DiRT Rally Preview (Steam Early Access)

DiRT Rally Preview (Steam Early Access)

I truly enjoyed Codemasters’ previous rally games, especially DiRT 2 and 3. Sure, they felt a bit arcadey and unrealistic at times, but the gameplay was rock solid and the visuals were quite impressive. The company’s newest project, DiRT Rally, was stealthily released on Steam Early Access recently, giving early adopters a taste of what the final game will entail. DiRT Rally definitely feels different from the past two iterations, with a completely redesigned engine that  emulates all the subtleties and nuances of actual rally racing. The difficulty has been ramped up considerably, and you’ll have to become quite familiar with both your car and the track layouts if you ever hope to make it to the finish line.

DiRT Rally is absolutely unforgiving. There is no minimap, no assist lines, and the slightest changes in terrain can send your car careening off a cliff. In short, you are completely dependent on your co-driver to complete any given course. If your car gets any damage, like a broken windshield or blown tire, it actually carries over between races. There is no rewind feature if you mess up a turn and completely ruin your lap time. Weather effects like rain, ice and snow completely change the way you need to attack a course. And night driving in the rain, you may as well be blindfolded. This is as real as it gets, people.

While the difficulty level can at times be frustrating, it’s also extremely satisfying to nail a run and master the in and outs of a track. After destroying your vehicle the first few times (and believe me, it will happen no matter how good you think you are), you’ll learn to play in a more reserved manner, carefully maneuvering and anticipating each turn. However, it’s necessary to strike a balance between defense and offense, as you’ll need to seize the opportunities afforded by long stretches of road to shave precious seconds off your lap time. Learning the tracks is paramount here, as a few times I became overzealous and wrapped my car around trees when a hairpin turn came out of nowhere. DiRT Rally is essentially the Dark Souls of racing games. If you’re really hardcore and want to play with the HUD and assists off, in the cockpit view, the devs were nice enough to include bonuses for winning this way. The environments look so much better with the hood or third-person cams, though.

DiRT Rally features three environments, and a total of 36 courses. Powys, Wales is a foggy, rainy forested track with plenty of twists and turns and piles of logs to crash into. Monte Carlo, Monaco is a race along a mountain path, with icy roads and slippery tarmac aplenty. Argolis, Greece is a dusty stretch of dirt road, like something John Marston would race his horse through in Red Dead Redemption. I found this course to be the toughest for whatever reason, probably because it’s so easy to slip off the roads and down a hill as there are no guard rails on this course.

The 14 available cars are all rendered in striking detail, like one would see in Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo games (which DiRT Rally feels very similar to, in my humble opinion). There are selections from 1960s and 70s vehicles like the Mini Cooper and Lancia Stratos, to 80s cars like the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, to modern rally cars such as the Suburu Impreza and more. Tackling courses in the stripped-down 1960s vehicles feels vastly different than it does with the fine-tuned modern cars, as it should.

Codemasters promises to add new cars, courses and modes to DiRT Rally over the coming months, so those who purchase the Steam Early Access version of the game now will gain access to future updates for free. The price of the game will continually increase as these updates are released, so early adopters will get a considerable discount. While DiRT Rally lacks a lot of the personality and flash that previous games like DiRT 2 had, it’s easily one of the most realistic and accurate racing simulations money can buy, and offers a challenge like no other. The driving mechanics are rock solid, the visuals are gorgeous and unlocking new vehicles and upgrades is addicting. If you’re a fan of the genre or previous entries in the series, check out DiRT Rally — you won’t regret it.

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