Dirt Rally Xbox One Review
It has been a long time coming, but finally Codemasters, after denying the PS3/Xbox 360/Wii generation of a pure rally game, are bringing their experience of the genre to the current generation consoles. Codemasters, the creators of the arcade fun Dirt series, has moved back into the realms of their classic Colin Mcrae Rally games. Those PlayStation and PlayStation 2 rally games included some of my favourite racing titles, so the Dirt series, even though I enjoyed them, always left me a little disappointed due to their lack of offering a complete rally experience. This is not the case with Dirt Rally. Gone is the loud flamboyance of the Dirt series and it’s extreme sports induction. This is a complete shift back to basics, back to bringing what fans have been crying out for years, and that cry was answered with not just a brilliant rally game, but probably one of the best racing games Codemasters has ever released.
Tackling Dirt Rally as if it was like any of the previous Dirt entries is a sure fire way to get yourself wrecked before your rally career has even started. I learnt this from experience back when I jumped into the Early Access release of Dirt Rally last year on Steam. Thinking I could master the control straight off the bat, the first attempt at a quick race in Greece with the classic Suburu Impreza from 1995 ended up with a DNF. I slid off a sharp corner, rolling down the cliff-side into some trees, causing the car to be unrecoverable. This was a wake up call to how demanding Dirt Rally is, with not just its more realistic handling model, but the concentration of one’s mind and the precise listening to your co-driver as they throw out directions to give you enough warning to keep you alive as you prepare for the dangers ahead. Codemaster has built a rally game that goes more to the realism side than any of their previous racing games, sitting closely to the rally simulation fans of choice, Richard Burns Rally, A game that came out over ten years ago,but one where I feel rally fans can be satisfied to retire from, as Dirt Rally is a fine rival worthy to challenging it as the best rally game ever.
It’s fair to say that Dirt Rally requires time to overcome its getting-to-grips stage. If you are a player who likes to pick up a racing game and be a pro within 15 minutes, then Dirt Rally simply isn’t for you. This is a game where, unless you are an amazing driver already, will take time to learn and gain success. I remember starting the career with the classics 60s Mini and not winning a stage until about 15 stages in. That was about my fourth country rally before I felt comfortable winning, and that was on the lowest difficulty setting. Dirt Rally offers a promotion system, where if you manage to finish overall in the top 3 after the championship has entered, you move up the rally ranks, beginning with Open -> Clubman -> Professional -> Elite and finishing on Master, which I haven’t quite got into yet. I’m dreading to think what human concentration and car manipulation is required for that league. Assists are in the options to turn on if you feel you need them, and while they help, you do still need to have the mentality to drive properly or will suffer a short rally career.
Winning a stage isn’t everything, as there are plenty of times where coming in a higher enough position will give you a promotion. It’s one of the aspects of Dirt Rally I truly enjoy. Overcoming the sensitivity of the handling with some of the powerful, rear wheel, classic rally cars or managing to produce a clean stage comes with so much satisfaction. Mistakes cannot be corrected, only improved upon on the next race (or a restart), because one of Codemasters’ trademark mechanics, the rewind system that was first introduced in GRID, is absent here. Mess up a corner or damage the car to the point it handicaps the handling means goodbye to gaining a good time. This is a game where accomplishment comes from learning and adapting, making that first win feel so rewarding, and then the following success coming across as a great achievement, a sign that you are finally getting there as a competent rally driver.
All the hard work is down to yourself. The tutorials that were published for the console version (and patched into the PC) come in video form, and while are helpful to understand the concepts and mechanics of how a rally car moves and steers on the various surfaces with different weight transfers and drivetrains, you never get to try it yourself until you are behind the wheel ready to apply the teachings. This style will put some players off, but if you don’t mind following the practice makes perfect motif – well not perfect in this case, as I have already said that only a select few will be amazing at this game – then there is a lot to love about Dirt Rally. It supplies a constant flow of adrenaline fueled racing that very few racing games offer. There is never a dull moment here, as concentration always has to be at the forefront or feel the wraith of a stray rock or a tree in the forests of Finland.
The beginning of career mode offers a limited amount of money to purchase one of the rally cars from the 1960s (Mini Cooper S, Renault Alpine A110 and Lancia Fulvia HF). From here, the earnings given from taking part in the events will allow you to purchase more expensive cars from some of the more exciting categories, such as classic Group A cars or the well-known models from the 2000s or 2010s. The group the car belongs to is what group will participate in that championship, with the difficulty leagues shared across all groups, meaning you don’t have to start back at Open if you decide to jump into a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X after moving up two tiers of difficulty in a Ford Focus RS Rally 2007.
Career does move a tad slow with its money progression in the beginning, forcing some grind on the player. This feels done on purpose, as if it’s slightly intended to push the player into attempting the daily, weekly, and monthly challenges against other people in an asynchronous multiplayer time attack over a certain period of time to rake in some extra cash, depending on your performance against other racers. All money is shared across these events, making it a good way to get money for career. To be honest, once I was in the car I wanted, the grind was gone, because the gameplay is so gratifying no matter if you are racing against computer times or against real people online.
There is an openness to the career that you can progress throughout all the difficulties in the cars you like and not be penalised for it, even when swapping cars, as this just feels as if you were moving to another team in terms of the career progression. It’s minimalistic in its design, as it’s either doing the rallies, rally cross or hill climb events to get enough points to progress up the difficulty tiers. Each of the three game types have their own difficulty leagues, so being an Elite rank in rally won’t translate into Rally Cross when you decide to take a break from stage events and try some mud lap racing. In terms of car content, while there isn’t a Gran Turismo/Forza Motorsport size list of vehicles, the collection of over 40 cars offers enough variety. The old, powerful cars always scare me, as I could never quite get to grips with their handling model, sliding all over the place and crashing off track.
But more so than the cars, the wonderfully designed and challenging tracks are their own giant to overcome. Each country is distinctive in its appearance. The dusty mountain tracks of Greece will need car control over lose ground, the mud of Wales in the tricky forest dirt land has always been challenging to overcome its slippery handling, while Finland’s gravel track makes for some amazing jumps, and the speedy straights bring a sense of thrilling driving, but a badly taken jump can cost dearly on the clock. Throw in weather settings and night races for each stage and the variables for each of the game’s 72 stages suddenly offers much more to learn and overcome. Each country’s surface with a change of weather will modify the feel of the car. Snow and ice are the worst, while dry tarmac offers so much grip it almost comes across as if the car is stuck to the road.
Dirt Rally was initially a PC only title, so how does it translate to the Xbox One? Rather fantastic to be honest. Of course, the PC version still has those extra bell and whistles to look sharper and more detailed, but the Xbox One version comes at 1080p60fps, with crisp texture detail and image quality only let down by the lower resolution shadows and some minor dips in frame rate when hectic effects are on screen or an impactful car crash happens. The high frame rate makes for the game’s sense of speed to have an impact on the gameplay, making racing a tense experience when blasting down a road at 100mph, and having a lower input latency due to the solid frame rate means handling feels responsive over some of the older console Dirt titles.
I have nothing but praise for Codemasters’ return to the muddy motorsport of rally. This might be barebones when it comes to its presentation, but with the loudness stripped away, what is here, and what matters, is the amazing execution of its gameplay. Dirt Rally is a visceral monster of a rally game, bringing an additive and unforgiving driving model that makes it all so more rewarding when a stage goes right. It’s representation of the sport comes across masterfully, crafting an experience that can only probably be beaten by being in a real car. I can’t praise Dirt Rally enough for what it achieves for the sport in video game form after dealing with years of decent or mediocre rally games. I advised fans of rally or driving games to listen to the co-driver of Dirt Rally and “Don’t Cut” and “Be Brave” and give this a few hours of your time to see why I believe this is a fantastic title that belongs in the upper echelons of racing games, and why it is the best rally game to date.