Do you love rally races? Do you love the idea of driving across rugged terrain while your co-driver gives you pace notes? Are you upset because I’m not using proper rally terminology? Then Dirt Rally is probably the game for you. But if your answer to those questions is “no,” the game will be a much harder sell.
Here’s a brief history lesson: Codemasters’ series began as Colin McRae Rally, with the first title released for PC and the original Playstation in 1999. In other words, it’s been around for a while. PC development has always been key as well, so it’s not too surprising that Dirt Rally is on Steam Early Access. This version of Dirt Rally includes both career and single race modes, with the latter allowing for use of all of the game’s cars from the beginning. From there, events are divided between two types: Rally and Hill Climb. Each one presents an extremely realistic simulation of that type of event. In either one, besides the realistic handling and in-car views like you’d find in Gran Turismo or Forza, there isn’t a track map; just a bar showing how close you are to the end. In rally events, you’ll have pace notes; these will show up on screen and be read aloud by your non-player co-driver. In hill climb events, there are no pace notes; you just have to watch the road.
That said, pace notes won’t help the uninitiated too much anyway. Outside of giving you a graphical interpretation on screen, the game doesn’t explain what they mean. It’s easy to understand what kind of turn is coming up, but the rest might as well mean nothing. And while Dirt Rally does offer some options to help newcomers along, it’s still more brutal than other simulation racing games. The off-road handling is intense, and if you happen to drive (or crash) off of a cliff, the race is over. Fans of other racing games who don’t know much about rallies might find themselves getting bored as well. Rally events are time-based; there’s nobody else on the track with you. That’s just as well, because the tracks are often very narrow, but part of the excitement of racing games is trying to pass opponents. You won’t find that here, so even fans of other realistic racing games might have some culture shock.
There’s one more thing that needs to be addressed, given that this game is still in Early Access: glitches. Unfinished games will always have a bit of trouble. Fortunately, I’ve only had one issue with Dirt Rally. Even though I had already played before with no trouble, one time the game apparently tried to load at a higher resolution than my monitor allows, leading to a blank screen. Pressing Escape and restarting seemed to solve the problem, though I had to do it twice. Compared to others that I’ve played, that isn’t too bad.
Dirt Rally is exactly what the name suggests, then: a game for rally enthusiasts. If you are in that group, this is one of the few Early Access games I can recommend. There are occasional glitches, and the game is pretty small, but the glitches are easy to deal with and there’s enough content to keep things going for the price. As Codemasters adds more tracks and cars, which they have been doing regularly, it will become an even better value. But if you aren’t a rally enthusiast, I don’t recommend jumping in here. If possible, try this or another game in the series (besides Dirt Showdown) first and see if you like it. While the off road action can be a lot of fun, you need to know what you’re getting into. If you’re ready to take the plunge, Dirt Rally is available now on Steam Early Access for $34.99, or $26.24 during the Summer Sale.