DiRT Rally is not DiRT 4. You might already know that, and the fact that it isn't called DiRT 4 is a big clue, but if you've just discovered this game exists, I thought I'd give you a little warning. DiRT Rally is a hardcore sim. You're not going to pick this up and feel like a pro after five minutes, sliding around hairpins as if physics forgot to activate properly.
Right off the bat you're presented with a screen of car setup and handling options. Purists will want to go without any of the assists turned on, but I am not one of those people. I opted to turn most of them on to some degree as I'm not going to sit in front of the game with a steering wheel, logging 10 hours a day. Even with these options, such as Traction Control and Stability Control, turned on, DiRT Rally is not an arcade racer. I've warned you again.
Out on a track for the first time (or endless number of times) and the key words are 'losing' and 'control'. The game includes numerous tutorial videos that give an overview of how not to be a terrible rally driver, but as informative as they are it's essentially like showing someone Top Gun and asking them to fly a fighter jet. There are bound to be issues. Telling you about weight distribution is one thing, but applying it when hurtling towards a cliff edge 90 degree bend is something else entirely.
It's fair to say that practice makes competency in DiRT Rally. Whether or not you'll ever be perfect is unknown, but I reckon few will truly master DiRT Rally at its most challenging. Once you've got used to how unforgiving the game is, though, it's very possible to enjoy yourself thanks to a never ending edge of your seat feeling, your car perpetually moments from disaster, dancing on a thin line between excellence and flying out of bounds.
Structurally there's no giant board of events or pyramid or virtual base of operations as in Codemasters' DiRT and GRID arcade games. You can enter a six-event Rally Championship, working through numerous stages in each, take part in a three-event Hill Climb Championship, a two-part Rally Cross Championship and (if you're good enough) a final Rally Cross event that can only be tackled by pros. Conditions to entering the first three are little more than having the required car, but you'll need to have earned enough cash to buy one.
Prolonged play in a specific car allows your team to learn how best to set it up, so you get perks as you race that in theory make things easier and you can tweak settings for the surface type(s) you're about to race on. It's a neat extra mechanic, and thankfully you can simply let the team's AI take over without getting your hands dirty at all, if that's what you want. There's even a small amount of team management, with extra team members able to be added should you have the cash to pay them and a slot open.
Online events, challenges and leaderboards across all the rally types open up a whole world of competition, and in truth this is where longevity lies. It's one thing to best the AI, but challenging real humans (better still, friends) will keep you entertained and encourage improvement.
DiRT Rally on consoles maintains a pretty solid 60fps, which is important in a racer such as this, but outside of that and the expected 1080p visuals there's a definite sense that we probably could have been playing this on last gen consoles. It's still a looker at points, and the sense of speed is superb, but lacks the pizazz of previous DiRT games - although depending on your thoughts about DiRT 3's' 'extreme' slant, a more straight laced approach might be preferable.
DiRT Rally, then, isn't a true successor to the DiRT series you might know and love, but it's a better rally experience if you're willing to put in the work. Tweaking the assists makes the game manageable, but getting properly good will take a lot of time and solid concentration. If you generally spend your time in cars shouting out the difficulty of oncoming corners, give DiRT Rally a go.
Version Tested: PS4