Although many consider the racing genre to be a niche genre in the video game industry, it definitely has produced some incredible titles over the years. If you take that mindset one step further, then rally racing would be considered the ultimate niche sport. While not nearly as popular as some of the other circuit racers like F1 and NASCAR, rally racing’s fan base is smaller but definitely not any less loyal or supportive.
Codemasters, the developers of Dirt Rally, have often been described as a champion of dirt racing with its previous Dirt titles, and seems to have created something special again with Dirt Rally. While it may not overtake 1998’s Colin McRae Rally for some, it just might for others.
If you are familiar with Codemasters’ previous Dirt titles, then the overall gameplay will feel familiar, but do not mistake that for easy. Each track environment offers a different set of challenges, and some layouts will absolutely make you want to put the controller down and take up crocheting. Unlike your standard racing titles, Dirt Rally throws so much at the user that the thought of turning a perfect lap is ridiculous. Dirt Rally almost promotes the idea of simply doing your best and seeing where that leads. Some will complain the controls are too twitchy and make it almost impossible to control, but that’s the point.
Dirt Rally uses changing undulation, multiple forms of weather, water, tight environments and limits the ability to cheat the course by severely penalizing you for trying to cut corners -- whether by obstacles, vehicular damage, time warnings or penalties. And if the thought of that doesn’t scare you, your only form of course navigation is through your own eyes, and your co-driver yelling out directions at you, as you will find no track map at the bottom of your screen.
While it may sound like I am being critical of the game and its controls, it’s quite the opposite. Dirt Rally challenges you in ways I truly never thought a racing game could, no matter what the genre. In order to enjoy it though, you must force yourself to remove any previous racing experiences prior to this game and just embrace the chaotic frustration you most certainly will endure. How is that for a ringing endorsement of a title?
While Dirt Rally does provide licensed content, don’t get overly excited about the overall presentation. Other than some nicely done splash screens and easy to navigate menus, there isn’t much else in regards to the overall presentation. Even when you enter career mode, everything is rather basic. You'll get updates like the standings from stage-to-stage, access to overall standings, current vehicle status and the ability to buy new vehicles.
I won’t go so far as to say that the lack of presentation takes away from the game, but it definitely doesn’t add to it. In fact, for the most part, the game seems to promote the overall gritty feeling that most of these tracks and courses provide. The grit seems to permeate the overall vibe of the entire game.
Dirt Rally does fall a bit short in providing a lot of different content, but the online options are decent. One can choose to simply stage race against another real-life challenger’s times, or race person versus person. If you’re looking for a more structured setup, well Codemasters has you covered in the form of online league options and the ability to set up your own.
Although the servers were a bit on the thin side in terms of population at the time of this review, there were zero issues when trying to connect or staying connected. If lag is a worry you have about Dirt Rally, then I can at least tell you I had zero problems in this department, and the game ran as smooth as offline.
For all the frustration and angst that Dirt Rally provides, the payoff is well worth it. The more time spent with the title, the more you get out of it. If you are expecting a game that you can master from the beginning, please look elsewhere. If you are looking for a bunch of oval circuits, please do not apply. If you are looking for incredibly detailed and difficult environments that will test every ability you have with a controller (or wheel), then do yourself a huge favor and find a place in your rotation for this gem from Codemasters.
Score: 8.5 (Great)