There are some games that initially feel like a chore, only really becoming enjoyable once you spend some time with them, mentally getting involved in everything that they offer.
DiRT Rally is one such game. And once you get into everything it contains, is something that is rather damn brilliant.
A pure bred rally sim from the racing kings at Codemasters, DiRT Rally will chew you up and spit you out, making you wish you’d never set eyes on that glorious Impreza. But give it time and allow yourself to understand what it is trying to teach you and it’ll deliver an experience very much like no other. Admittedly, it’s a hell of a lot more fun teaming up with some mates and hooning it around in one of the older DiRT titles, but for an in-depth immersive rally experience, I’m not sure that anything beats it.
Bringing in authentic sounds and visuals, the DiRT series has just got a hell of a lot more serious, now giving you the opportunity to pit yourself up against the clock, taking on rally events that try to kill you but also giving the chance to show off your honed skills in the only way possible. With a ton of cars available for you to jump behind the wheel of, from the classic 1960’s rally pioneers, through into the 1980 powerhouses, onto the F2 kitcars and way beyond as the current crop of rally rocket machines take charge, the car selection on offer should suit all rally fans. It may not be bursting at the seams with hundreds of car options, but the included livery designs do at least let you pick a car, make it your own (ish) and start to show it some love. Until you throw it into a tree. Or a post. Or roll it numerous times as you attempt that bloody jump for the fifth time. It’s about then when you start to think about binning the love of your life and start the shopping spree once more.
The main draw of DiRT Rally will no doubt come from the championships that are available. These put you in your favourite car and more often than not, send you hurtling down a hillside on a one way trip to Tension-ville. One wrong move can end in disaster, with you finding your car barrel rolling down into the trees, sliding one way and then the other on a lake of ice, or just ploughing head first into an embankment. Whether you’re screaming up Pikes Peak, drifting it round a bend in Monte Carlo or putting the pedal to the metal over the finest Welsh mud ridden jumps, the tracks and routes available allow for various driving skills to be learnt and mastered. They will have to be on point at all times and you’ll have little chance of even dreaming of success should your skills cease to keep up. With you ultimately up against the clock, and the times set by the rest of the competition, each small movement could be the difference between coming out on top of the stage, falling just that little bit short, or losing the overall championship by milliseconds. Restarting each stage is an option, as is changing your settings to make things a little trickier (or easier), but you won’t find a great deal of flashbacks, that thing that racing gamers love, letting you fix the smaller mistakes. Drop your guard for a split second and you could well find yourself blowing the last 30 minutes of hardcore, seat-of-the-pants action.
To help you on your way and to ensure you keep your car pointing in roughly the right direction is your co-pilot. Shouting out instructions, there are times when it’ll be a case of zoning in on exactly what he has to say instead of going by your gut instinct. Left 6, right over crest, tight hairpin right, through water, 100 crest and finish will no doubt be going through your mind as you try to sleep at night – but without these instructions you’re on a one way trip to hell. Yes the pre-determined plans show up on screen as well, but you won’t have time to glance at those as you flick the rear end of your car through the narrow tree-lined entries. Should you be one of those who strangely tires of the stunning individual sounds that the cars bring, preferring to play as a mute, you can expect to find no form of success. Ever. In fact, don’t even bother trying to play with no sound; you need it and all your senses on fire at all times.
But hey, why you would even consider playing a game on mute when it delivers such a great audio experience is beyond me. Each car sounds brilliant, with stunning exhaust notes, screeching tyres and scary clacks and bangs as you fly over the next crest of a hill all delivering the prime sounds for your ears. With multiple camera settings as well, whether you prefer to play with a bumper cam, from a way out third person viewpoint or from right behind the steering wheel, DiRT Rally will deliver. Obviously, if you wish to take in the rather lovely visuals as well, then trying to best your times from behind the car will suit and it’s worth a little play in this mode just in order to take in the brilliant scenery that accompanies most of the runs. For a true rally experience though, hopping behind the wheel and taking in the fast smooth action from inside the car is the way to go.
With the racing on point, the car control solid and spectacular, the audio throwing itself through your brain and the visuals mostly standing up supremely well, all that is left is for you to go out there and blow away the opposition’s times. Do so, win some championships, upgrade some cars and you’ll quickly find yourself earning multiple credits and rewards.
Helping out where they can, and ensuring that you have a car that can compete at each level, are your team. Initially the team management side of things included in DiRT Rally will seem a bit tacked on and not needed. In a way, you could quite happily roll with the fun and games that the title delivers without ever needing to hire and fire the needy. But should you wish to unlock perks that deliver greater rewards, or be allowed to upgrade or tweak your car to the nth degree, then you’ll need an engineer or four in your corner. There are multiple out of work grease monkeys ready and willing to help you on the way, but which you choose will be solely down to you. Each will help improve your vehicle in a different way and the more money you are willing to spend on the limited time contract, the more they will help out. But do you spend those last few pennies on a new engineer or should you throw the cash at a new vehicle to help you compete at a higher level? It’s these type of decisions which you’ll need to make should you wish to fully succeed in all the championships and if you can get a good mechanic on board, will see you shaving seconds off your mid-championship repairs!
So far then and everything included in DiRT Rally is pretty much a single player only affair. Yes we can check leaderboards in the vain hope that we’ve beaten our nearest friends on a Hillclimb or through a forest, but there is nothing like a good old fashioned online offering in which we can really get to test our skills.
DiRT Rally comes with two further online event options which will continue to keep the game fresh long after you’ve finally managed to fight your way to the top of each solo championship. The online events section however doesn’t house exactly what the name suggests. Instead of the chance to go wheel to wheel with friends and strangers, the online events bring you a number of varied scenarios for you to participate in. The Daily Stage refreshes every 24 hours with a new track and new car to get busy with, with the weekly and monthly events doing the same but over a longer period of time. The most interesting option included in here though are the ‘Wager’ events. This will have you staking some of your hard earned in-game credits and really do let you put your money where your mouth is. Once you’ve decided how much you wish to stake on the upcoming event, it’ll then be in your own hands to determine how much you get back. Find yourself placing at the end of the online event in the top tier and you shall reap the biggest rewards, mess up though and roll your car down the nearest ditch, culminating in a bottom tier finish and you may just find that your stake amount will see little return. Putting cash on the line (albeit fake online cash), brings a further degree of tension to the already fraught mind and could be the difference between whether you can go straight out and buy that super powerful four wheeled drive rally beast, or be left grinding away in the little Mini forever more.
The PvP events meanwhile allow for Codemasters and their stunning Racenet feature to bring some matchmaking to the table. These are pretty much your only opportunities to get some ‘real’ racing going and thankfully it works very well indeed. With a number of championships available to jump in and drop out of at will, the racing found in the PvP events is fast and hard but smooth and lag-free. The wheel to wheel battles amid the rubbing and racing is superb fun but prepare yourself for the usual first corner tangles that frequent near on all online racers. With full damage and simulated mechanics taking hold, this can obviously become a little frustrating with groups of acquaintances ganging up on the lone wolf. But is that an issue with the game? Not at all. It’s a social problem that always raises its ugly head in times of desperation.
Unfortunately, the success of the PvP events hinges solely on the number of people playing DiRT Rally and the chance that many of those others wish to participate at the same time as you. This is again something which obviously afflicts many games that don’t receive the triple A hype in the Xbox world and whilst the events may be fairly well populated at time of writing, I can’t for one moment consider them as packed and heaving with participants. With the inevitable drop off in gamers participating, the future of the PvP modes is definitely up in the air. Of course, should you and some friends prefer to race it out on the dirt tracks found in the custom PvP options, then Bob’s your uncle and DiRT delivers that true multiplayer experience that we’ve seen in the franchise’s previous installments.
On the DiRT downside, some seriously long loading times between stages are a bit of a problem and just as you want to try and blast your way into the next stage, you can quite easily find yourself sitting around waiting and wondering as the game gets everything into position. It may not be an issue for some (and we all need to find a spare minute for a quick Tweet), but others may get frustrated by the waiting around. Similarly, for as good as the cars feel and how beautiful the scenery looks, Codemasters still can’t get that human form right with the rally spectators happily looking like they’ve been lifted from the last few F1 garages that the developers were previously spending time in.
Also, whilst RaceNet does a decent job in the background, bringing together your friends’ times in leaderboards and ensuring that there are multiple things to aim for, the strange inclusion of ‘leagues’ which need to be checked out via the Xbox web browser is a strange call. Was it really not possible to hold these in a constantly updated section in the game? Throwing me out and having to clunkily navigate through that damn IE on Xbox One is more than a pain in itself and will ensure many steer well away from the competition league aspect.
I can’t for one minute expect those not remotely interested in the rally scene to even begin to enjoy DiRT Rally. In fact, if you’re not a bit of a petrolhead, then you’re going to dislike most of what is on offer as not only does it take some time to get used to the handling, but the sheer pace of things requires a decent amount of controller skill as well. Should you enjoy getting grease on your hands and the challenge of pitting yourself and your car up against not just the clock but some of the most wicked tight rally tracks known to man, then Codemasters have served up something a bit special.