DiRT Rally (PlayStation 4) Review

By Gareth F 09.04.2016 9

Review for DiRT Rally on PlayStation 4

While Xbox One owners have already enjoyed numerous entries to the Forza series this generation, armchair drivers favouring Sony's machine have sadly been a bit starved of a decent first party driving game. Sure, there was the excellent Driveclub from Evolution Software, but with flagship title Gran Turismo still conspicuous by its absence, there's a sizable car-shaped vacuum in the current PlayStation 4 catalogue that needs filling. While numerous third party developers have stepped in to take advantage of Sony's lack of urgency in plugging that gap, the vast majority of these games have steered away from the simulation aspects of motor sports and, instead, concentrated on delivering an easily accessible package to attract the casual 'Sunday drivers' crowd. Up until now, that is. After garnering much critical appraise for the PC version, industry veteran Codemasters has finally delivered the authentic DiRT Rally experience to home consoles. Buckle up your seatbelts... It's going to be a bumpy ride.

First things first, DiRT Rally is tough... Like, really tough. As a driving discipline known for its extreme learning curve and slim margin for error, it's no surprise that a game attempting to accurately reflect these aspects of the sport turns out to be difficult, so much so that it's drawn unexpected comparisons to the Dark Souls series in some quarters. Considering the countless hours this wannabe rally driver has spent skidding over the edges of treacherously narrow hillside lanes or unavoidably crashing into various barriers/obstacles littering the terrain, it's a comparison that holds up well to scrutiny.

There's no skill setting, and even with all assists enabled, it can still be quite the challenge, but there will come a moment of clarity where it just suddenly clicks into place and some semblance of control is gained. The trick, then, of course, is to maintain some level of consistency, as even the slightest lapse in concentration can lead to an unspeakably cruel chain of events. For example, having uncharacteristically made it through three incident-free stages of an event and positioned in a commendable 4th place out of 16 racers, the final stage saw my car take what appeared to be a fairly innocuous ice-induced slide into a ditch within sight of the finishing line. In actuality, this turned out to be a far more serious incident than it first seemed, as the resulting 81% vehicle damage forced an early retirement from the event, translating to the loss of a substantial credit reward, as well as a humiliating drop of twelve places to the bottom of the table. Strangely, this risk/reward trade-off is a major part of what makes DiRT Rally such a worthwhile experience, as the emphasis on requiring a constant level of skill to succeed against an ever-adapting set of harsh conditions makes even little things like pulling off the perfect slide around a hairpin bend an incredibly satisfying accomplishment. What's changed, then?

Screenshot for DiRT Rally on PlayStation 4

Well, this newfound level of difficulty is entirely down to an early decision by developer Codemasters to move away from the arcade handling and 'rewind time' mechanics employed in previous chapters of the DiRT series, and to replace it with a far more realistic handling model. Ergo, success requires the consideration and mastering of techniques such as understeer, oversteer, weight transfer and pendulum turns, then successfully applying them to negotiate a variety of road surfaces ranging from loose gravel, mud, wet tarmac and ice. There are a series of very detailed tutorial videos that are well worth watching, as they do a great job of explaining the driving techniques used by the pros and how best to navigate certain track characteristics that will regularly crop up during events. A lot of series veterans will also be very pleased to learn that Codemasters has finally ditched the polarising Gymkhana/Ken Block events that diluted DiRT 3 just by getting in the way of the off-roading.

The career mode starts off by handing the driver 50,000 credits to be spent on either a low-level Rally or a Rally Cross vehicle, locking the participant to the respective event until enough credits have been earned to purchase another car. Given that credits seem easier to obtain by playing the point to point Rally events, it makes more sense to choose these over the far tougher Rally Cross, which can be quite the grind upon first commencing and pay out next to nothing in comparison. As expected, the rally events get split into multiple stages that take place in a variety of challenging locations that can be made even harder when hit with adverse weather conditions. Success is entirely reliant on posting better times than the other 15 AI opponents that make up the competition. Time penalties are handed out regularly for minor mishaps, such as having to reset the vehicle to the track, and even restarting a stage comes at a cost to the finishing bonus… That's if you finish, of course.

Part of the simulation aspect of DiRT Rally is that each car is actually a delicate, finely tuned instrument that, unsurprisingly, just might have its performance impeded if it gets wrapped around a tree. Repairing a puncture can add a minute and a half to the elapsed time, but driving over a huge boulder at the wrong speed can do untold irreparable damage and force early retirement. Therefore, it's essential to pay attention to what the co-driver is saying at all times, as he holds detailed pace notes for the track and constantly updates progress with pertinent information regarding the frequency and severity of any upcoming twists, turns or jumps. If at any point the co-driver yells, "Don't cut," it's a heads-up on a solid obstruction littering the proximity of the next corner, which, if ignored, will likely do major damage to anybody foolhardy enough to look for a shortcut. A particularly nice touch is having the option to hear the co-driver through the DualShock 4 speaker for that extra touch of authenticity. It's almost like he's sat next to you.

Screenshot for DiRT Rally on PlayStation 4

Rally Cross differs in that it involves head-on competition from the AI around four laps of short closed circuits and competing in a number of heats to make it through to the next round. The compulsory Joker lap means that, at some point in the race, each of the four participants must take a slightly extended detour that re-enters the circuit at an awkward angle, designed to hinder and slow down progress. This brings with it a bit of a gamble. Is it best to tackle the Joker lap on the first opportunity and hope that the other racers don't gain too much of a lead, or is it wiser to try and blaze an early lead and hope that the other drivers don't take advantage of a late attack on the Joker lap? Knowing that even the tiniest error can result in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory only serves to add another level of excitement to the already tense proceedings. Even qualifying through the first round in Rally Cross can be a struggle, which is where the aforementioned grind comes into play.

Behind every successful driver lies a crew of engineers and technicians working hard behind the scenes to ensure everything runs smoothly. Starting with just a crew chief, the opportunity to contract a further four engineers crops up during the course of the campaign, each in possession of a set of characteristics and skills that will impact on repair times. Constant use of a vehicle allows the crew to get familiar with its nuances resulting in a slow incremental improvement in areas such as weight reduction, engine upgrades and advanced setup. Progress can be slow, especially in Rally Cross, but perseverance pays off knowing that at some point one of the upgrades will tip the balance in favour of the player. Engineers also level up with use and can eventually be equipped with assorted perks that can aid their effectiveness in specified areas. Hillclimb events also open up further into proceedings, but these require a substantial amount of credit before a suitable vehicle can be purchased. The opportunity to race up the infamous Pikes Peak in the USA in a souped-up beast of a motor sporting a wing is definitely something that needs working towards, as it's particularly hard sticking to the track with that much juice under the hood.

Further opportunities to earn credits in DiRT Rally present themselves via Online events and PVP events. The Online events section is split into two daily stages and two weekly events, in addition to a Monthly and a Special, all of which provide the chance to compete against the DiRT community for a performance reward, relative to which of the three tiers the driver finishes in. There's only one attempt allowed and entry can be dependent on whether ownership of the required vehicle is met or even the willingness to throw down a hefty wager to compete. The daily stages tend to be small events and, a lot of the time, a loan car will be provided, although the weekly and monthly events tend to favour the bigger multi-stage competitions that might be best tackled over a few days.

Screenshot for DiRT Rally on PlayStation 4

As one might expect, the PVP section is basically the Rally Cross played competitively online with up to eight players. It's quite refreshing that there are other bad drivers out there, so it's reassuring to know that the struggle is universal. Feebly rolling across the finish line on the wheel rims is that little bit sweeter after passing the smouldering wreck of the guy who overtook at full speed a lap ago. Gamers that have a few competitive friends in their gaming circle will also relish the opportunity to set up customisable leagues, giving them an added incentive to step up their DiRT game.

Graphically, DiRT Rally does an excellent job of capturing the desolate beauty of driving through these extreme locations at high velocity. With tracks set in Wales, England, Monaco, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Greece, Norway and the USA, it ensures that there's a great deal of variety in the geographical surroundings, ranging from densely populated forests to meandering, narrow dirt tracks running across rough moorland. While it might not quite match the visual splendour of Driveclub (which, to be fair, has yet to be bested by any driving game), it impressively maintains a rock solid 60fps throughout proceedings, which helps sustain that dangerous sense of speed. Dust clouds churned up from other drivers speeding through loose gravel and water splashes from large puddles look particularly convincing. The 39 different cars, ranging from aging 1960s models up to the high powered present day offerings, have all been accurately recreated, both internally and externally, with each vehicle offering a selection of different liveries to choose from. Of course, the option to play with the cockpit view is present and will likely be favoured by the hardcore, but the chase cam makes it slightly easier to see the next oncoming obstacle, just before it adds yet another dint to the bodywork.

Screenshot for DiRT Rally on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

At times, DiRT Rally can be quite the humbling experience. There's a good chance that casual drivers might crumble at the first hurdle, but perseverance brings with it a sense of reward that just can't be found by playing the likes of Need for Speed, etc. Victory is well earned, mistakes are swiftly punished - there's no middle ground. It is video game driving in its purest form, and much like the competition it emulates so well, it can be brutal at times. Motorsport fans will appreciate the lengths that Codemasters has striven towards, ensuring it's as authentic an off-road experience as is currently possible to achieve on a home console.

Developer

Codemasters

Publisher

Codemasters

Genre

Driving

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Did you play Project CARS, Gaz? Interested to know what you think of that. You more of a sim or arcade racing guy? Prefer arcade, myself.

I must admit I haven't actually played Project Cars Az but I believe it's a bit more hardcore in the sim stakes than this and a bit harder to get into as a result (eg having the option to alter the tyre pressure on each wheel individually ... I wouldn't even know where to start with that level of tweaking)

Truth be told I'm more of an arcade racing guy myself too, mainly I tend to suck at driving games despite enjoying them.



( Edited 09.04.2016 19:36 by FiDRoC )

Yeah, CARS was a very hardcore sim. Bit difficult for the average racer to get into, but you seemed a bit more clued up on it, so wondered if you mighta dabbled in it.

I'm kinda like that with fighting games - poor, but love them. The only one I've bothered to become competitive and good at is DOA. On the arcade racing side, it's Mario Kart.

I've never tried CARS...always looked intriguing, but wasn't that meant to be on Nintendo systems to start with, and then got canned? I'm sure there's a reason I lost interest.

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

It was announced and in development for Wii U, along with PS3 and 360, but all three of those got canned in favour of PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

I'm still waiting for 90's Arcade Racer. NX might be out by the time it releases.

lol that thing's probably dead and buried. I hope not, mind. But it's not seen a very convincing dev cycle.

That's from Nicalis, right? Wow, given how long it took for Cave Story...in fact, didn't one of the versions just get canned for EU, simply because the delay was so long?

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

Yep. Bodes well, right? lol

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