DiRT: Rally – Progression Through Improvement

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Rally legend Colin McRae picked up the nickname “Colin McCrash” due to the number of times his fearless driving ended with the car needing more than some duct tape to fix.

It’s somewhat ironic then that when playing DiRT: Rally, a game which is part of a series that used to have Colin’s name attached to it, you’ll become quite familiar with ending up in ditches, rolling, and embedding the car into a variety of obstacles.

Due to the lack of a rewind mechanic and a steep learning curve, you’ll be hitting Restart a fair amount. But with each run you get faster, you get more confident, you become more comfortable with your car. Until you’re sliding, jumping and tearing through the gravel taking stage wins.

You didn’t unlock anything for the win but you feel like you gained something. Despite all of the accidents you had along the way, you never felt cheated. And now you’re going to the next location where you will put the skills you’ve learned behind the wheel and your nerve to the test all over again.

DiRT: Rally was brilliant, and one of the reasons why is because of the unique rewarding feeling of progression. Yes, it did feature your typical earn money, buy faster car progression. But I think seeing yourself improve and taking on stages faster and faster was special. From your first attempt to finishing your first stage, to winning your first stage, the improvement was right before your eyes. It’s something not many racing games have pulled off this well.

First Time Out

I came into DiRT: Rally feeling confident, having played my fair share of racing/rally games throughout my years. Just for that confidence to shatter and quickly change to apprehension as I tumbled my way off of the course in the first turn. I was half expecting my co-driver to tell me to ‘git gud’ as I replicated the accident a few more times.

After my realisation that DiRT: Rally wasn’t messing about, I retreated from the Mk2 Ford Escort to the 60s Mini Cooper. Where I lessened my chances of ending up mangled in a twisted heap of metal that once resembled a car or playing ten pin car bowling with the spectators.

Caution Over Crest

This is when you learn one of the biggest lessons in DiRT: Rally. If you want to make it to the end of a stage, let alone win, you should listen to your co-driver.

With other racing games, your focus is mostly on your driving, learning a track as you lap it over and over again. However, in Rally, you don’t have the same luxuries you get on a track. Your visibility is reduced due to things like trees and mountains, stages are filled with bumps, lumps and other obstacles to tackle or avoid and lots of turns are blind and/or deceiving.

This is where your co-driver comes in. They’ll convey what turns are coming up and how sharp they are with a number rating, 6 being the least sharp, 1 being the most, with hairpins and obtuse turns receiving their own call outs.

Using the information they tell you, you’ll start to picture a mental image of what’s ahead. And with any luck, make it to the end with all 4 wheels still attached.

Listening and taking in what your co-driver says may be hard at first, with the whole simulation car handing thing to get to grips with. Not usually having one beside you in racing games, could prove to be another factor. Some players may even ignore them completely at first.

This was most likely one of the most important lessons in DiRT: Rally. One that opens up doors to getting better, more confident and, most importantly, faster.

Just wait until you attempt the Pikes Peak Hill Climb where you have no co-driver, high altitude driving, and cars that do 0-60 in about 2 seconds. This is something for later on though.

Across The Line

The sigh of relief as you cross the finish line of a stage for the first time is another key moment in the DiRT: Rally journey. It may not have been the fastest or most spectacular display of driving, but you got to the end in one piece, even if the car was missing a few.

You knew you’re capable now though, and you wanted to win and do it in something faster.

Now you’re behind the wheel of something with a bit more grunt, think a 1995 Subaru Impreza or a 1992 Lancia Delta HF Integrale. Both all-wheel-drive, iconic rally machines ready to be tamed.


With your new-found confidence, your speed increased, having learned the new car, and before you knew it you were leading a stage.

The nerves started to kick in, an accident seems like it will be less of a thought and more of a reality with each passing mile.

You didn’t choke though, you crossed the line, the car potentially covered in scrapes and dents all of which told a story. But one thing was for sure, it was covered in the mud that you didn’t just battle, you conquered. Your co-driver commented on your time noting its good pace, just before you got the confirmation. You had won your first stage in DiRT: Rally.

Your first win was another key moment in your foray into DiRT: Rally. Where most games would be showering you in credits and throwing shiny new cars at you, this one didn’t really do that. But for me at least, I felt a sense of reward, I could see that I had gotten better at the game. The difficulty also made the victory feel so much sweeter.

Group B

Group B rally cars are spoken about in car circles as legends. Ultra-lightweight and powerful cars, which would take on the various demanding rally stages of the world in the Group B rally class. A class that would later be disbanded due to a series of accidents that involved death and cars turning into fireballs. You didn’t quite drive these, you put your foot down and hoped for the best.

So the hardcore difficulty of DiRT: Rally combined with these roughly 450 hp 1000 kg beasts sounds like a great idea, right?

Because it is. The immense acceleration, high speed, and sliding ability of Group B cars make belting through a Welsh forest or getting so much airtime in Michigan that you could mistake a Ford for a fighter jet. Despite being 30 plus years old, you feel like you’re piloting some sort of experimental craft when driving these things.

These cars that would have been a nightmare for you before are now toys. From a Mini to a Quattro, it’s another factor that makes you see and feel the progress you had made.

Handling not only these cars but any car in such ways, knowing that one wrong move or loss of concentration can result in everything being thrown away. Knowing all it could take is to cut one turn too much and get a puncture, forcing a repair or one mishandling car that can ruin your whole rally winning chances is a feeling that will have you returning to DiRT: Rally again and again.

Hill Climb

Now you were fairy experienced with DiRT: Rally, getting cars sideways, and pulling off Scandinavian Flicks were a regular occurrence for you.

You truly had come a long way, and now comes the time to take on the infamous Pikes Peak Hill Climb. 12.42 miles of mountain climbing in Colorado. No co-driver, no second chances.

The old school mixed surface and modern asphalt versions are both on offer for you to take on. In cars that reach 100 mph before you even realise you’ve started moving.

Finishing, let alone taking victory at Pikes Peak, truly shows the improvements you have made. There won’t be any flashing lights, or people telling you how great you are. You know you had made progress and accomplished something in your head, however, and your driving also backed this up. You’re just as happy and feel just as rewarded in a way other games haven’t provided.

Pedal to the Metal

You’ve grown, become more confident, just watching a replay of your driving will display the driving prowess you have developed. Your progress isn’t on a page of stats or a credits counter. It’s in your ability.

Your regular progression has its place and DiRT: Rally’s makes it stand out and is a racing experience that’s hard to get right. But when it does, you get a game like this.

The combination of emotions and the sensation of being on the edge DiRT: Rally brings out is something that’s challenging to find elsewhere. At first, you fear it but once you embrace it and change that fear into determination to go faster, you’ll start enjoying the game much more and it will have you coming back to it years later.

Colin Mcrae famously said “if in doubt flat out”, a quote that shows what sort of driver Colin was and why he was so loved by the fans after taking his advice and putting it to the test in DiRT: Rally.

DiRT: Rally received a sequel with DiRT: Rally 2.0, an equally brutal and excellent rally experience. If you want something with more colours and an arcade focused though then the upcoming DIRT 5 will be one to check out.

Nathan Coe

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