art of rally (PC) Review – The Skids Are Alright

art of rally review header

art of rally (yes, all lower case) is one of the best racers in recent memory. The Finger Guns Review.

One of my favourite gaming memories came in late 1995, playing Virtua Racing on – of all things – Sega’s ill-fated Mega Drive attachment, the 32X. With hindsight, of course, it was far from perfect, but – at the time – I had played nothing with the sense of speed it offered. Zooming the camera out to its widest angle and seeing the road stretching and bending off in front of me was genuinely thrilling. I mention this, because no other racing game has quite given me that feeling more than art of rally (developed and published by Funselektor Labs) has done.

To anyone who played Funselektor Labs’ previous title, Absolute Drift, art of rally will feel comfortingly familiar. This can first be seen in the game’s overarching aesthetic, which is one of stark minimalism, be it the largely monochromatic look of the menus or the in-game HUD which is unintrusive to the point of being almost invisible (racing game devs – please pay attention to this). It’s a clean simple UI that sets a welcoming tone right out of the gate (pun only slightly intended).

This welcoming tone extends into art of rally’s gameplay options, which are extensive enough to cater for players of all levels. Forgiving CPU competitors and an automatic transmission? Sure, go ahead. No judgement here, especially as that’s how I started out playing the game. Or are you the type of maniac who likes a real challenge? Almost unbeatable competitors and manual transmission? Have at it – maybe a little judgement here though…

Perhaps the best thing about this is that you don’t necessarily have to bang your head against a brick wall trying to figure out what your ‘level’ is, thanks to art of rally’s extensive Free Roam mode. Set in large and fully explorable locales, Free Roam mode is a terrific way to learn the different handling models that each car offers, and how that handling is affected by the different road types.

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Perhaps most interestingly, veering off the beaten path often reveals collectables and new points of interest. Finding five cassettes, for example, unlocks new music to add to the collection (by the way, a quick shout-out for the art of rally soundtrack, which is truly excellent, especially if you’re a fan of chilled electronica), while each map also contains a number of discoverable ‘views’ – scenic spots in the mould of Forza Horizon’s beauty spots. Most exciting of all though are the Tony Hawk-style “RALLY” letters that are dotted around the map, as collecting all five will unlock another locale to potter about.

(One last wee cool feature about Free Roam mode that seems unremarkable, but which is actually a Godsend – when travelling through some more densely wooded parts of a map, a bubble will appear around your car, meaning you always have an unimpeded view of where your car is and what direction it is facing…a really nice touch.)

You may have already figured this out, based on what you’ve read so far, but underneath the minimalism and chill overall tone, art of rally is a game of incredible depth. In fact, this represents another tick in the pro column for the simple UI as, without it, the breadth of what’s available to you would be verging on intimidating, both in terms of the number of non-licenced but fairly recognisable cars that will be available to you and the number of races you can partake in. In other racing games, this would probably be represented by a cluttered menu system and world map that looked like an icon factory had exploded.

Instead, the game generally presents this in a very lineal fashion (almost said ‘point-to-point’ here, but I’ve already used my one pun for this review), taking you on what amounts to a virtual history lesson, with races spanning from the mid-1960s through to the 1990s across a number of group categories.

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The races themselves are a lot of fun, with well-designed courses that provide plenty of opportunities for really opening up and bombing it along straights (well, as ‘straight’ as rally straights tend to be), whilst also providing plenty of trickier technical sections, especially some of those almost-180° hairpins that require pinpoint accuracy to ensure you don’t slide off into oblivion. Most importantly, the controls are so tight that you’ll always feel like there are places in which you can shave a tenth of a second off your best time and, similarly, you’ll also know that any error is yours and yours alone, thus knowing where there is room for improvement.

Ultimately, what art of rally gets right more than the majority of racing games is in focusing its attention to detail on the right places. You may not be able to peek inside a wealth of licenced cars to marvel at the leather interiors or the shiny chrome engines, but you won’t care. It’s the incredibly simple yet effective use of lighting and focus. It’s the change in feel from the tight, grippy handling on tarmac to the loose understeer on dirt. It’s the subtle difference from slight oversteer to slight understeer, depending on which car you’re driving. It’s the crowds of spectators that somehow seem real, despite being nothing more than simple cuboids. It’s the evocative flavour text that accompanies each car in your collection. It’s the distinct look of every country you drive in. The clear love and reverence that the folks at Funselektor have for rally is evident at every turn and I, for one, can’t wait to see what they turn their hand to next.

A natural evolution of Absolute Drift, art of rally is a terrific passion project that serves as the perfect love letter to rally driving. Designed to be accessible to anyone, regardless of skill level, and with a huge amount of content, it’s a game that you could easily be playing a year from now and still finding new ways to approach it. As such, it’s an incredible value proposition and one of the best racing games in recent memory.

art of rally is available now on PC (review version).

Developer: Funselektor Labs Inc.
Publisher: Funselektor Labs Inc.

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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