A game built around rally racing seems like it would be something I enjoy. Just me and my car on long, winding tracks in a race against the clock. My primary opponents are dirt, snow, hairpins, hills, and jumps. I’d overcome them all with ease, flinging my metal machine over and through them all at breakneck speeds. Me and my car on a dirt track in a race against time. Drive a car, go fast, don’t crash. Sounds fun, right?
It sounds like a ton of fun. But in reality, Dirt Rally is the most stressful racing game I’ve ever played.
That’s not a knock against the game. It’s the realization that Dirt Rally and I are not well suited for one another. If racing games were movies, I’d prefer the ones made by Michael Bay. The kind where you wind up jumping a big rig over an exploding gas station. Dirt Rally is not that kind of game. CodeMasters, the developer behind the game, touts its “challenging, uncompromising handling model” that “adequately capture(s) how it feels to race across changing surfaces”. It’s totally a simulation game, not an arcade racer.
Playing a racing sim demands that you unlearn almost everything you already know about playing arcade racing games. Using the e-brake to slide around corners, drifting, grinding side walls without consequences; none of those things work here. I mean, you actually have to use the brake and slow down before going into turns! If you don’t, you’ll understeer and run off the far side of the track.
Your racing mistakes accumulate on your vehicle. Every missed turn, every rail smashed, every crash results in damage to your car that makes it perform worse. By the end of some races I was in command of a hulk of steel that barely qualified as a car.
If you have any skill at sim racing, Dirt Rally has a lot to offer. Gorgeous visuals, a lengthy career mode, lots of cars to race, staff maintenance; it could keep someone’s attention for quite a while.
But in the end it comes down to your ability to keep a fast-moving car on a perilously narrow track. That’s an ability that I lack.
A GIF from the time Ron and Harry took up rally racing after graduating from Hogwarts
This is me racing, very, very poorly on a snowy track. Game looks and sounds great, my driving stinks.