Friday, 30 Oct 2020

Art of Rally’s love for the sport, and its greatest days, shines through

Rally racers trend toward the so-called sim racing subgenre, which can limit or intimidate a wider audience of racing-inclined gamers. Not so with Funselektor Labs’ Art of Rally, where a dedicated driver like me feels just as much at home as anyone with a gamepad in their hands. And Art of Rally does not skimp on the experience, ambience, and especially the nostalgia of rally racing’s greatest courses, cars, and time in sports history.

I wasn’t expecting this, given what I enjoy most about rally titles, like the just-released WRC 9 and Codemasters’ outstanding Dirt series. The overhead, pulled-back view of the course and the primary-color environment I saw in screenshots gave me a trepid Smashy Road feeling. But that was quickly disabused, just by fiddling with some settings and changing the camera perspective.

The eight camera settings for Art of Rally helped me tailor my experience better than the four difficulty levels (governing the AI times of the other drivers in the field). Go high, and you get more of a preview of what’s ahead. Go closer, and maybe preview two turns ahead, but gain greater precision for finding and taking the apex of a turn. It’s not as close as the third-person cameras of WRC 9 or Dirt Rally 2.0 — but then, those games have co-drivers calling out what’s ahead.

You lose nothing without the co-driver audio, really, thanks to Art of Rally’s easy, consistent handling across all vehicle types. In general, I could make my turns with the same expectation of drift, counter-steer, and vehicle rotation whenever I pumped the brakes. The cars I drove (ringers for Minis, BMWs, Subarus, and stalwarts of rally’s midcentury golden age) were appropriately varied, with heavier ones biting down harder on the brake, particularly on gravel, just like they do for me in Wreckfest. I found it remarkable that Art of Rally was able to give me that kind of feel on the No. 5 camera setting (a midrange perspective) looking at a cartoony vehicle.

Each of the game’s course regions has its own visual appeal, like the cherry blossoms of the Kanto Mountains.
Image: Funselektor Labs

The visual style serves Art of Rally’s broader theme well. The game proposes an alternate motorsports timeline, where the FIA’s revered Group B — fast, thrilling, and dangerous to the point of several fatalities — was never canceled. It and the classifications spanning Group 1 (1966) to Group A (early 1990s) form the career mode in Art of Rally, and all are available in a free-roam experience that offers collectibles along with sightseeing and a groovy synthwave soundtrack.

It’s obvious that the developers at Funselektor Labs have a deeply personal love for this sport, and no doubt would apply that to a full simulation title, given the resources and reach of a Codemasters or KT Racing. Such titles pose big barriers to an indie studio, though, whether it’s in licensing the vehicles, creating the co-driver AI and audio, or delivering a physics package matching the detail of the cars. Funselektor bulls ahead anyway, pulling off something that is very much its own game and celebration of a sport. Art of Rally’s different handling of the genre’s responsibilities stands out — but in a strong way, not as an obvious substitute or a cut corner in development.

That’s if you’re a motorsports nerd (raises hand). Those who just want a fun, pick-up-and-play-and-play-and-play racer will find plenty of reason there, too. Art of Rally is available for Mac and Windows PC and offers full gamepad support, and its specifications accommodated (with some adjustment) even my moldering potato of a gaming laptop.

Rallying’s fabled Group B (1982-1986) is reborn in Art of Rally.
Image: Funselektor Labs

The difficulty settings will be approachable for anyone who has ever steered a car in an arcade racer, but the first four difficulties (easy, novice, normal, and skilled) and damage settings (none, light, default, and heavy) still had me on the podium, even with making a few mistakes in each stage and very few repairs between them. On “master” difficulty and “severe” damage, I found the kind of rally challenge I want. It’s not a difficulty spike, per se, but in being open to so many players, this game won’t pose much more than a casual challenge to serious gearheads at all but the upper end of its difficulty scale.

Rally driving, for me anyway, is about plowing headlong into the unknown, understanding the risk of fast driving in a way you can’t on an oval or a well-known circuit. That makes taking a square left perfectly, or drifting through the full 180 degrees of a switchback, seem even more high-five-myself awesome.

And I got exactly that in Art of Rally. If that’s the experience you want, too, Art of Rally will serve it as much as it will an escape from the present day, for a delightful joyride through a beautiful countryside.

Art of Rally is now available on Linux, Mac, and Windows PC via Steam and GOG.com. The game was played on PC and Mac using a download code provided by Funselektor Labs. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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