Dirt Rally Review

Richard Walker

Unforgiving, uncompromising, and about as pure a racer as you can get, DiRT Rally is rallying distilled to its very essence, stripping away the various added elements that have come to define the series in recent years. Where Codemasters' rallying efforts began with the Colin McRae series back in 1998, before evolving into the first DiRT title in 2007, increasingly flashy sequels threw X-Games and gymkhana events into the mix, much to the chagrin of traditionalist fans. You'll find no such fripperies in DiRT Rally; it's just you versus the road.

This is the return to the roots that die-hard fans and purists have been crying out for, all point-to-point stages against the clock, Rallycross events and hardcore Hillclimbs. Nothing more, nothing less. That means you'll no longer find flashbacks to fall back on should you misjudge your braking or veer off into the verge. If you screw up, you either strive to make up the time, live with your errors or take a penalty to your rewarded payout by restarting the race.

Night racing: genuinely frightening.

Obviously, none of this really means a thing without a good handling model at its core, and DiRT Rally is without a doubt one of the most gratifying simulations of rally racing I've played to date. One of the first things the game proclaims at the beginning in a window of text, is how devoted the team has been to replicating the handling of real rally cars, consulting pro drivers in the process. Clearly, it's all paid off, because DiRT Rally feels so very, very right.

Each car has a sense of weight and inertia that's entirely convincing, every surface and rally stage from across the globe bringing with it a set of unique challenges to overcome in each class of car. But before you'll get the chance to drive them all, DiRT Rally has you first cutting your teeth in 1960s and 1970s rallying classics, like the Mini Cooper, Renault Alpine A110, et al, each of which handle like boats on castors.

From the snowy climes of Sweden to the tarmac routes of Germany, rural idyll of Wales, forests of Finland, and sun-dappled dusty tracks of Monaco and Greece, throwing your car around each corner as your co-driver barks directions can be intense, putting your reflexes to the test. Knowing that there are no flashbacks to save your ass can make some races a nerve-shredding ordeal. Failure means starting all over again. It's almost like the Dark Souls of rally games. Sort of.

As you successfully complete – and hopefully win – races, you'll earn credits that you can then spend on contracts for your crew of engineers and purchase new vehicles to access other championship races. Gaining a full complement of engineers means repairing your car becomes more efficient, so you'll incur fewer time penalties, but it'll cost you more credits throughout the season. Damaging components and bodywork will not only leave you driving a smouldering wreck to the finish line, put it'll cost you a pretty penny too.

If you're short of cash, however, you can always get in on some action in Custom Championships, wherein you can enjoy straight-up Rally stages, a Rallycross race against opponents on a circuit, or the teeth-grinding difficulty that comes with a Hillclimb event at the treacherous Pikes Peak, USA. Equally viable for raking in credits are one-off Online Events that crop up daily, weekly and monthly, or a few rounds of Online PvP.

During these online races, you can engage in Rallycross events against rival players or play an Online Custom Championship, with nice, quick matchmaking and a smooth experience while you're connected. At least, the selection of races I played online were stable and without issues. It works exceedingly well, even if the array of options is somewhat limited. You don't have to own certain cars to compete, however, which is good, meaning you can loan whichever vehicle required and simply race. It's fun, but you'll likely find more enjoyment in the solitary pleasures of single-player rallying.

Racing on this surface is snow joke. 'Snow' joke! Hahaha!

In the Career mode's Championships, luxuries like being able to use a car on loan are dispensed with. Some race events are out of bounds until you've acquired the requisite car, so you can expect a fair bit of grinding to scrape together enough cash before moving into modern 2000s rally events with more up-to-date rallying beasts, as well as being able to access Rallycross and Hillclimbs. And should you have the time or inclination, you can also create your own RaceNet Leagues, although doing so requires setting it all up via the game's website. Meanwhile, if you want to immediately access all of the cars, stages and so on right out of the gate, you can jump straight into a custom event outside of the Career modes.

Whatever the case, there are a number of achievements to be had across almost every facet of DiRT Rally, from besting successive rallies without assists in a 12 stage event, completing a PvP race, beating Online Events and so forth. There's a fantastic spread of tasks to tackle, but the lion's share of them are hard as nails. But then that's because DiRT Rally itself is stupidly tough. In fact, the difficulty of the game's achievement list is indicative of the game's overall level of challenge, which some may find off-putting.

Immensely challenging and demanding, DiRT Rally is a welcome return to the series' rallying roots, all but dispensing with every one of the 'extreme' components that crept into the franchise since DiRT 2. The overall result is a more restrained affair, but one that's a pure and unadulterated rally racer that not only looks utterly fantastic, but also succeeds in providing an uncompromising rallying experience. Just don't expect an easy ride. It's bloody hard, but oh-so rewarding.

Dirt Rally

The DiRT game that rally fans have been craving, DiRT Rally is a triumphant return to form that every self-respecting video game racing aficionado needs to own. Don't be put off by the steep learning curve, DiRT Rally is worth getting to grips with; it's super rewarding and ultimately a fantastic rally title. Pretty much one of the best of all time, in fact.

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Fantastic, authentic engine noises and helpful co-driver instructions, alongside appropriate menu music. That's about it really. It doesn't need anything else.


Crisp, gorgeous visuals make every race a treat for the eyes. The damage model is superb, the cars look great and the vistas are glorious.


Unrepentantly, unapologetically difficult, DiRT Rally is also enormously rewarding. Each car has its own unique behaviour, and every location and surface presents its very own challenge to overcome. You'll need to sharpen those virtual driving skills.


Plenty of modes and options spread across a huge Career, Online Events, and Online PvP means you'll be playing DiRT Rally for ages and ages. Rally, Rallycross and Hillclimb are also entirely different rallying experiences.


An incredibly tough list that asks a little too much. There's an excellent spread across every game mode, but some of the game's achievements are somewhat dull and uninspired. The result is a slightly insipid achievement list with a few highlights, like crashing your car, or flipping it, landing on your wheels and carrying on.

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