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DiRT Rally

Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: Codemasters
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Racing (Simulation)/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Codemasters' DiRT series has been among my favorite racing franchises since its inception last generation. It strikes a wonderful balance of weighty, technical realism and adaptable, free-flowing arcade play. It is easy to learn, difficult to master. And let's not forget how beautiful those games still are; presentation wise, they're almost unmatched across the board. If you're a longtime fan of this venerable racing franchise, it's time to get serious. With DiRT Rally, Codemasters removes the kid gloves; this is a brutally realistic rally simulation that demands that you adapt to its playstyle or get left in the dust. It's a huge departure from the "come one, come all" attitude of DiRT games past, but at the end of the day, the game stands up marvelously well to scrutiny. Ultimately, there are few racing sims dedicated to this specific discipline, and DiRT Rally fills that void confidently.

I don't think DiRT Rally is the jump forward that DiRT 2 was when it first came out, and in some ways, it fails to impress. If you're looking big picture, there's a lot to appreciate. The environmental diversity is really something to behold, and considering the sport we're discussing, that's no small feat. Rally tracks have a certain look to them; while straightaways are a part of every racing game, this particular discipline doesn't have much to do with flat surfaces. Subtle changes in the track must be compensated for, and every shift in the terrain is beautifully telegraphed. Not to mention the helpful assists that accompany the instructions from your co-driver. Topping it all off is the attractive stable of rally cars and the multitude of sweet liveries to go with them.

DiRT Rally is music to the ears throughout, and I'm not really speaking about the soundtrack, though it absolutely gets the job done. Most of the menu-browsing material is some variation of instrumental house and trance. Cars sound fantastic, though not being a hardcore rally fan myself, I can't speak to the accuracy of any of the sound effects. However, having been in an accident before, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Codemasters gets impact noises right on the money. Special praise is reserved for co-drivers, whose steady instructions initially sound like a monotone lecture in a foreign language. However, through immersion and good old classical conditioning, you'll get the hang of it all.


If you're unfamiliar with rallying, DiRT Rally is going to sound like the strangest racing game on the planet. For whatever reasons, it hasn't gained a foothold here in the States like it has in Europe. That being said, if you've played a DiRT game in the past, you'll have a fairly good idea of what you're in for.

I'm not sure I've ever used the word "scary" to describe a racing game, yet I am going to confidently do so in the case of DiRT Rally. While playing other racers, I've never had to take a step back and realize that I've been gritting my teeth into a fine powder. This is an extremely intense experience, and one that's very difficult to explain unless you've done it yourself. But perhaps a retelling of my first event will suffice.

My car pulls up to the starting gate. The track is buried alongside a mountain range. I already feel like I'm dangling off the edge and I haven't even been given the "go" signal yet. There's about 200 feet of narrow road ahead. Beyond that, only sky. I get the signal and floor it. Immediately the person in the passenger seat begins relaying descriptors and numbers at a rate that I can't comprehend. The road doesn't get any wider and the clock is ticking. The vehicle hits a crest at high speed. Too high. I lose control of the car, and suddenly I'm rolling down the side of the mountain. Did I mention all of this was in first-person?

There's a lot of game in DiRT Rally. The meat of the experience is fairly divided between single and multiplayer modes, and you'll spend most of your time in Championships, Online Events, and PvP Events. Through persistence and practice, you begin earning currency that can be used on vehicles for your garage, specialists for your teams, and more. You won't soon run out of things to do.


DiRT Rally has no regard for your skill level or your emotions. You're either right on the money or overturned in a ditch somewhere. Buzz surrounding this game has it pegged as "the Dark Souls of racing games," but in DiRT Rally's defense, it isn't nearly as arcane or as obtuse as FromSoftware's infuriatingly excellent dungeon crawlers. It isn't always introducing new elements and failing to explain them.

If there's one place I can fault DiRT Rally with no qualifications whatsoever, it's in the teaching tools. What's here is fine and serves as a decent set of training wheels. But a more fully developed tutorial would have made all the difference in the world between a intrigued newbie who wants to improve and a rage quitter who wants nothing more to do with the game.

Game Mechanics:

Rallying is nothing like the closed circuit racing featured in nearly every other racing game. There are no cars vying to overtake you at any point of a race. It's just you against the clock, and it's your job to ensure that your vehicle gets from one point to the other as quickly and as cleanly as possible. Of course, this is easier said than done. Each track is riddled with features expressly designed to screw up your run. Choosing and committing to your angles always delivers the difference between five seconds shaved off your run and a totaled car. Listen to your co-driver; when they say "don't cut" or "outside," they mean it. Go against their instructions and you will pay dearly for it. Treat your first hours with DiRT Rally as a purely educational endeavor and you'll be fine. Once things click into place, it becomes irresistible.

If you've got the bare minimum of racing game experience, you have enough to play DiRT Rally. However, you don't have anywhere near enough to play it well. In terms of sheer gameplay mechanics, it's no different from any other driving simulator. But it's in the specifics that the differences become most apparent.

Most of these specifics are in the handling model established for the game. Play DiRT Rally as if it was Burnout and you will pretty much kill yourself. Play it as if it was Forza Motorsport, and you'll keep your life, but likely flub all your drifts and still veer off course more than you'd like. You've got to start from scratch with DiRT Rally, and there's no getting around it. There's a certain...something to the way that these cars interact with the world around them.

DiRT Rally might be the most intimidating racing game you've ever played. But if you've got the mettle to stand your ground, the courage to look it right in the eye, and the patience to tame it, it's a hell of a ride.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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