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Art Of Rally

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Racing
Developer: Funselektor Labs
Release Date: Sept. 23, 2020


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PC Preview - 'Art of Rally'

by Cody Medellin on Sept. 8, 2020 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Race in the golden era of rally. Drive iconic cars from the 60s to Group B on challenging stages through stylized environments.

Funselektor's first racing game, Absolute Drift, was a deceptive title. At first glance, the top-down viewpoint conjured thoughts of arcade racing titles like Micro Machines but with a Mirror's Edge aesthetic of stark white backdrops punctuated with red to create a bold look. It had the handling system of a proper racing sim, albeit one that focused on the art of drifting rather than more straightforward races. Once you came to grips with the mechanics, it was an excellent racing game that felt fresh because it didn't strive to emulate anything else on the market. Roughly five years later, the team is trying to tackle rally racing in the same way with the appropriately titled Art of Rally.

The preview build came with quite a few modes, most of which are self-explanatory. Custom Rally lets you choose any track you want to race on, either for fun or practice, while Time Trials asks you to go for the best time. Free Roam gives you a mostly empty space to practice, while Online mode is more interesting when you consider the nature of rally racing. Split between the daily and weekly challenge, you have to make the best time possible on the given track. There's a leaderboard to check out the time you need to stay competitive, but you aren't going to see ghost cars to gauge how well you're doing or see what routes or techniques were used to achieve those times.

The main portion of the game is the Rally mode, which has you going through all of the years of the sport along with the different classes. While that may sound like a slog, the game condenses things a bit; you only have one race, still split into sections that represent each year. It also helps that the track selection is randomized, which gives players a reason to go through the campaign multiple times as, like a roguelike, the experience rarely repeats itself.

Like the developer's previous game, Art of Rally eschews the more traditional behind-the-car or inside-the-car views for a top-down view. The camera is placed high above the car and slightly tilted, almost as if a helicopter were following the action. The camera also has the car near the bottom of the screen, so more of the road ahead is visible; that works out great for seeing all of the turns, but it also means that it is difficult to see crests, making you wonder why you can't steer until you realize that it's airborne.

Speaking of steering, the game does adopt a more simulation-style driving system, as braking and good use of the handbrake for drifting turns is used judiciously. Cars slip and slide on turns if you're not managing the braking correctly, and the steering is touchy enough to make you go off road if you're doing things wrong. It's a familiar learning curve for rally fans.

The serious steering works very well with the new viewpoint, and once you get used to it, the game becomes enjoyable. There's still nothing like it out there in the genre. It is interesting to see how playful the developers have make the experience. The lack of a license means that every car doesn't have its proper name, but aficionados know the vehicles, and that gives the developers some room to have fun with the descriptions. The beginning of the campaign has you talking to a large buddha statue about how you're in an alternate universe where the Group B rally lives on, despite being stopped years ago in reality. Then there are the crowds of people huddling over the checkpoints similar to what happens in real rally events — but without accidents, since everyone scoots out of the way.

At the moment, the only issue players will immediately have is with the menu system. The stark white backdrop with lower-case text makes for a clean look, but the text is so small that it is rather difficult to see if you're trying to play on a TV from a comfortable distance. That goes double for some of the car descriptions, which are in an even smaller font, making it almost impossible to see the jokes. It would be nice if there were an option to make the text appear in a bigger font, especially since everything else is otherwise visible.

The presentation is both similar yet different from Absolute Drift. The game goes for a low-polygon look with a deep color palette, similar to Lonely Mountains: Downhill, which results in a calm look that contrasts with the white-knuckle racing at hand, a decision that results in a steady high frame rate throughout each race. A soundtrack full of synthwave fits perfectly, but people will be split on it playing continuously rather than in segments as you go between the menu and the rally races.

We won't have to wait long for Art of Rally, as it is currently scheduled for release on Sept. 23. Based on what we saw in this preview build, all of the charm exhibited in Absolute Drift carries over, as well as more use of color and a race type with some deep history. Fans who loved Funselektor's first title should keep an eye out for Art of Rally.

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