Dirt Rally ReviewPrice:
Codemasters' Dirt series has been one long identity crisis for the studio, leaping upon gimmicks and trends with the vague desperation of a struggling popstar. None of them could be considered bad games per se. But the act of driving a car fast along a road that wasn't remotely designed for fast driving was often obscured behind the cringeworthy attempts to be hip and trendy and the hideous nonsense that was Gymkhana.
By comparison, Dirt Rally is like an awakening, shrugging off its gaudy robes and standing in the rain to cleanse its naked body. It's a simulation of the most austere and formidable kind, laying down a challenge that is both refreshing and rewarding. It does forget to educate you in its bold transformation here and there, but once you're past its sheer learning curve, you're in for quite a treat.
Initially it looks like a fairly typical Codemasters offering, albeit with a much more pared down menu. The basic structure follows that of most racers, centred around a career mode that sees you rise from muddling through open rally events to chasing down the world's rallying elite.
The moment you roll up to the starting line, however, Dirt Rally reveals itself to be a very different beast. Most of the safety nets accrued in previous Codemasters titles have gone, most notably the "Flashback" ability that let you rewind a race a set number of times to correct mistakes. In fact, Dirt Rally looks down on all forms of quitting with the scorn of a Drill Sergeant. Restarting a stage is discouraged through the offer of a bonus that decreases each time you nip back to the starting line, and retiring from a stage will disqualify you from the entire event.
By ripping a hole in your racing parachute, Codemasters underline that rallying requires endurance as much as it does speed. Progression isn't about achieving the fastest time on every stage, it's about navigating each course with care and precision. You must keep your car intact between the sparsely distributed repair stops, and accept that you probably won't be finishing atop the podium right out of the gate. That said, if you drive cleanly and consistently, you could scrape a well-earned third place, and that will be sufficient to spring you to the next championship ranking, where more powerful cars and more lucrative prizes await.
Much of the time, simply reaching the finish line is an achievement in itself. Dirt Rally's courses are without a doubt some of the most demanding racing you'll experience in a long time. The tracks have more contours than a snake on steroids, each a writhing, twisting sequence of lumps, bumps and dips that has your poor navigator almost rapping out the obstacles that lie ahead. Listening to his calls is crucial to staying on track. If he says keep right, it usually means there's a massive rock jutting into the left side of the road, and if approaching a turn he states "Don't cut," you had damn well better not cut.