Tuesday, May 5, 2015

DiRT Rally: First Impressions

With CodeMaster's release of DiRT Rally on steam early access, can this veteran studio prove that they can still learn new tricks?
Being an early access game I can't be too hard on this game, its not finished yet. However, being an early access game I can say that I am VERY impressed so far. This game came out of nowhere and it is visually stunning and the gameplay is tight and feels great. The physics system has been completely reworked from the ground up which sets it apart from the DiRT games before it.
"With great physics, comes great responsibility."

DiRT Rally is tough as nails. Don't walk into this game expecting Ken Block to be your best buddy throwing you fireworks parties after each race. Don't expect to jump into a race, drift through every turn effortlessly, and then coast on to victory. No, it will never happen. What you should do is expect Ken Block to slash your tires before your first race and watch as your car limps along until the tires shred down to the rims and you go careening off the side of a cliff. Also, expect the racing series to go on without you as you enjoy the big, fat, DNF on your rally standings screen.

Maybe Ken Block doesn't actually slash your tires before a race, but sometimes it feels like it. (Also, I don't think Ken Block is anywhere in this game.) DiRT Rally is not drifting for show. DiRT Rally is not racing for sponsors. DiRT Rally is pure and simple rally racing for those that love the challenge of the sport. This is a hardcore, no hand-holding game that tries to capture the essence of its equally demanding and dangerous real-life counterpart. Neither are for the faint of heart.
"But I love it!!"

 In its early access state... 
  • DiRT Rally plays great because it damn well has to. The tracks are narrow and treacherous, one wrong move and best case scenario you lose a few seconds or maybe pop a tire; worst case scenario- your race is over, your series is over, wave goodbye to that last hour of work you just put in. Technically speaking, I have had minimal issues with game crashing or bugs that I noticed. I was hit with the mute co-driver bug but CodeMasters patched it out fairly quickly.
  • DiRT Rally looks great, obviously. My GTX 750Ti, the little video card that could, manages to run it at 1080p on Ultra settings with a pretty steady frame rate. Running on High proves to be a smoother overall experience for me. The cars and cockpits are all beautifully modeled. The rain, snow, and fog effects all add to the overall soul-crushing atmosphere of the various and extensive landscapes you drive through. Icy roads are especially impressive, and helpful in indicating when you should use caution (or extreme caution). 
  • DiRT Rally sounds good. My co-driver, when he decides to speak, sounds pretty monotone and thus tends to repeat himself a lot. Maybe the co-driver is supposed to be an impartial party, but dammit if he's in my car and we're driving around like maniacs on a mountain... he could at least pretend we're in some kind of peril some of the time. Mix it up a bit. Please? Anyway.... Otherwise it sounds great, cars sound great, turbos spin up and whine, dirt and rocks pinging off the undercarriage is awesome, the surround sound experience is phenomenal. 
  • DiRT Rally has an interesting online experience that I must mention. Daily, Weekly, and Monthly Challenges keep you coming back for more as you race against the world's best times on a level playing field. Also, you can stalk your friends times on the leaderboards for bragging rights (not that I've ever done that, shout out- HardlyDan). I couldn't figure out how to get it to work, but you can also create and join leagues through CodeMaster's RaceNet system.

I love this game, it's punishing and yet so rewarding. It is helpful to have a racing wheel, but I found it fine to play with a 360 controller. This is a hard one to recommend as it is so tough to get into, though I am having a good time wrecking and repairing my car every few races. If you are a racing fan, love a good challenge, love cars, or have a racing PC wheel you definitely need this game in your inventory... or at least keep an eye on this one. For the more casual racing fan I would suggest waiting for DiRT 4. And I say PC racing wheel with caution, though it does have full controller support, it looks like DiRT Rally probably won't make it to consoles. That makes me a sad panda, but I bought it on PC, so whatever. With any luck all of the tech and community insight found in DiRT Rally will transfer into the next full DiRT 4 release.