Talk about your stealth announcements. Codemasters revealed that they are hard at work on Dirt Rally, a return to form for the venerable off-road racing franchise with an added twist: it is available now via Steam Early Access.
Gone are the Ken Block flavored Gymkhana levels and the game returns its focus to stage rally racing with promised longer stages and a more pure experience that pays homage to the sport. While the fact that the United Kingdom based Codemasters is working on a new Dirt entry is unsurprising, the sneaky announcement that it would be available first on PC via Steam’s Early Access program is a bold move for a franchise that has found reliable success on home consoles in recent years.
While the change in focus back to stage rally certainly makes the more dedicated PC fanbase a less risky landing spot for Dirt Rally, I can’t help but wonder how long it will be until Codemasters brings the game over to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Dirt, Grid and F1 Racing all had decent success on last generation’s systems, but the studio has yet to work on the new consoles. Codemasters has gone on the record to say that consoles are not out of the picture, but their focus is on their PC product and they won’t shift focus until they deliver on that end.
For a franchise born out of the legend of rally racer Colin McRae, the Dirt franchise began by embracing all disciplines of off road racing, but it was Dirt 3 that saw the franchise shift focus when the added Gymkhana mode was featured. With Ken Block’s sensational viral Gymkhana videos taking the world by storm, Dirt 3 was by far the most successful entry in the franchise thanks to a mode that rewarded skill, timing and precision.
But when the franchise ditched the off-road portions in the follow-up, Dirt Showdown, fans of the series abandoned the game and were disappointed in the loss of a truly unique racing style. And it’s not as if Ken Block raced only in his Gymkhana videos, he is a do-it-all type of racer competing in the Global Rallycross and the World Rally Championship. Even former featured racer Travis Pastrana had some of his greatest successes in the Rally America series.
So by shifting their focus back on what made Dirt spectacular to begin with is fantastic. Advancements in hardware and weather effects should be an absolute boon for the series and while fun, I won’t miss the Gymkhana mode too much.
Rally racing is far and away my favorite type of racing and there are not nearly enough good games focusing on it. RalliSport Challenge is long gone, WRC: FIA World Rally Championship is middling at best and the included rally modes in Forza Horizon and Gran Turismo are not true rally games. Dirt was the last home for true rally racing, and now its back. Maybe Codemasters will even embrace the late Colin McRae’s name all over again.