Rally remains the only form of racing I’ve ever taken a serious interest in. While I appreciate the need for driver consistency, sudden adaptability, and team-planning in lengthy, multi-lap disciplines, there’s something immediately thrilling about short sprints on off-road trails, listening to the co-driver shouting pace notes for upcoming corners hidden over an upcoming rise or behind a snow drift. It’s high-speed, high-intensity, and easily consumed in short bursts. The aspect I’ve always loved about watching live rallies and playing rally games is the natural environments in which they take place in – always far more interesting than the sterile tracks of so many other motorsports.
art of rally – and that’s deliberately lower-case – provides a rally experience with a strong focus on that last aspect; it’s you and your car vs. a winding track through stunning natural environments (mostly, at any rate). Without an official licence, and in line with its artistic intent, art of rally is a facsimile of the real sport, offering up cars you’ll recognise from their distinctive shapes, environments based on real-world settings, and plenty of roadside props that you’d expect at a real, sponsored championship event. They’ve done an incredible job of capturing the “feel” of the rally experience; a testament to how well the mechanics, visuals, and audio come together as a complete package.
There are plenty of distinctive cars and striking liveries to pick from, and dozens of tracks across 5 locations to tackle. They’re not licensed, but you’ll recognise many of their inspirations.
Starting with the gameplay, I’m not sure art of rally is going to satisfying die-hard simulation fans, but the driving is by no means “casual” (even with driver-assists cranked up to max). art of rally’s free-roam and career mode – the best places to get a grip on the driving mechanics before trying any online challenges – will slowly ease you into the game. You’ll start with low-horsepower Group-2 cars from the late ‘60s, with manageable top-speeds and acceleration, before moving up through Group-3 and Group-4 to the infamous Group-B cars (think high speeds and bugger-all handling), the cancelled Group-S variants, and finally the modern Group-A cars that replaced them.
Your only viewpoint is behind and above your car and while you can tweak each pre-set, dropping the camera low, reducing the FOV, and pulling it closer to the car, there is no driver- or bonnet-cam. There’s also no co-driver calling out pace-notes as that would ruin the combination of crisp audio effects and the accompanying soundtrack. This is reflected in the structure of the tracks as even during the twisting ascents and descents seen in the Japanese-themed tracks, you’ll never encounter closely-packed tight corners or hairpins that you’d see in other rally games.
Outside of the photo mode, screenshots don’t do the visuals justice. My only issue is the HUD, which looks like stock assets pasted on top of the otherwise excellent visuals.
art of rally has an uneven sense of progression. Despite the limited acceleration and top-speeds of the early classes, you’ll be constantly fighting over- and understeer when cornering in front-wheel and rear-wheel drive vehicles. When you finally get to the Group-S and A events, all-wheel drive cars make handling much easier, even at top-speeds. While I doubt it will satisfy simulation fans, each vehicle feels significantly different to drive and, after spending some time in free-roam with the art of rally AWD equivalent of a Subaru Impreza, going back to the career mode and my RWD Ford Capri lookalike was a disaster until I readjusted. Cars in art of rally, by and large, are ungainly beasts and you’re going to want to use a gamepad, ideally with triggers, and then crank up some driver-assists to find a good balance between challenge and frustration.
In terms of content, art of rally is packed with things to do. The career mode takes you through each of the 5 classes, tackling five rallies over 5 years, before you move up to the next class. Both unlocked cars and liveries are carried over into other modes, so this is a great way to get a handle on the cars and driving mechanics before you tackle the time-trial leaderboards and daily/weekly challenges. It helps that career events are bite-sized, ranging between 2-10 minutes depending on the length and complexity of the track (with a chance to repair your vehicle every 2 tracks if you’ve been reckless). With a handling model that encourages careful cornering and maximising your speed on straights, cautious players will want to up the AI to “skilled” at least, and maybe set the crash damage to “heavy”, for a real challenge.
The photo mode is fantastic and a great way to turn a short rally into a half-hour event.
In addition to online time-trials and challenges, art of rally allows you to create custom rallies with your own track selection, or mess around in the free-roam mode. Free-roam is a great way to relax as these sessions take place in an open-ish maps, one based on each location featured in the game (Finland, Sardinia, Norway, Japan and Germany). Aside from getting to grips with a new car and not worrying about forced resets if you drift too far off the track, you can hunt for letters of the word “rally” (which unlocks the next map), find vantage points and cassette tapes, and just soak in the visuals and soundtrack without worrying about the quality of your driving.
Given the focus on the audio-visual experience, art of rally provides a great photo mode that can be triggered at any time during a race (or replay) from the pause menu. You can position the camera, adjust the depth of field, shift the colour balance/contrast/brightness/bloom intensity, and add a few additional visual effects like a vignette or lens dirt (great for low-angle shots). It doesn’t matter if you’re hurtling over a ramp or drifting past a crowd of fans, you can almost always generate a fantastic looking screenshot using the tools provided at any point.
Maybe photo mode is the entire point of art of rally?
At this point, it’s worth noting art of rally comes with granular graphical options to tweak. On my 3-year-old gaming laptop – i5-8300H (@2.3 GHz), GTX1050Ti 4GB, 8 GB RAM, SSD – I could get 1080/60 on high settings with minor tweaks or settle on 1080/30 with everything maxed out when I wanted some snazzy screenshots. The reason I bring this up is that the presentation is a core part of the art of rally experience, and you’re better off dropping the resolution and taking a softer image while keeping the graphical settings on high for maximum impact. When you’ve got to grips with the cornering behaviour of your current car and lost yourself to beat of the soundtrack, you want to make sure those Sardinian vineyards, snowy Norwegian fields, and autumnal German forests you’re tearing past look as good as they can.
It’s hard to fault art of rally given the low asking price, but it’s not perfect and feels like a shallow experience the longer you play. The lack of fine-scale track complexity and some weirdly consistent elements (like the road width) limit how diverse each location can feel. Likewise, the stylised visuals still use many basic elements in each location that you’ll spot the longer you play. The car reset mechanic, which’ll drop you back on the road with a 5-second penalty, feels inconsistently applied. The mid-career Group-B cars represent a horrible difficulty-spike that’s only resolved when you get access to AWD cars. The career mode also randomly generates each rally and, as a result of some bad RNG, I only experienced the Garman and Norwegion tracks when I had hit Group-B (I had raced in Japan a half-dozen times by that point).
More photo mode creations.
Despite those criticisms, the bulk of my art of rally experience was a peculiar, yet satisfying hybrid of challenging driving, striking visuals, soothing soundtrack, and an addictive gameplay loop that kept me coming back for rally after rally (with far too much time spent playing with the photo mode tools). Playing art of rally feels a lot like watching a post-rally summary, with the distant spectator camera following cars as they tear along off-road trails, all complemented by a suitably catchy backing-track. It’s a competent rally game to be sure, but it’s also an audio-visual experience that attempts to capture the feel of a rally event. It can feel shallow, yet I’ve found myself returning to it repeatedly for 20-30 minutes at a time, when I simply need a break from work or other games.
You can purchase art of rally for £19.49 here on steam.
This review is written by Andrew Logue
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