Dirt Rally Xbox One Review

April 8, 2016

It’s strange to think that the company that’s today best known for its F1 and Dirt series started life 30 years ago making racing, dirt bike and F1 simulations for the British 8-bit computer scene (and the Dizzy games, of course). The technology has advanced dramatically, but Codemasters continues to produce polished simulation experiences, and these days they even have official licenses.

History aside, I can’t help but feel that Dirt Rally has been something of a passion project for the studio. The somewhat indifferent quality of the previous titles in the series is gone here, and it’s pretty clear that this is the rally game Codemasters have wanted to make throughout the past few years of licensed F1 updates.

This is easily the best Codies’ racer I’ve played. I think this has something to do with the fact that rally lends itself to a pick-up-and-play experience more than F1. That might seem weird given that it’s a sport that requires a navigator to sit next to the driver and tell him each individual detail of the course using a highly technical language that allows rapid communication of upcoming hazards— a vital feature when barrelling along narrow dirt tracks with solid rocks on one side and terrifying drops on the other.


Dirt Rally simulates this well, and while the voiceover can get grating after a while, listening to it is vital for success, even after getting more and more familiar with the tracks. It helps create a more instinctive response, a don’t-think-feel approach that feels really good.

Not reacting to the navigator in time, or not quite getting it right, generally leads to a swift and sudden encounter with a tree, or a roll down a hill. There’s no rewind feature in Dirt Rally, which is odd given that Codemasters pioneered the feature in Grid. Instead, the player can choose to either back the car out of whatever predicament its in, or reset to the track and take a time penalty. Even these are limited however— too much damage will force a retirement, and there’s another penalty if the player decides to restart the stage.

This all adds up to a punishing experience that will initially frustrate anyone trying to get into Dirt Rally. Peservere, however, and the game becomes much more rewarding. Alongside the traditional point-to-point rally courses, there’s also rallycross and hillclimb courses, which offer alternatives to the main rally mode, but feel as though they were afterthoughts.

Courses themselves are great. From sunny Greece to snowbound Sweden and Monte Carlo, to the lush forest of Finland and the muddy fields of Wales, Dirt Rally is all about putting the sport in its natural habitat, and each of the locations is unique. There are several different courses, and each rally event consists of a selection of four courses, though some of them are merely reverse versions of others. Overall it’s plenty to race around on, and each one is challenging to learn and fun to drive.

Subaru Impreza Finland Slide

Perhaps the greatest strength of Dirt Rally, however, is its car selection. There’s a focus on the history of rallying in the game, and the car selection covers everything from early cars like the Mini Cooper through to classics from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and the 21st Century. Best of all, is the game’s representation of the classic “Killer B’s” period of rallying from the 1980s, featuring such flights of engineering insanity as the Lancia 037, the Ford RS200 and even the legendary Audi Quattro itself. While this isn’t the first time these cars have appeared in the series, it’s by far the best, and the cars feel exactly as treacherously fun to drive as they would have been in real life.

On the technical side of things, the game works beautifully. Visually, it’s probably the most impressive game using Codemasters’ Ego engine, with the environments, weather effects and time of day all looking great. More importantly, the game feels great, especially when using a wheel. I played the Xbox One version with a Thrustmaster wheel, and the force feedback was some of the most detailed and intense I’ve experienced in a racing game on the system. Every bump, every twitch, every tight turn felt exactly like I would expect if I was hurtling along a narrow track at over 200km/h. As for the controller, it feels pretty fine there too, and makes excellent use of the Xbox One controller’s trigger rumble.

The best thing about Dirt Rally, really, is that it strips away all the unnecessary hipness and attitude from the previous titles, and steps out from the shadow of the Colin McRae games that it evolved from. The best example of this switch to a more focused, more serious approach might actually be the menu music, which is simple, Boards of Canada-esque electronica rather than the forgettable pseudo-punk and rock that used to plague the series. It doesn’t seem like much, but it shows that Codemasters have finally figured out what actually matters in the series. For anyone who appreciates rally, this is a good thing, and it finally means those well-worn copies of Colin McRae 04 can be put away.


Solid rally racing over a variety of locations
Highly detailed and responsive physics with excellent force feedback
A solid challenge for experienced racers


Rallycross and hillclimb modes feel less polished than the main rally experience
Initial difficulty will be intimidating to newcomers

Overall Score: