Few genres have more dedicated fans than simulation racing games. After all, that’s an audience that purchases expensive driving wheels to ensure they get the most accurate experience possible. That’s why I don’t envy developer Codemasters, who has to juggle pleasing that fanbase while also making sure their racing games are fun for a wider audience. It’s something that only a few developers have nailed, namely Turn 10 with the Forza series, as it continues to be a challenge to this day.
Codemasters’ latest racing sim, DiRT Rally, is a triumph in realism. Never before has a rally racing title felt so much like the real deal. A large part of this is thanks to the fantastic job that Codemasters has done with incorporating a co-driver into the game. Riding shotgun, your co-driver will read off notes to the player to warn them about upcoming turns. You might not understand what “left 6, 100, right 2, don’t cut” means right now, but you’ll have to learn to decipher that to have any semblance of success in DiRT Rally.
Thankfully, the game offers up a serviceable, if not fantastic, tutorial system that will teach players what the lingo found in your co-driver’s pace notes means. “Left 6” simply means that a slight left turn is coming up, which is important to learn as turns come rapidly without visual warnings. This isn’t a racing game where you can succeed on reflexes alone, as you’ll have to listen to feedback and make a visual map of the upcoming track in your mind.
All of the tutorials found in DiRT Rally are in the form of videos. This means you’re presented with difficult concepts such as pendulum turns in a short 2-3 minute video, and are expected to learn them over time. A more interactive tutorial, that let you behind the wheel while giving the player feedback while learning these abilities, would’ve been much better. The videos are definitely a welcome addition, but it’s simply just not enough (and can even be overwhelming) for a rally novice.
Once you start your rally racing career you’ll quickly learn that DiRT Rally is an absolutely brutal experience. You’ll be driving a touchy car through tight corners around cliffs, and simply overshooting a single turn can be enough to ruin an entire run. You’re often hit with a 15 second penalty for going off the track, and that’s enough to kiss any chance of a podium finish away. To win a rally race, even at the earliest stages, you’ll need to have a flawless run.
That’s easier said than done, and the removal of an innovative feature that Codemasters engineered is a large reason for it. The flashback system, which was first introduced in 2008’s GRiD, was a staple of the DiRT series until now. It allowed players to rewind time after making a mistake, and essentially gave players a second chance at a difficult corner. It’s an incredible feature, and one that has been copied by other series since then. Sadly, it’s completely missing here.
This really hurts the appeal of DiRT Rally, and it definitely ended up impacting my enjoyment. While I still enjoyed learning the co-driver system (as it’s pretty awesome when a video game can teach you about real life driving strategy), I didn’t enjoy screwing up in the last area of an 8 minute long race. There’s really no reason why an optional feature like flashback, which helped broaden DiRT‘s popularity to a new level, should be removed, and it’s such a bummer in a game that sometimes gets too real.
Imagine taking on a rally course at night only to slam into a rock once and have your headlights completely busted. That can happen in DiRT Rally, and it’s equal parts awesome and frustrating. As a fan of racing, it’s great to see such a level of detail applied to the game, but as a player, it isn’t very fun trying to finish a track when it’s pitch black and you don’t have a light source.
That said, there is a definite joy in watching yourself improve ever so slowly. DiRT Rally is a grind, and while it can be downright frustrating, I kept coming back to it since the good far outweighs any temporary rage. It won’t be easy, and a lot of players will likely be put off initially, but few games make you feel like you’ve earned a podium finish like you do here. Honestly, I’ve never been more proud to finish third place in a race.
One part of the game that will keep players coming back, and continuing to improve, is the online modes. I absolutely loved competing in the game’s online daily events, which gives all players one run at a course. It’s an especially intense affair since you know you’ve got to be safe, yet also fast in order to beat the times of your friends. There’s also more directly competitive online modes where you’ll race against other drivers in more traditional racing circuits.
There’s no denying that DiRT Rally takes rally racing to a new level of realism. And that’s great, as it’s very rewarding learning the language of your co-driver while racing around tight corners. Strangely, that realism has come at a cost, though, as Codemasters has removed core features of the series that helped players learn the ropes in the past. If you’re a hardcore rally fan then you’re in for a treat here. If you’re not, though, you might want to play an older DiRT game instead.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version, which we were provided with.
If you're a hardcore rally racing fan then DiRT Rally is the best game that Codemasters has made. That said, it doesn't do a great job of helping new players get into the hang of things, which is very disappointing.