From the first moments you get out onto the winding roads of Art of Rally, you are are aware of two things. Firstly, whomever did the lighting effects for this game is absolute legend. Secondly, this game feels challenging and special. Those feels carried with me over the many hours I’ve spent playing Art of Rally over the weekend as my appreciation and fondness for the game grew.
Art of Rally comes from Funselecktor Labs Inc, who previously made the artistic Absolute Drift. That game took a slanted top down perspective and applied it a minimalist drift game. Here, they take the same view and place it in a vibrant alternative history of rally driving. Aside from WRC Powerslide, this isometric-like top down perspective hasn’t been used a lot in recent years and its because it is difficult to pull off. Art of Rally does this by allowing a variety of camera angles and by keeping you in view with a circular binocular like hotspot should you disappear behind trees or buildings. That works a treat because you are never left guessing the direction of your car and where the track will be going. Instead you get a clear view of the road ahead, no need for pace notes or directions and you can take in the beautiful landscapes around you.
The 60 stages are placed in beautiful and colourful locations. Germany has lush forests of the flag, Japan’s buildings and bridges are effortlessly cool (especially on the mountain tops), Sardinia feels bakes in sunshine vibes whilst Norway has plenty of snow and ice to trouble you. Rain, time of day, night driving – its all here alongside surface grip level changes. If you think from the screenshots that Art of Rally isn’t going to be challenging, you’ve another thing coming! There is a deep simulation here as the rain puddles aquaplane you off in a straight line, snow is extra skiddy and the whole game feels like you are constantly floating on soap. This is, for once a good thing.
Usually if a game handles like soap, it often lacks refinement in the handling department but that isn’t the case here. Art of Rally insists you need to wrestle your car of choice around. This is a very tactile game and the gentlest of touches make the difference between taking a fast bend in style of smashing into a rock or a tree. The handbrake is useful too as many tracks have multiple hairpins and you’ll get used to doing the Scandinavian flick. It isn’t the fastest way unless you nail it and when you nail it, you feel like you’ve achieved something awesome. Rarely does a ‘smaller’ game give such nuance to the driving but you can feel it as you wrestle a tank slapper from being over zealous on the throttle… on gravel! One thing that does take a little while getting used to is track camber. As your essentially seeing your car from a chasing helicopter view, some of the nuance of the road can be lost until your eyes are trained to spot the subtle dips. The more aggressive jumps are lethal as your car will rarely land squarely – be aware you’ll need to scoop it up upon landing! This becomes more apparent as you start driving the quicker classes of cars. They aren’t always heavier but you’ll be spending most of the time feathering the throttle, daring to floor it. The fastest cars are absolute beasts and if you hit a rain puddle the wrong way, you’ll be very sorry.
Career mode is lovingly set in a tongue in cheek alternate world, starting in the 1960’s and moving through to the mid 1990’s. Each year contains a rally of anywhere from 2 to 10 tracks for you to race against. Stage wins count together for a rally win and sometimes championships are ran over multiple years. You’ll initially be given several resets per year if you total your car or rage at a tiny mistake. Finish the year with restarts remaining and you unlock bonus liveries for your comically described cars. Cars themselves unlock after each year and this gives you a sense of choice and progression. As it is just you and the road, you’ll be competing against AI times dependant on the AI level you selected. I found that on normal and easy modes, they did seem to total their cars a bit and have very long service station visits so whilst I wasn’t always minutes ahead on the road, I’d win by being able to stay clean.
If you want to take it online, you can with daily and weekly challenges against an online leader board for that event. There are also some free roam areas too with some hidden collectables which reminds me of how Absolute Drift was set out with lots of challenges to undertake. This time around its sparser and more leisurely with vista points to chill out on and cassettes to collect. It is a nice distraction but its just that, a quick pitstop before you attack the road again.
Art of Rally is easily one of my favourite racing games of the past five years. It manages to tailor its experience with its clever sliding scale of damage and handling support. This means beginners can get stuck in with ease whilst sim racers can cling on for dear life with it all turned off. It is a game that embodies the mantra ‘just one more go’. When I first booted it up to test out my capture card could capture gameplay, I played for three hours straight and then realised I was hungry and needed dinner. Its that moreish. I think Art of Rally will become a cult classic over time – don’t snooze on it.
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