Let me start this review by saying that I absolutely no idea what problem developer Funselektor has with the use of capital letters in the art of rally. And yes, the name of the game is art of rally, with no capitals. Nor, in fact, are capital letters ever used in this excellent arcade racer. I don’t think I actually want to know the reason. The mystery intrigues me. Do capital letters scare them? Surely not, because their previous game, Absolute Drift, had capital letters everywhere. Maybe Funselektor’s keyboard is broken? They are a small team, after all, and a new keyboard might not be in the budget. Truly, it’s a mystery. The good is bloody good, though.
Well, even if they didn’t get anything else right Funselektor definitely nailed the “art” part of art of rally. The style could probably be described as blocky and minimalist with striking colours, but I’ll just describe as really fucking nice looking, bro. Japan in particular looks gorgeous thanks to the pink trees, but then again, Sweden looks amazing too due to its lush yellow fields. There are some great litle details as well, like the way your brakes glow red hot or the crowds of square people who wander around on the track before leaping out of the way at the last possible moment as a Group B monster comes screaming round the bend.
With the striking visual style you might go into art of rally expecting an arcade racer, but like a seemingly shallow bend that turns into a hairpin, looks can be deceiving. While art of rally isn’t a full-blown simulator it still sits far more on the realistic end of the scale than you might expect. Cars have a lot of weight to them, and slinging them into a corner and actually making it out the other side requires good throttle management and even some Scandinavian flicking for good measure. The visuals fooled me into trying to go flat out at first, but my expectations were destroyed as thoroughly as my car when it slammed straight into an innocent tree which was just minding its own business. Like the game reminds you, to finish first, you first have to finish. That’s some sound life advice.
Learning the art of rally is tricky business, mind you, because the game’s camera sits high above the action. It’s sort of like viewing the action from a helicopter, which makes lovely thematic sense. You can tinker with the camera a bit to bring it closer, but no matter you’ll never even come close to the more traditional chase cam in other racing games. This also means the developers didn’t have to worry about creating pacenotes since you can see the upcoming track a all times. However, the high-up perspective does tend to throw of your sense of speed, distance and cornering angles, I found. It can also hide smaller eleveation changes that totally throw off your cars weight distribuition. These things aren’t real flaws of the game as such, rather just something I think most people will have to adjust to before getting to grips with how excellent art of rally really is.
What is a true flaw of the camera are elevation changes. It’s incredibly difficult to judge rises in the track. The developers somewhat work around this by having tracks relatively smooth. There are no pot-holes and bumps everywhere like there are in DiRT Rally 2,0, a game where it’s not uncommon to have on wheel wedged up your butt cheeks and the other 5ft down a hole. Big jumps are clearly marked out with gates, too, so you know you’ll be getting some air. But other things like a bend with a crest can be incredibly hard to properly judge, Sometimes it’ll look okay and you’ll go powering round only for your car to lift off the ground and slide sideways into a tree. Other times you’ll cautiously creep round only to find it barely even a bloody hill. Basically, like in real rally being slower is often the best choice.
If you do happen to introduce yourself to the local trees then there is a damage system in art of rally to consider. And just like real rallying there are repair stages where you can decide what to fix up in the time allotted to you. But even with damage set to severe, I actually found the whole thing kind of pointless. You really have to hammer into a tree to actually do any sort of meaningful damage. Not once did I actually do anything other than hit the auto-repair button because the car was never damaged enough to force me to pick and choose what needed to be fixed.
I do have a bit of a bone to pick in regards to to the penalty system. Basically, if you go too far off the track the game will reset you, and then smack you in the face with a 5-second time penalty as well. Now, that’s all fine and dandy when it comes to stopping players from cutting more corners than the local Council, but the whole system is annoyingly overzealous. I’ve seen myself go slightly wide on a corner and be plucked from the track like a parent grabbing their screaming toddler in a supermarket, and then been hit with a time penalty. For what exactly? It’s more frustrating when you go sliding sideways and smash into something, because at that point you’ve already lost an arse-load of time. Do I really need 5-seconds added to the 10-seconds I just lost?
Licensing the historic rally machines is expensive, so Funselektor went down the route of designing cars that are totally not the actual cars, we swear to God, honest guv’. The 242 Turbo is pretty obviously in the game, for example, except it’s called the Turbo Brick, which is just brilliant. Even the names of the A.I. drivers are strangely familiar.
In total you get just over 50 cars to play around with, including some vans and trucks for good measure. It’s a healthy selection of machinery, and the different categories feel very different from each other. You aren’t going to mistake an all-wheel-drive with a a rear-wheel-drive beast that sideways is the new straight. However, the cars within each category can feel a little too similar to its metallic brothers and sisters.
The bulk of your time with the game is going to be spent in career mode which is simplistic but does the job. Each rally consists of multiple stages, and each category of really machine spans five events. Do well enough and you’ll unlock shiny new cars to make dirty and move up to the next category of rally beast, starting from the basics and going through the likes of Group B until you hit the ultimate Group A death traps. It’s fun stuff, but there’s nothing in the career mode to get overly excited about.
In terms of raw rally content there’s a total of five locations (Germany, Japan, Norway, Finland and Sardinia) and each of those has 6 stages for a total of 30 stages. Each one of those can also be played in reverse which does radically alter their feel and bring the total count to 60 stages. Finally, each of those tracks can be played in the wet, snow or at night. Happily, rain and snow both change the handling quite a bit, with rain currently being the most challenging as the grip levels are practically non-existent. Puddles of water present a very real threat, too. While I’d certainly like to have a few more locations, what art of rally already has feels absolutely fine considering it’s a small game.
The real fun comes from competing on the leaderboards for the best times. I just wish it was possible to download ghosts of your friends or of anyone you want to try to beat. The package is rounded out with daily and weekly events. I had limited access to these prior to launch, but they seem to straight rallies where you compete for leaderboard positions. Time will tell if Funsektor do anything else with this, like exclusive liveries for people who do well.
Finally, before I finish up this rambling review, there’s a technical bug to talk about. 99% of the time the game ran fine and I only encountered one hilarious bug where I gently bumped a haybale and was catapulted backwards into the air like I had been shot out of a circus cannon. But that other 1% of the there was something causing the game to freeze for about a second before it would suddenly jerk back to life. This would usually happen one or twice an hour, and depending where it occurred could be a real pain. Occasionally when this would happen the penalty system would kick in, too. I haven’t managed to find a cause and can’t rule out some sort of barmy bug on my end.
As a sort of distilled rallying game, art of rally is excellent. There are a couple of niggles here and there, and that weird glitch, but nothing that really hampers the experience too much. It’s just a fun racer with great handling and beautiful visuals, and it’s absolutely worth checking out if you fancy a new racing game with a twist.