Yet another game in the porting lineup by Linux gaming heros, Feral Interactive, DiRT Rally is a racing game focussing on, you guessed it: rallying. As opposed to the largely arcade oriented DiRT Showdown released a few years prior, DiRT Rally is very much intended as a simulation, delivering extremely real-world physics handling and the ability to tweak your car's setup on race day to your heart's content.
- Developer: Codemasters
- Publisher: Codemasters
- Linux Port: Feral Interactive
- Release Date: March 2, 2017 (Linux), 7 December, 2015 (Windows), 5 April, 2016 (PS4, Xbox One)
- Price: $59.99 USD (Steam/Feral Store)
Well, let's get right to it and say this: this writer has always appreciated a good motorsport video game, if they are well done, but most of my enjoyment has always been with traditional circuit racing games where you're just going toe-to-toe with opponents on the track and aiming to finish ahead of them as opposed to just getting the fastest lap time. Rally games, well, they typically haven't really held my interest and to be honest, I've rarely taken much notice of rally, the sport, itself.
DiRT Rally turns all that on its head.
It's not just a great racing title to have on the Linux platform, it's a brilliant game in itself. Make no mistake, unless you're more of a casual gamer or not one for too much realism in your games, or maybe you just hate car racing, DiRT Rally is a superb title well worth forking out some bikkies for. With some caveats, of course. Let's get to it.
Well, this section will be short. Regarding plot, well, there isn't any. To be honest, there doesn't really need to be either, but having said that, I do think it could have been quite neat if the game had some sort of story with cutscenes in the career mode. I was a big fan, back in the old days of my Windows and console gaming, of the first two V8 Supercars titles (also known as TOCA Race Driver in countries other than Australia), also by Codemasters, which had cutscene driven stories in the career modes. It's not a massive requirement for a game all about actual racing, but it did certainly add something, adding a bit of personality and even spite with your arch rivals on the track. And if it wasn't your thing, you could just skip the cutscenes and go racing.
While you're just often traversing courses in DiRT Rally, trying to get the best stage times and, well, not dying, there's no opponents generally in all but one game mode, but I still think a kind of story mode could have been implemented, potentially raising the game into another level again if done right. However, there's no doubt that Codemasters would have had their hands full with the rest of the game and it's certainly not a must-have feature for this sort of game.
But there is a career mode nevertheless and while there's no set plot, with a bit of imagination you can still make things interesting. Anyway, moving on...
First things first, if you're familiar with the Dark Souls series of video games, let me say this:
DiRT Rally is kind of like the Dark Souls of racing games. At least, at first.
Unless you're very familiar with racing simulation games and prepared to use sensible real-world driving techniques, picking up DiRT Rally and trying to play it like you might play more casual racers will end in pain. Lots of it. Even in the most forgiving, slowest and easiest car to drive in the 1960s Mini Cooper, the game will slaughter you.
On the other hand, with a bit of patience, a will to learn and understanding of racing techniques, including rally driving specifically, things can quickly start changing and you'll be throwing your car around courses with abandon. Well, until you progress to a new category of vehicle and, for example, encounter RWD (Rear Wheel Drive) vehicles after becoming accustomed to FWD (Front Wheel Drive). Then you'll be in for a bit more practice.
But here's the thing with DiRT Rally: get used to the heavily real-world simulated game mechanics and physics, persist and get used to having a few restarts when you inevitably total your car or fly off a cliff, and you're in for an absolute treat. The sheer impression of speed and thrill that DiRT Rally manages to portray is something to behold. It's frenetic, exciting and actually hanging onto a vehicle for dear life through a treacherous, windy track at speed is an experience and satisfaction rarely found.
It's also worth mentioning you'll likely want at least an analog controller, though a proper steering wheel is even better.
In terms of game modes, you've got the typical timed stage rallying, as well as Rallycross and Hillclimb. Rallycross is the one mode you'll be racing around a circuit with actual physical opponents, albeit still with some rallying elements such as dirt, mud and drifting. Across the game modes you have multiple stages across real world locations such as Greece, Monte Carlo, Powys, Varmland, Baumholder and the like. All with extremely varying weather conditions, from delightfully sunny light gravel stages to wet, muddy or even iced up snowy tracks you'll be sliding around at speed and trying desperately to keep the car in one piece. As for the cars themselves, you've got everything from the aforementioned 1960s era Mini Cooper to the latest and greatest rally monsters.
Other points worth mentioning is you can hire your own team, with varying stats, to manage your car on race day which affects how quickly you can repair and upgrade your car, and you can also tweak various aspects of the car itself, from brake bias, hardness of the suspension and all the usual technical bits and bobs you might expect from a racing simulation. Plus even more advanced tweaks such as gear ratios, negative camber... you name it. These setups are well worth playing with, as they can make huge differences to how your car handles on race day.
Finally, like most rally titles, you have your co-driver reading out route notes, warning you of various hazards and recommendations along the way. It's well worth learning to listen and understand your co-driver's lingo, as blindly taking corners on most of the rally stages at speed is tantamount to suicide.
Overall, so long as you don't mind a bit of realistic simulation and willing to put in the time to understand what you're dealing with, gameplay is absolutely fantastic in DiRT Rally and a brilliant virtual realisation of the motorsport.
While I generally wouldn't know just how accurate the engine sounds of specific cars are in DiRT Rally, a bit of a look online in YouTube videos and the like seems to indicate they are indeed extremely accurate. You also get your usual racey yet subtle sort of music during your post-race replays to add a bit of zest, but otherwise the only thing you'll be hearing during races is your car's engine, the creaks and groans of the body and the noise of the road, as well as the calls of your co-driver reading route notes and warning you of various damaged bits to your car.
No complaints here, it's all very well done, close to realism and adds to the immersion of it all.
Graphics and Linux Performance
DiRT Rally is a couple years old, technically, now but it's still quite a stunning looking game. The detail of the cars and the track and scenery alike is very impressive. Weather effects equally so, and there are a number of finer details to your environment that really add to the realism of the game. Gravel dust will fly up all around your vehicle, covering your windscreen. Puddles of water will likewise splash up and momentarily make some of your vision more difficult, but it's all what would actually happen.
The locations themselves look quite stunning and true to their real-world counterparts. The view distance is also quite impressive. While I'm sure the game engine probably does some trickery to create the illusion, the places, mountains or whatever is far off in the distance in your current location look great and DiRT Rally doesn't feel like one of those games that puts all the focus into car and track detail, but skimp on everything else in the hope that you won't notice while driving. Instead, everything is surprisingly well detailed including things that are quite far away. Even the spectators (the almost suicidal people that they are! When you see where they stand near the tracks you'll know what I mean) look a little bit better than the usual cardboard cutouts that you see in racing games.
I suppose that's all a perk of a modern game engine on modern hardware, though. Nevertheless, Codemasters certainly put a lot into detail in pretty much all areas of the game.
Now, Linux performance? Fantastic. Credit to Feral for another high quality Linux port. Running my usual rig with the Kaby Lake Intel G4560 CPU, 16 GB RAM and an AMD 380X 4GB GPU on Mesa 17 drivers on Arch Linux, the game runs pretty much smooth as butter on Ultra details at 1920x1080 resolution. I say 'pretty much', as just occasionally on certain stages I have experienced a bit of an FPS dip, but it doesn't usually last long and it has never been enough to even affect my driving.
DiRT Rally is a well performing game, especially considering how good it looks, and thankfully we're getting that experience on Linux as well. If you have a decently modern NVIDIA or AMD GPU with up to date drivers, you should be golden here. Intel GPUs are technically supported, but the requirements are listed as a "Intel Iris Pro 6200 or better". Using either AMD or Intel with open source drivers, you need Mesa 13.0.3 or higher, though many systems as of the time of writing should be running Mesa 17.x anyway.
If you're looking for a realistic but fun driving experience that gives you the visceral and frantic seat-of-your-pants thrill of rally driving, look no further than DiRT Rally.
Even if you're not typically a rally fan, but have an appreciation for driving games in general, it's well worth your time to give this game a go. There may be moments of frustration. There may be plenty of times you'll have to restart a race after spectacularly smashing up your car. The game WILL mercilessly punish you for your on-track mistakes. But, every time you make a mistake you know it was your own fault and that you'll just have to keep practising and try again.
Then when you finally start nailing your driving and throwing your rally car around tight bends and hairpins and beating those stage times, it's an experience like no other. Perhaps it's not one for the more casual gamers or those wanting a more 'arcade' driving experience, but it was never intended to be. But if it's for you, you can't go wrong with DiRT Rally.
A fantastic title and we can hope that we continue to get more games like this on Linux in future.
- Fantastic visuals and immersion
- Very well executed simulation aspects
- Superb feeling of speed and racing satisfaction
- Great Linux port
- Not for the arcade or casual types
- Similar to above, if you're not willing to learn or stick through the difficulty curve...
- Er, lack of a story mode?