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August 2022

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 Review - 'Art of Rally'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 26, 2021 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

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

Nowadays, rally games are predictable in their approach. You're either doing a simulation that tries its best to re-create the time trial nature of the sport, or you're going with a more arcade approach with other cars on the field. You have a 3D viewpoint of the track, and your cars are licensed. For the most part, it isn't too different from many traditional racing titles. By comparison, Art of Rally is different enough, and the game benefits greatly because of it.

Art of Rally has the expected modes in most racing games. Time Attack has you competing against yourself to get the best time on a track. Custom Rally has you stitching together different tracks from different locales to create your own rally event. Both modes give you the chance to customize things, like the time of day and weather conditions.

The Career mode's introduction sets up the game's playful approach to racing. It starts with a giant Buddha statue coming down from the sky to spout about the wonders of rally racing before sending you on a course that goes through the highlights of the sport. You go through the 1960s to the 1990s, and you'll use cars that are synonymous with groups 3, 4, S, and A. You'll even take a detour to Group B, a group that was stopped at its height due to the high number of linked fatalities; the group lives on in this game with the notion that the casualties never occurred in an alternate universe.

As you go through this interactive history lesson, you'll unlock cars and liveries, which are accompanied by the sound of cheering children. Don't expect the impromptu history lessons to be definitive, since the game doesn't sport any licensed cars or the names of real-life racers. As a testament to the game's writing team, the names on the leaderboards are punny, but you'll still be able to recognize who they're referencing if you know your racing history. The same goes for the cars that look like their real-life counterparts, especially with the correct livery in place. They perform and sound as expected, but they are named differently. Even if you normally groan at this sort of thing, you're bound to find a name that's worthy of a giggle.

Get to the actual racing itself, and you'll find that the game's offbeat nature disguises how much of a simulation it is. Even if you're driving on the driest of roads, your rally car exhibits slickness while turning at high speeds. You may fishtail at first, but it won't get as bad as spinning from a bad turn. Driving at top speeds all the time is a surefire way to miss sharp turns, and it's easy to jump off inclines. As in other rally titles, you'll learn quickly how to feather the gas and brake while also hitting the handbrake and taking sharp hairpin turns. Drifting becomes a must in the later stages. On a side note, it is cool to see a rally title where the crowd is foolish enough to crowd the road, but they always move out of the way in time, so you don't mow them down.

Even though the game uses simulation-style steering and physics, it doesn't do everything so as not to overwhelm the player. The viewpoint defaults to one that's situated high and behind the player, which matches up with one of the viewpoints in Virtua Racing. It makes your car look small, but it also comes with the benefit of seeing more of the course, which you'll value since you have no co-pilot firing off directions in advance. The HUD isn't filled with meters and stats, giving you a better view of the track since there aren't too many guides in your peripheral vision that need attention.

The result is a campaign that is tough yet breezy (depending on your settings), while also demonstrating some pinpoint-accurate driving once you learn how to manage your braking and acceleration. You can change the game's difficulty at almost any time, and those playing on the easiest level won't miss out on anything. You'll still deal with a limited number of times you can retry a track per season, and the online leaderboards for each leg of the course indicate how well you're doing, even if you can easily beat every CPU opponent. You can up the damage system to whatever level you'd like, and even though turning off damage still gives you the option to clean your car in between rally sections, the time penalties for doing so aren't too harsh. The same goes for you veering off course, as you're given quite a bit of leeway to do so before the game penalizes you a few seconds and gets you back on track. The track portions are short enough that you can jump in and out for quick sessions, and you can save at any point, so you don't have to dedicate large swaths of time to the campaign to make progress.

Of the included modes, Free Roam is intriguing since it eschews a traditional racing model. Similar to the main hook in the Forza Horizon series, you get free rein to explore a handful of tracks and can explore beyond the boundaries of the asphalt. There are photo locations that give you picturesque views of the track, and cassette tapes unlock soundtrack entries. The game also borrows from the old Tony Hawk's Pro Skater titles in that you can collect the five letters that make up the word RALLY to unlock the next Free Roam track. Of course, you can ignore all of this and treat the Free Roam mode as a way to familiarize yourself with your car without a timer or track boundaries. For those who wouldn't mind a break from vanilla rally racing, this is a welcome diversion.

Given the title's adherence to traditional rally rules, multiplayer isn't a direct affair where you choose a track and see if anyone's available for a race. Instead, the game presents the player with the chance to do a daily or weekly challenge where everyone gets the same randomly selected car on the same randomly selected track for the chance to have the best time on it. The approach works well, since the player doesn't have to worry about lag, people dropping out in the middle of the race, or using cars that others haven't unlocked yet, so it's more accessible to anyone instead of those who have thoroughly played the campaign.

The presentation is more detailed compared to the minimalist nature of the studio's previous game, Absolute Drift. This isn't to say that the minimalism is gone; at certain points, the crowd is little more than colored squares, and half of the tracks have tall triangles posing as trees. However, some tracks have more lush trees and grasses that look like they came out of more graphically intense games, and the same goes for some buildings, such as lighthouses. All of this is bathed in a rich color scheme that pops, and the lighting in some stages looks gorgeous. The only flaw is the tiny text, which is set against a stark white background. Depending on your eyesight and whether you're playing on a monitor or a TV, it can be difficult to discern at a quick glance.

Meanwhile, the soundtrack is the main highlight of the sound, since the synthwave tunes fit rather well in a racing game. It plays continuously no matter where you go, almost as if you were playing a stereo alongside your game. It also ensures that you won't cut off a song prematurely when you finish a race or move from a menu.

Art of Rally is a racing game for those who want something different. The more playful nature is a nice contrast to the title's simulation-style handling and physics. There are plenty of cars, liveries, and tracks to unlock, and the online play keeps things fresh thanks to the system of weekly and daily challenges. Unless you only want serious racing games, genre fans will love Art of Rally.

Score: 9.0/10

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