DiRT Rally is a beast – a beautiful, brilliant, and breath-taking beast that will humble you, drive you mad, and leave you grinning like an idiot once you master it's brutally tough driving challenges. Think Bloodborne but with cars and you'll understand the punishing pleasures awaiting those brave enough to strap in and tackle what can only be adequately described as the ultimate console rally experience.
Developed by driving game specialists Codemasters, this entry ditches much of the glamour trappings and novelty tack-ons of recent racing games and gets back to thrilling high speed basics. Get a corner wrong here and there's no "rewind time" function to save you from the vehicle damage and lost seconds – you'll simply slip down the rankings with your stage time in ruins.
Already the rally driving sim of choice for those looking for an authentic, turbo-charged, hair-raising experience on the PC, it's a pleasure to report that this PlayStation 4 port is everything that we could have hoped for. The controls may take a little time to get used to, but they're tight and with practice will become second nature. There are a great range of classic rally cars to acclimatise to, spanning the "60s boxes" which feel very spartan to drive right up to the super-charged current rally champions, each packing unique handling quirks which, in an RPG-like element, can be ironed out the longer that your crew of mechanics have to "learn" the vehicle.
Impressively, you can get all HR department and tinker with your back-up team, hiring in specialists in certain areas or firing people that don't suit your racing set-up style. This dynamic means that you can nurture your team and grow really attached to a car which at first you didn't like as you and your team master it. This helps to side-step the usual structure of constant car unlocks. In fact, we spent ages messing with various settings to get our car performing to the max – so much so that it became a bit of an obsession of honing and tweaking. This certainly builds in a welcome strategic layer to the racing.
And this led to a tragic feeling of bereavement when our much loved old-school Lancia Delta got totalled after an unfortunate high-speed car-meets-tree-head-on incident. Needless to say, those looking for an immediate arcade rally fix should forget such foolish notions as this is a world of limited restarts and race crippling car damage. Sure, you can mend a puncture mid-stage, but there is a time penalty and loss of credits to take as a result; restarting also costs credits, and resetting your car to the track has an additional time penalty, too.
When tackling a new rally with multiple stages, you should take a moment to look at each of the upcoming stages and plan just how much you want to risk pushing your car on it as the last thing you want is to suffer down the road after your car builds up attritional damage. It's this trade off between taking it steady and hopefully not having to limp home with half of the car in pieces and throwing caution to the wind in order to bag the fastest time which is a constant dilemma. Nobody wants to waste credits on repairs when you could be selecting a nice enhancement for your current vehicle – after all, you only get to spend your credits once.
Ah, credits – these are the in-game currency which you accumulate through racing well, and can be boosted by doing insane things like turning off the driving assists. Hard-earned as they are, there is a great amount of satisfaction when getting to spend them on upgrades to your car or team. Daily, weekly, and monthly challenges which pitch you up against the rest of the Racenet community are a good way to grab some extra credits if you've got the skills, too. There's more to Racenet than rotating objectives, though, as it also allows you to form or join racing leagues, and such elements will potentially see fervent drivers coming back for a long time to battle each other on the leaderboards.
There's just so much packed in to DiRT Rally. As you'd expect, there are a superb selection of stages from around the world which will test you in soggy, slide-em-up mud flats, slippy icy mountain trails, dusty hot Mediterranean dirt, and rough tarmac pot-holed roads. Each surface brings its own challenges, and when you mix in potentially adverse weather conditions that can change the game mid-stage, there is a constant level of challenge that never allows you to relax. You'll find the sense of pure relief at crossing the finish line is incredible – especially if you've been nursing an overheating radiator or a have lost a headlight in low light conditions.
The sheer thrill of driving flat out through a forest stage where any wrong calls will end your charge in a big way is the stuff of total high adrenaline. You'll need to be almost psychically in tune with your co-driver who guides you with a stream of info about the upcoming corners (rated numerically up to six rather than "easy left", etc) and totally the master of your car's capabilities in order to know when and where to throttle off, brake, hold the best corner line, and accelerate away if you want to have any chance of success.
Not content with a comprehensive campaign, Codemasters has also secured official FIA World Rallycross content, which can be played solo or is where you can challenge your friends to some chaotic heavy racing. These challenges allow you to try out higher-powered vehicles before you ever get near them in the main game, and can eat up lots of time as you trade paint in search of glory.
It all looks mightily impressive, too. The cars are very much the stars, each rendered in great detail including the insides. But you'll often find yourself enjoying the external details just as much, with puddle splashing a highlight. The whole feel of driving is helped by a decent draw distance and a solid framerate, which PS4 rocks at 1080p. Snow blasts past, dust storms up from the tyres, hay bales bounce off, and trees blur as you floor the accelerator – it's heady stuff. And it all sounds magnificent, too, with a base growl to some of the engines which will rearrange your internal organs if played through a sound bar.
Throw in some great hill climb challenges across three different surfaces and a burning overall "one more go factor" as you strive to shave seconds off a stage that you've been grappling with in a new car, and what you have here is pretty much a glimpse of rally heaven.
DiRT Rally is the purest and most visceral rally game in a long, long time: it's a constant knife edge experience of risk and reward, trial and error, concentration and sweet, sweet progress. This simulation comes highly recommended to both rally and racing fans everywhere.