DiRT Rally – Early Access Preview

And if your co-driver in DiRT Rally says “Don’t Cut” you sure as hell do not cut!

I had long given up on the rally genre. Colin McRae in the PS1 days, Richard Burns Rally and even the PS2 era WRC games all did a fine job of either being a super sim, or recreating the feel of rallying. By the way, the TV replays on WRC during that PS2 era are yet to be bettered in my humble opinion.

However, these types of rally games fell away as the introduction of the DiRT series changed up the format. There were still normal rally stages, but now we were introduced to many other formats of racing on mud, some welcomed and others not.

Many would lay the blame at the feet of Codemasters for this change, but in truth Colin McRae himself saw this new market for his own racing career and was really beginning to promote the X-Games style events, it was only his sad and untimely death that meant he never did get to fulfill his visions of redeveloping the sport.

So when games such as DiRT2, DiRT3 and DiRT Showdown moved further and further away from the traditional rally format, it seemed we would forever just have our memories of games gone by.

Now, I personally had a lot of time for the DiRT games, I liked the X-Game events, the wheel to wheel to wheel action, the various types of vehicle and even the much maligned Gymkhana events. Most of this was indicative of what was popular in the rally scene at that moment in time. Ken Block was rallying, he was the face and there is no doubting his talent.

New Rally games tried to reverse the trend, with WRC being relaunched by a new studio and going down the traditional format route. However, these games lacked that certain something. Neither were they complete simulations, nor did they full recreate the thrill of the sport. Licences and careers modes would do nothing to make these the must have games of the genre and in the end they became competent distractions.

So anyway, I was sitting there one afternoon, plodding along with reviewing another game when I get a message telling me about the new DiRT game… “DiRT4” I say to myself and go to look for some kind of announcement trailer. But instead I found something very different indeed.

An Early Access game for £23 on Steam, by Codemaster and released to no hype whatsoever. This has to be a new low for Codies, the once great publisher of some of my favourite games of all time. This is going to be awful, full of bugs and completely destroy the DiRT name.

I looked at the trailer, some screenshots and listened to some very early adopters. All of a sudden, it became harder and harder to hang on to my cash. I kind of want in on this, for the first time I have a good PC and I can give this a go. I’d had mixed results with Early Access games, so I wasn’t completely scared away.

Anyway, I bite the bullet, pay for the game and install.

I go through a bunch of menus, because essentially all I want to do is strap myself in and drive. Wales! Yes of course Wales, where else would I start. 5…4…3…2…..1…… Hit the gas and go go go… 2 corners in and I am into a ditch and needing to recover my vehicle.

It is clear from the very get go, that this isn’t a casual rally game and that I would need to rethink my approach. It was going to take many, many attempts to learn how the car handles and how it will handle different surfaces, etc. All of a sudden a quick test turned into a full on shakedown, trying to get the most out of the car as possible.

A rally car should feel like you are fighting to stay within the limits of control the whole time, striking that perfect balance between getting the best time and just keeping the car facing forwards and DiRT Rally succeeds at this nigh on perfectly. I come away from stages almost shaking from the pure exhilaration and the concentration and focus needed. It really is an amazing experience.

Yet here is the thing, this is a game with a severely limited number of cars and courses, it is in Early Access, yet it feels so much more complete than many, many full releases. As a game on its own merits, it is a fantastic package, but as Early Access this is something special.

Already included are career paths, daily, weekly and monthly community challenges, custom and private leagues with a working external website to keep track. All of these in my own experience so far have worked great, especially custom leagues.

Setting up a private league with set rules such as no restarts and forced headcam is wonderful to see and my participation in these has been wonderful. I may be 2nd from last, but I know that was due to a mistake, which meant I went from a good pace to game over almost, nursing the car to the end of a stage just so I can get it fixed and try to make it up next time.

Essentially, if you were put off by previous DiRT titles, because of the presentation, the fact that the disciplines were too fractured and the overall tone, then this right here is the rally game for you. Even at this stage it is something special and you need to get in and get muddy right now.