Dirt Rally Review

By Andrew Ogley, 6 months ago
An incessant cacophony of sound continues to assault your ears. The roar of an engine, the occasional pops and bangs from the exhaust. The grinding of tires on the loose surface as they desperately scramble for grip, firing gravel and grit at the wheelarch and floorplan in a staccato machine gun burst; a barrage of stone mini-projectiles ricocheting off the metal. Over it all, a voice calls out half-intelligible instructions, "crest - maybe jump - 180 to end", confirmed by hieroglyphic symbols on the screen. The steering wheel snaps and jerks as the wheels touch down. You fight to keep the careening car on the narrow track as the rest of world blurs and zooms by, leaving you to focus on the two black markers that signal the end of the stage. Your forearms are like jelly, your wrists ache, and your shirt is clammy with sweat. You're physically drained. It feels like you've been in a battle. It feels like you've just driven the stage for real. That's what Codemasters wanted to achieve, and with the new DiRT Rally the team has done this quite magnificently.

DiRT Rally

It all starts quite serenely. Gone are the brash music and overly colorful menus. It's all very dignified, subdued, cleaner and perhaps, a little more mature. Don't be fooled however, this is just the quiet before the storm. Once you start racing, it all gets a lot tougher. Rally driving is a very different beast to its track counterparts. It's no longer about trying to squeeze that last bit of traction between tire and tarmac or hitting apexes. Rally cars race on unpredictable loose surfaces, effectively riding the waves and surfing on a sea of loose gravel, grit, mud and sometimes snow and ice. It's much more about man and machine against the raw elements.

Whilst it is possible to dive into custom events outside of a career, allowing the player to combine any stage, track, event type and car, it is the career mode that is the core of the title and offers much more depth. Ironic then, that the start of the career provides one of the only (and very minor) blemishes in the game. The budget you are given is a measly 50,000 credits. That's enough for either a 50 year old rally car from the 1960's or a rallycross 1600 class, but not both; you can forget the hillclimbing supercars too, you won't be in one of those any time soon. Tantalizingly, there are over 40 cars in the title, but at the start very few will be affordable.


Your budget also needs to extend to a pit chief and engineers who are all essential for keeping your car going. In between certain stages, you have a very limited period of time to carry out repair work. The more engineers and the more experienced the crew, the more chance you have of having everything fixed in time. Exceed that, and you'll pick up penalties. Damage is inevitable too, it's unlikely that you will be able to negotiate any of the narrow and devilishly winding tracks without taking a knock or two and those knocks can cost you engine parts, tires, or even complete wheels.

Engineers have slots for perks which you can unlock. Each slot will only be unlocked after a certain amount of rally mileage has been completed, and the perks then allow them to specialize in certain types of car or even specific makes. Your pit crew will also eventually unlock car upgrades, although this too demands that certain mileages are met. This all means that the start of any career is tough. The miserly budget is limited, your cars are initially restricted and unlike other titles, you won't be able to buy or fit other upgrades; you won't be able to buy your way through your career. Events and wins will eventually boost your coffers but it is a lengthy process. Progress is driven purely by mileage and your own developing skills and this might be enough to put newcomers and beginners off.

For a game that relies on driving for its progression, the driving model and experience should be pretty damned good, and it is. In fact, it's sublime. Codemasters has rebuilt the Ego game engine with a specific focus on the physics which is not only visible, it is actively tangible; in short you really feel it. Whilst it might not look as accomplished as, say, Project Cars, it's still extremely nice looking, and honestly, if you're stopping to admire a sunset or sunrise in the middle of a rally stage, you're doing something wrong.

DiRT Rally Screens 2

At first, the game feels outrageously difficult. The tracks are narrow and are littered with obstacles and perils such as cliffs and ravines, and despite your best attempts, your car seems determined to find each and every one. Over time, you get a better feel for it all, even playing with a controller, it all becomes more tactile. It is hard work, but as many fathers over the world have been known to say, it's good, honest, hard work. You never feel like the game is cheating you, even though you have the devil's own job of keeping the car on the track. The whole experience becomes more stressful as mistakes cannot simply be undone. The rewind functionality from previous titles has gone and the only option is to restart a complete stage or race, and even that will cost credits off your bonus.

With the physics and game engine heading increasing more towards a simulation, those playing with steering wheels and pedals will find an additional level of immersion. The force feedback on the wheel is vigorous to put it mildly, with the 'hard work' taking on a more literal and physical sense. The wheel will twitch and jerk with every little change in the track. You'll feel the effect of adverse cambers, crests, bumps, loose gravel, and those innocuous looking pieces of turf that will suddenly kick your car sideways. On race circuits you might have a long straight offering some rest with a steady wheel. Rally offers no respite, your arms will feel the strain after a long stage. As you race through the stage, you will see and feel every little nuance in the track and the effects on the track. That's when it becomes sublime. You and your wheel will take a battering but you still feel every inch of the stage, somehow it's all brutally subtle.

DiRT Rally Screens 4

The rallies take place across known locations across the world, including Wales, Sweden, and Germany. Each rally has its own individual characteristics, such as the muddy woodlands of Powys, or snowy roads of Sweden. Brilliantly captured in all of their beauty, but in their brutality too. The world rushes past you at a steady rate of 60 FPS without any noticeable drop at any point, it's impressively done. All of the stages remain punishing and uncompromising, just as the game itself. Negotiating the twists and turns whilst trying to keep the car under control would be a nightmare, but fortunately your co-driver is there to navigate the courses with you. Throughout each stage he will call out, what seems like unintelligible gibberish at the start, reflected too on the screen in strange hieroglyphic symbols. As time goes on, the calls become a lifeline, there comes a point when you almost unconsciously and without thinking, react to each instruction. I became so reliant on my co-driver to such an extent during one stage when an "acute left" was called, which turned out to be more of "hairpin left", I let loose a Clarkson-esque rant at my virtual co-driver regarding his pace notes.

The reliance on the co-driver was also highlighted when taking on the notorious Pikes Peak hillclimb event; the "Green Hell" or Nurgburgring of the rallying world. Without a co-driver it's a solitary, lonely and very perilous ascent. The hillclimb is, as the name suggests, a long and arduous rally up a winding hillside. The catch is, as the cars go higher their engines become less efficient and less powerful due to the altitude, and that's something to be aware of. It also shows the level of detail that the developer has gone to.

This aspect was highlighted in one of the handful of video tutorials which cover the driving theory. Veteran racers will be aware of most of the topics, including shifting weight and braking but there are a few that cover some rally specific areas. The videos offer little practical advice and it's another example of the uncompromising nature of the game.

MP 1

Alongside the main Rally and Hillclimb events, there is also Rallycross; a frantic fast-paced race with dedicated cars. The event has a number of cars all competing on the same track, running a number of laps, with one being the mandatory "Joker" lap - an extension to the normal lap with a little difficulty spike to it. This is where you can go head-to-head with the AI drivers and even on the easiest of settings they can be overly aggressive and difficult to beat. On the plus side, at least it's good training for going online in the same event. Multiplayer is in fact limited to the Rallycross events for direct PvP action, along with leagues which can be created online and are effectively managed leaderboards for closed groups. In the interests of full disclosure, we were provided with an early access code and multiplayer activity was very limited so it was not possible to test if there were performance or server issues.

Additionally there are online challenges to be done; daily, weekly and monthly. The daily challenge is particularly stressful as it is a single shot event; pass or fail, you only get one go.

For the achievement hunters, there are a good mix among the 50 listed to aim for. It will take some time to complete especially when trying to win at Masters level. There are achievements for specific cars and for specific events, and for team management. Additionally, there are a number for multiplayer and online. In full disclosure, the achievements list wasn't available at the start of the review, so the 13 that were unlocked were just done through natural progression and driving. It was not possible to target any specific ones at the time.

DiRT Rally Screens 5

Rallying in the real world, as in the virtual, is a niche sport, which means the potential player base is limited. Despite the brilliance of the title, beginners will be put off the difficulty and most track racers will migrate back to their circuit based games. It will be left to only those who are prepared to embrace the challenge that the simulated rallying in this title presents, and that's a shame as this is a genuinely top racing title.

Forza is often held to be the flagship of racing games on the Xbox One, but as was mentioned earlier, you can't compare the two as track racing and rallying are two very different animals. So let me put it this way, if the team at Turn 10 Studios ever decided to make a dedicated rallying title, it wouldn't be too much different to Dirt Rally; they would genuinely struggle to surpass it, and that's a compliment to Codemasters who have exceeded all expectations with the latest incarnation of the Dirt franchise.


Dirt Rally is a true return to form for Codemasters' Dirt franchise and may be the company's best title to date. The developer set out to create the most realistic rally simulation available, something they have quite stunningly achieved. For some, the increased realism will come at a price, pushing the difficulty out of the reach of beginners and arcade racers, but for those prepared to put more effort and time into the title, there is a hard-earned but genuinely rewarding experience to be had.
4.5 / 5
  • Realistic physics and handling
  • Uncompromising
  • Plenty of challenges and content to keep players busy
  • Immersive rally experience
  • Tough introduction for beginners and newcomers
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent around 23 hours charging through forests in Wales, snow in Sweden, and farm tracks in Greece. Thirteen achievements were unlocked and the download code was provided by the publisher for the review.
Andrew Ogley
Written by Andrew Ogley
Andrew has been writing for TA since 2011 covering news, reviews and the occasional editorials and features. One of the grumpy old men of the team, his mid-life crisis has currently manifested itself in the form of an addiction to sim-racing - not being able to afford the real life car of his dreams. When not spending hours burning simulated rubber, he still likes to run around, shoot stuff and blow things up - in the virtual world only of course.