Dirt Rally Review Xbox One

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Dirt Rally has finally moved over to consoles nearly a year after its PC Early Access release, this, in theory, should have given Codemasters time to fine-tune their engine and with feedback from the PC overlords release the ultimate Racing experience. Codemasters, whose name is synonymous with driving games, have turned back the clock and have dropped the numericals, with this unforgiving Rally simulation.

Fans of the recent releases with their donuts, drifts and ‘Monster’ wired dazzling arcade driving may want to apply the handbrake, as Dirt Rally demands you to belt up, strap on your helmet and listen to your co-driver explicitly.

In my case Eddie my 2 year old with his limited vocabulary was a poor choice of team-mate, his pace notes were unclear and sometimes even random, and he also had a knack of sitting on my lap and applying the handbrake on crucial corners of the stage, luckily for me the in-game driving assistant provides none of these drawbacks, each corner dictated in crystal clarity as you hear the rocks bounce off the body work and the engine scream under the heaviest of acceleration.

From the off there are 39 vehicles to choose from, each rendered almost perfectly from their original versions, from the Mini Cooper S of the 1960’s through to the Lancia Stratos of the 70’s, the Sierra Cosworth RS500, the Peugeot 205 T16, the Lancia Delta S4 up to the Ford Fiesta RS.

Tearing away from the start line, the car struggles for grip on the loose surface, you can feel each lump and bump as the physics engine goes to work, each surface you drive on effects how the 4 wheels act on the claustrophobic track, acceleration applied at the wrong moment can have disastrous consequences. There is no ‘Y’ to reverse time and eradicate mistakes, the most you can hope for is to be positioned back on track, which incurs a timed penalty. A crushing impact may result in irreparable damage forcing you to retire from the stage. There is an option to restart the section however this incurs a cash credit penalty each time. In between stages there is also an opportunity to set the mechanics to work for any knocks you’ve picked up, each fix will cost time which is free up to a specified amount of labour, take any longer than that and you’ll incur a time penalty which could affect your final position, so you’ll have to choose wisely. Do you repair the car so it’s in optimal condition and suffer the timed consequences or drive knowing you may very easily understeer off the edge of a cliff?

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Driving conservatively is a new skill drivers will have to pick up if they want to achieve results in Dirt Rally, the learning curve to controlling each of the cars over the different terrain is steep, like Pikes Peak challenge steep. At the beginning of each race the cars handle really well and you can feel the difference if you’ve made any changes to the setup. With options allowing for brake bias, dif, gears, suspension and damping there are plenty of options for the enthusiast. thankfully there is an option to go for the default setup if you don’t fancy adjusting your gear ratios or changing the camber angles…

Any damage taken as you progress has a noticeable difference with the way the car will react, bursting a tire changes it again as you mentally cross your fingers in hope that you’re not sparking around the course on 3 wheels, which will have an adverse effect on your course time.

With 6 rally courses in total between 70 stages Dirt takes you places like the infamous Pikes Peak, the wet corners of middle Wales and the Frozen death-trap of Sweden which are all beautifully detailed, the loading screen before each race gives you details of the conditions and breakdown of the surfaces you’ll be driving upon, which leads to my only grumble of the game, the loading times seem slightly excessive, as I’m sat waiting for the next nerve destroying stage to begin.

Career mode is present, starting out with a small budget with the aim of building a racing team equipped to assist you in becoming a champion, earning the real $ to upgrade your car, employ better staff or part ex for a shinier motor.

Multiplayer comes in the form of online events, which gives you daily, weekly and monthly courses to pit your driving skills up against the best, giving you one shot to stake your place amongst the world, in addition to this a Rally Cross event which allows you to race against others on the track at the same time, and finally a Dirt league, where you can set up or join an existing league where the restrictions & events are determined by the league manager.

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Graphically the game looks damn fine on the Xbox One, the cars at the start of the stage are impressive and finely detailed. The vehicle damage looks as it should so when you do take a knock the car visually looks broken along with the handling issues you’ll now experience. If you dare look away from the parking space width of the track, the scenery, fans and even parked cars look exceptional as you slide past them, the game feels like it has all the frames, that along with the concentration required to complete the course had my eyes experiencing screen burn on a small number of occasions, but I couldn’t look away through fear of failure.

As mentioned earlier the sound quality in Dirt Rally to be another highlight, there’s no mistaking the co-drivers instructions and he actually feels like he is sitting right next to you when he says ‘hairpin’ ‘anything’ you know he means business. The believable sounds of a revving car engine, the crunching up through the gears and the rattling and screeching of the tires creates real immersion and a feeling of being a rally driver.

Any hardcore enthusiasts will already have this saved on their HD, after a day 1 purchase they’ll be adjusting car settings to shave the precious seconds off their course times, and without a doubt be driving with the latest Thrustmaster wheel for the completely immersive experience, anyone new to the series or those who have played previous Dirt games are going to have to put on their L plates, stick with it, and prepare for the ride of your life.

Pros

Both visuals and sounds are impressive

Car’s handling and physicals are accurate

Most lean and tight driving package release to date

Cons
Will not suit everyone, difficulty level requires perseverance

Small delay on loading times between courses

You’re going to want to buy a racing wheel

Score: 9/10

Krautscape – An Early Access Preview

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As ever – be warned. Krautscape is still very early in development and as such expect more features and content to be added after this preview was written. Despite this, the game is polished and tidy, with absolutely no performance issues or crashes – although it is a little light on content at the time of writing and there are a few things that don’t quite work yet.

Krautscape is a rather refreshing take on the racing genre – throwing the free-form ability of flight into the mix and allowing the player in the lead to actively generate the ‘track’. It’s smooth, stylised graphics and unique premise set it apart from other racers currently on the market – albeit without conforming to the current trend towards soft body physics simulation and crashes. Steam’s Greenlight programme is to thank for it hitting Early Access.

I was interested in the concept of the game even before first playing, being an enjoyer of the odd racer – and the freedom of flight is a constant fascination.

When playing the game for the first time I’d highly recommend digging into the tutorials, as the gameplay can be extremely confusing without a little explanation.

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You are then introduced to the features that set Krautscape aside from the crowd – piece by piece. First comes the standard driving. As all cars are (currently) identical, they all handle the same. Nothing special here, simple and serviceable. You begin to notice the art style – grainy and stylised, with rich colours and a fascinating minimalism. There’s nothing here to distract you from your goal, or sway your focus from the track ahead (or above or behind or below…).

Then comes track creation. This is where things begin to get interesting. As the race leader – you are charged with creation of the track. This is achieved through use of large gates – when you pass through, another section of track is generated with another gate at the end of it. Depending on your physical position on the raceway – centre, left & right, extreme left & right – different sections of track  pop into existence. To aid with this, the raceway is colour coded into sections, and the system is far easier to use than it initially seems. There’s something distinctly satisfying about a quick application of brakes and a sharp swing over to the opposite side of the track to that which your opponents were expecting, forcing them to stop and reconcile or fly off the track completely.

This would be the end of their race – were it not for the other of Krautscape’s flagship features. Flight.

The feather-like appearance of the top of the vehicles suddenly makes sense as, during the latter section of the tutorial, the game prompts you to hold (space, in the case of mouse and keyboard) and unfurl your wings. Momentum becomes extremely important, and the seemingly desolate world your track inhabits opens up; a playground of limitless space.

At first there appears to be no practical use of said wings other than swooping to correct a fall from the track – until obstacles are introduced. Hitting ‘boost’ sections on the track whilst in first place will throw you forward, also creating a wall just behind you. Other players can take the risk of boosting if they please – but there’s always the chance they’ll time their turn or swoop into the air badly and end up thudding into the wall. When the track snakes around (*seewhatIdidthere*) and meets itself, jumps will form to cross the pre-existing raceway that can only be crossed by a well-timed use of flight. Carry too little momentum and risk dropping off the track entirely with no way to recover…

Thus begins Krautscape.

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Dan! What, exactly, is it though?

It’s a difficult one to assign a genre to, really. To simply call it a racer is probably a little unfair, as the simple freedom and fun of flight often overtake the want to actually race – but that’s what it is at it’s heart. The focus here is definitely on competitive multiplayer (at it’s best with the maximum 4 players) – with no solo play to speak of other than the aforementioned training course and a free build practice mode. This would be absolutely fine (and indeed is when other players are found) however simple things like being able to play online with friends would be useful. There’s an option for LAN or splitscreen play – and even a way to utilise LAN to play online, but it requires typing in one another’s IP addresses (handily displayed on the screen whilst in lobby). Again, that would be fine – except that currently myself and Bwortang (also of Frugal) haven’t managed to get it to work. We were simply getting presented with broken menus and buttons that did nothing. All part of Early Access, but something to keep in mind.

That’s all well and good, but what REALLY makes it stand out?

There are three game modes available at present – Snake, Ping Pong and Collector.

Snake consists of the players racing to maintain the lead – with the player in first (as normal) creating the track. The twist is that the track is limited in length to just a few sections – so being too far behind can result in the floor coming out from under your vehicle. Points are scored by passing gates in first.

Ping Pong has a similar system – except that the length of the track is constantly increasing and players are sent back and forth along it, collecting points for passing gates in first.

Collector offers something a little different – allowing almost complete freedom of track creation as players battle to force the raceway towards collectible objects in the level. Flying, driving, falling – how you get there is up to you.

That, really, is what makes Krautscape enjoyable and sets it apart from it’s kin. Freedom. Moments of tense despair are created by the unpredictable nature of other players – you’ll be a hair’s breadth from a gate, only to have another player land atop you from an aborted divebomb – before both being flummoxed by a third player swooping through the gate from entirely the opposite direction.

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Early Access though, right?

Yes. This is something that really has to be considered with Krautscape. What content is there is very polished and functional – but there simply isn’t a great deal of it at current. This may be negated entirely if the player base picks up, but I had the occasional trouble finding one player to join – let alone three. To make matters worse – some things (like joining friends on multiplayer) simply don’t work currently, and there is evidence of unfinished menus etcetera. It’s a shame, as there’s plenty of potential there for a fantastic little racer that sits outside the norm and a lot of people could enjoy. Performance-wise, on my system (4770k @ 4.2GHz, 780Ti @ 1300MHz) the game runs well beyond 200FPS at 1440p with everything turned all the way up. I didn’t notice a single drop in framerate or crash during my time playing it.

All in all – this is going to be down to personal preference. For racing fans, I’d wholeheartedly recommend giving it a go for the £5.59 it currently is on Steam. It’s a bargain for what could be an exceptionally fun little game if some of the bugs are sorted out. If it piques your interest – there’s a good chance it’s worth your time. It may, however, pay to hold off a little and see where it goes as development continues.

Developer:  Mario von Rickenbach/Playables LLC 

Publisher: Midnight City

Available Now Via Early Access on Steam for PC and Mac