Codemasters attempted something pretty unique with DiRT Rally. Rather than announcing the game and having it developed behind closed doors, they decided to announce and release the game into Early Access allowing the community to shape the game as development completes.

In our Early Access preview of the game, we found that DiRT Rally already felt like a pretty great racer, and upon release we’ve been nailing the various terrains getting to grips with each vehicle to give the game a detailed review. But there’s just one problem, DiRT Rally is damn hard, and that’s probably one of the best things about it.

Racers come in various flavours, some are serious racing sims, others are what are considered today’s equivalent of “arcade racers”, games which allow you to hammer the accelerator and go. DiRT Rally is more on the serious side. It’s a pure racing sim aimed at rally enthusiasts, and while I’d consider myself more of an arcade racer fan, there’s something about finishing a race with all tyres intact that’s just exhilarating.

If you’re loading up DiRT Rally in the hopes of slamming your favourite rally car around dirt tracks, then let me put a stick in those spokes because DiRT Rally is brutal and as far away from an arcade racer than you’ll get. It’s an absolute hardcore racer which will punish any wrong move, so that tactic of using barriers to help you around corners, is probably the worst idea in this game, so I quickly learned.

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So what’s the deal? Well it looks as if Codemasters wanted to hear what fans wanted and that was a hardcore disciplined racer with no-holds barred, and in my opinion that’s exactly what they delivered.

With various race types and challenges available to you, including both global leaderboards and PVP races, DiRT Rally has you start from the very beginning, easing you into the world of Rally with a 60s vehicle. Progression is fairly simple in the game’s main campaign, as you complete trials to earn more credits to purchase more cars and enter different championships.

That being said, if you’re looking to immediately dive into this year’s RallyCross vehicles, then you’ll have to head into the online mode for that, because unless you have the cash, you won’t be able to drive them in the campaign mode, even then, you’ll be required to rent the vehicle using credits and any damage to the vehicle will also need to be paid for.

So, the campaign mode has you racing through a series of iconic tracks from the snowy trails of Sweden, to the wet and windy hills of Wales, all while you’re being barked at by your co-pilot informing you of the next twists and turns ahead of you and their severity.

Now, this is something I’ve discussed in previous reviews of rally games, although the co-pilot instructions are pretty easy to decipher, there is never a tutorial letting you know exactly what the various numbers mean. Right 3, 100, Left 6 into 3 No Cut, Camber, and more are some of the various things you’re required to understand so you don’t end up careering into tree, but nowhere in this game, and most other rally games, does it inform you whether 1 or 6 is considered a tight turn, nor does it let me know what “100” means.

That being said, being oblivious to what your co-pilot is telling you doesn’t ruin the game completely, because like I said, they’re not impossible to loosely understand, but it’d be damn helpful.

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That being said, trying to learn these commands and understand them better adds an additional level of difficulty to the game. It’s not just about racing, it’s about understanding what your co-pilot is saying. It’s an additional level of understanding I’d personally rather not deal with, but for those looking for a really deep rally sim, you’ve got it.

Commands aside, DiRT Rally is a thorough racing sim. From choosing your crew, vehicles, and tuning settings, you can really get elbow-deep in customisation to ensure that your vehicle is ready for the track ahead. Though once you’re on the road, or lack thereof, you’re on your own, and if you make one mistake, even a little one, things can quickly go down-hill, especially if you misjudge a corner and take-out one of your tyres. Fortunately you can choose to replace the tyre if you feel you’ve gained enough of a lead to sacrifice a couple of minutes.

As you’d expect, DiRT Rally focuses more on time trials rather than head to head racing. In the campaign you’ll be taking on the environments in an attempt to score the best time compared to a series of AI racers. If however you’re looking for head-to-head racing, the game also offers a pretty robust multiplayer mode allowing you to duke it out against online players, unfortunately it seems open games are pretty few and far between, but it doesn’t take you too long to find a decent handful of players to race with.

However, this isn’t what DiRT Rally is about, the core gameplay comes in the form of the aforementioned time trials, where staying focused and pushing your car as far as you can is key. And the game is certainly rewarding in that sense. It’s one of those games which, once you manage to get to grips with the track or the vehicle you’re driving, things can become pretty nail-biting as you fly through narrow woodland trails, drifting around corners as you come faced with the twists and turns of the road ahead.

Sure, there are many games which give you the feeling of going fast, but nothing feels quite like going fast narrowly missing the edge of a steep hill which, if you were a few seconds too late, would have you hurtling over the edge writing you out of the race altogether.

DiRT Rally doesn’t hold your hand. If you’re a crap driver, your score will be reflected as such. The game doesn’t reward stupidity either, so trying to cut the corner your co-pilot told you not to, will likely have you destroying your electronics, gearbox, and more. Even driving too carefully in order not to fly off the track can completely obliterate your score. There’s a fine line and it’s no cakewalk to try and find.

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Not to mention that pretty much every car, as you’d expect in the real world, handles completely differently, so while you may be used to one car, as soon as you purchase another, it’s time for you to learn the basics once again. Does this vehicle have too much understeer or oversteer? Well you’ll either have to drive to correct that, or alternatively tweak the car to reflect how it performs.

DiRT Rally has a pretty steep learning curve, understandably, but it’s one which makes the game more exciting once you finally get to grips with your vehicle, the various track types, and of course the commands. There’s an incredible sense of achievement when you manage to fall into the top three after nailing all of the sections of a track. It’s a very, very rewarding game, if you can stick with it long enough.

Apparently the game is well suited to a racing wheel, but unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to experience that. Instead I played the game using an Xbox One controller which actually had an incredible amount of customisation presented to it. You could change not only the sensitivity, but the dead zones and much more to allow for a real precise experience with a controller. Although this isn’t new, the interface provided while tweaking these settings helped me understand what exactly I would experience on the track, which was a real plus.

Overall the game looks pretty impressive too, and while I spent most of my time in the cockpit of the vehicle, I occasionally drifted in and out of the chase cam mode. The vehicles look fantastic and are very well detailed, as are the game’s environments, not to mention the crowds are made-up of actual human models and not two dimensional sprites which follow you as you whizz by.

Adding to that is the game’s sound. Aside from the fantastic sounds of engines roaring and crackling as you blast around tracks, there’s also little things such as the sound of brakes struggling under the force or the sound of the roll cage creak as you tackle a particularly harsh corner at speed.

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As someone who’s more accustomed to arcade racers, I truly had a fantastic experience with DiRT Rally, and while I felt like I didn’t have enough to say about the game upon beginning this review, I’m almost 1,500 words-in and I feel I’ve barely got to the tip of the dirt encrusted iceberg.

DiRT Rally is probably one of the best racing sims I’ve played in a long time, and I’ve recently thoroughly enjoyed WRC 5 and Project CARS. It’s definitely one I’ll be attempting to complete more thoroughly, despite struggling to control the more modern-day vehicles, but hey, that’s what makes this game fun.

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