    Click here or on the verdict image to the left for full disclosure of what these ratings mean!

    About James Headrick

    James is an aspiring game reviewer that plays primarily on the Playstation 3 & 4. He also works freelance as a graphic designer, doing print and branding based design.
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