Dirt Rally gets real
April sees the arrival of Codemasters' Dirt Rally on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. In anticipation, the award-winning publisher put their money where their mouth is and set out to prove to NetGuide's Darren Price just how close their rally game is to the real thing.
I've been playing Dirt Rally on PC since the game's early access last year. Unlike the last couple of interactions of Codemasters' Dirt series, Dirt Rally goes back to the franchise's roots, offering up a solid and rather unforgiving rally experience.
Touted as being more simulator than arcade racer, Dirt Rally doesn't mess about with rewinds and all those other hand-holding assists. Players are plonked in the driving seat and tasked with succeeding at one of the most intense forms of motorsport.
It's not a game for the faint hearted.
With the new-gen release of Dirt Rally in April, Codemasters invited Netguide to compare the PS4 version of the game with a bit of actual rallying at The Rally School, Colo Park- a couple of hours north of Sydney.
Under the tutelage of the school's top instructors, including 2015 Australian Rally Championship runner-up, Molly Taylor, I was taught how to control a rally car driving at breakneck speed along what I can best describe as a four-metre-wide badly graded unsealed road topped with three inches of sand.
At the pre-rally briefing, the first (and possibly the most important) bit of advice given was to look where you are going. Look at the tree and you will hit the tree. Look at the exit from the corner and you will smoothly steer through the bend.
This is something that you do instinctively when sensibly negotiating a bend on the public road. When driving as speed around a tight corner it's easy to timidly turn the wheel in several motions as you traverse the bend, unnecessarily shifting the weight, rocking the chassis and altering the car's traction.
Another thing pointed out to me as I hooned along the uneven course, bouncing all over the place, is that the car will go in the direction of the bonnet. On a straight, even if the surface is uneven and there's no real traction, the car will go in the direction that you are pointing it- there's no need to be timid with the throttle.
Between rally sessions we sat down with a preview PS4 version of Dirt Rally- conveniently set up beside the pit lane - to test our real-world skill in the game. Even though I'd been playing the PC version extensively for over a year, my experience with a few laps in a real rally car transferred straight over to the game. Not only did it explain some of the issues I'd been having taking corners in the game, but also it also showed me how to overcome them.
Driving a real rally car really highlighted the difference between rally driving and circuit racing. No longer was I trying to take the racing line – rallying demands that cars tuck into corners, transferring weight to the front in order to maintain traction for steering whilst allowing the rear end to follow. Codemasters have done a lot more work under the hood than I'd realised.
The preview build of the game ran like butter on the PS4, with crisp visuals and finely-honed feedback, letting you feel every bump. Just as tough as the PC version, the console version of Dirt Rally still requires driving discipline. Careful application of the throttle and brakes are a must.
Console owners are will benefit from over a year's worth of testing by the PC Dirt Rally community. Whilst the PC version always worked well, even at its early access launch, Codemasters have been fine tuning the game to perfection based on player feedback.
New for the console version of the game, but due to be added to the PC version after the console launch, is a rather essential suite of tutorial videos designed to introduce players to the nuances of rally driving.
The final lap of the day at The Rally School was in the passenger seat as Australian Rally Championship driver, Molly Taylor, took me around the course at three times the best speed I could muster. It was a very sobering experience as Molly threw the car around the corners, the car's wheels barely in contact with the dirt.
Back in the office, on the PC rig, I was able to put some of the techniques from The Rally School into action on the full PC version of the game. Whilst I recognised the feeling from all the way back to the original Dirt, I now understood the concept of dynamic friction – the controlled sliding required for a successful rally. Beyond the simulation provided by my wheel's force feedback I knew how it actually felt in a real-life rally car.
The PC version of Dirt Rally is a tough but rewarding simulation of rally driving. Having driven a real rally car I can now appreciate just how accurate the game's physics are. With the game's upcoming release on PS4 and Xbox One, console owners are finally going to be able to experience rallying as it's meant to be.
Watch out for the NetGuide PlayStation 4 Dirt Rally review soon.