It’s been the best part of a year since PC owners got to play art of rally for the first time, and then through the summer Xbox and Switch gamers got to experience the minimalist racer. With a fair amount of jealousy, PlayStation owners have looked on from the sidelines, wondering when it would be their turn to drop the handbrake and spin up the rear wheels of powerful offroad cars in this gorgeously stylised game. That time is now. Eventually making its appearance on PS4 and PS5, along with all previously released content, Funselektor are defying convention to deliver up an arcade offering that won’t leave hardcore rally fans cold.
With the popularity of sim racing taking off over the last two years, and the officially licensed game becoming increasingly more difficult to play with a pad, there’s clearly a gap in the market for an approachable and accessible title that just wants you to have a good time. Too much focus on the technicalities and intricacies of rallying has kept a niche sport in the wheelhouse of its normal fanbase, but arguably hasn’t been able to fully capitalise on the romanticised history of 50 years of competition. Where art of rally comes in is to act as a guide through the humble roots, up through the increasing popularity, and then on to what could have happened if things hadn’t got too mental in the 1980’s. It does this without a single official license either, so eschews the personalities associated with the sport and brings in some fantastic homages to the thunderous machines we’ve seen in games before… yet never crosses into copying the exact vehicles. What’s more, it’s very playable too. You’re not asked to have a mechanical engineering degree to set the car up, or be clairvoyant enough to predict the weather in a few days time, it’s simply get in and drive. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a walkover.
Taking an abstract approach with the graphic design – using the key features to define the world rather than layers and layers of detail – and hoisting the view to an offset top-down position, it brings a totally different feel to the genre. Fans of being in the cockpit might initially struggle with the transition is there is always a risk that players won’t feel as connected with the car, but that disappears pretty quickly. Dragging the view above means a greater view of the course, and therefore no need to have a co-pilot shouting out the upcoming turns. Again, this can be a bit strange to those used to listening intently for instruction, yet it’s also quite freeing. There’s not a complexity of bends that demand someone to tell you what they are, they’re either flat out, ease off, brake a bit, or slam on. It’s easy enough to see what’s coming up so focus on that and just let the track flow around the car. It sounds a bit… well, abstract… but getting into the zone is where art of rally plays its best, and sometimes it’s when you start to concentrate on what you’re doing that it all starts to go wrong.
There might not be sophisticated physical deformation modelling, though there is damage, and the unwary will suffer for it. Repairs after a heavy impact are needed assuming it can limp along to the service area, and it’s easily possible to write the car off on a stage. Germany is an absolute bugger for this with tombstone sized slabs of rock lining the very fast tarmac stages. When fighting against the AI there’s no opportunity to let up and take it easy, so pushing is needed at every moment. Of course, the difficulty can be dropped and the damage effect reduced, and all at the start of each event too, so there’s no locked in requirement for an entire career to run with the same settings. Events are broken up by years within the key decades of rally history, and each year made up of a number of different events. Start in the 1960’s and the Group 2 cars are easier to control, the length of events shorter, and the restart count more forgiving. Get more experienced and the 1970’s looms with more grunty Group 3 rear wheel drive cars, then up to Group 4 and the monstrous Group B’s in the 1980’s. The number of stages in each event increases, and multiple rallies are needed to be raced, with placing on the podium in each year meaning moving on to the next class.
Here is where art of rally imagines what things would have been like if Group B hadn’t been banned. Group S rounds out the 1980’s with supercars disguised as offroad racers, and demands learning a new way to drive. They’ve got pace and grip to spare and only the really brave are going to be pushing the limits of the tracks. It doesn’t finish there though and it comes back round to the Group A cars of the 1990’s, but adds a shedload more horsepower to each that forces 90 degree drifts around every corner. It never slows down and never gets easier, yet it does remain an awful lot of fun. Whenever a new event is started the countries are randomised, as are the stages, and with six regions to race around at different times of day and in changing weather conditions, it manages to keep everything feeling fresh, as well as a surprise. It’s the same with the cars as well. Each group has a good amount to choose from, and not using up all the restarts gives out liveries to swap the looks between events. Aside from the visual changes, they’re all differently sounding with unique handling too, and it won’t be too long before favourites are found.
It might feel a bit of a mix and match system, but it works with doing away with setups and tyre selections and letting you just race. Should hurtling around at high speed only a hairs breadth from cliff edges prove too much, there are free roam areas for each country which let you explore the landscape and take in the scenery at your leisure. They act as collect-a-thons too where exploring each road throws up items and viewpoints, as well as a hidden vehicle or too. They’re a nice distraction and add a place to experiment without time or track limit constraints. That’s probably only one of two things I didn’t like about art of rally – missing a corner or drifting too far out can trigger a reset and time penalty. Sometimes that’s fair if a corner has been cut or you’ve slipped off a bridge, but losing it and going 3 meters off the road and being in a recoverable position when it fades to black seems a bit harsh. Still, it makes you sharpen up on staying within the track limits. The other element that could maybe have been easier to figure out was configuring the controls to fit all groups, it felt like I needed to change stability and sensitivity settings from one to another. Once you’re familiar with it all though and want to try something outside the career, there’s time attack and online modes too, with the latter adopting the now familiar daily and weekly challenges. It’s all raced for leaderboard kudos, and there are some very fast people out there if you fancy testing your skills.
On the surface it looks like it’s simple and maybe dumbed down, though art of rally is deceptive and is hiding quite a deep racer. Hardcore rally game fans are likely to appreciate what it does and how it works, and enjoy learning and mastering the wealth of cars available. With the randomisation of the events it also means you can play all 6 career seasons multiple times and never see the exact same event again, and that’s without even adjusting the difficulty levels to ramp up the challenge. As approachable as it is for all skill levels, it can’t hide the passion the developer has for the sport, and their understanding of how the real life cars move and respond. That can make some cars extremely tough to drive for newbies (the Lancia Stratos homage being a prime example), yet satisfying when it all comes together. Its beautiful aesthetics and wry sense of humour make this stand out from any other game in the genre, and I’ll say now with confidence that this is easily the best rally game of the last 2 years.
A PS5 review code of art of rally was provided by Funselektor’s PR team, and the game is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One and Series X|S for under £20.