Art of Rally doesn't take things too seriously. And actually, that’s a good thing. Racing games, and especially those that focus on rallying from the bygone era, should be all about the fun you can have.
So what if it’s a little quirky and full of colourful polygons? It’s a game that strives to be as enjoyable as possible.
Buddhas, BMWs & Group B
Take the opening of the game’s career mode, for example. Here, you’re faced with a giant Buddha (yes, really) - a kind of all-seeing rally deity - who introduces the game and its concept. In Art of Rally, we live in an alternative timeline in which the glorious age of Group B never went away.
For the uninitiated, the infamous 'Group B' regulations kicked off in 1982 and allowed for powerful, beautiful and technologically advanced rally cars to be the norm. It was short-lived, with drivers and spectators seemingly not ready for this new brand of technology. Fans were killed in accidents along the roadside, and the death of star driver Henri Toivonen and his co-driver Sergio Cresto at the 1986 Tour de Corse ultimately spelled the end of the format.
Art of Rally follows through this parallel universe of rally racing from 1967 all the way to 1996. So, as we go through the ages, there’s Audi Quattros, Lancias, Porsches, Mazdas and, my favourite, the BMW M1 to be enjoyed here. And the rest. Heck, there’s even a Dakar truck!
So, as you can imagine, there’s lots to do here, lots of cars of cars to be unlocked and tons of fun to be had - especially for rally enthusiasts.
Casual but cool
The kooky concept aside, what’s most prominent with Art of Rally is its unique visuals.
Sure, this game doesn’t have the realism of the Dirt series, or the immersive visuals of Forza. It doesn’t have the physics of Richard Burns Rally, or the official licensing of WRC. But everything still looks cool here. The cars look fine, exactly how they should; they just have strange new names - the Lancia Stratos is called ‘La Wedge’, for example. We can deal with that.
But it’s not trying to be like any of those other games we mentioned. It’s kind of arty and, dare we say it, kind of cute. We’re not racing through the cold and dirty forests of Wales here. Instead, we're amongst the beautiful blossom trees of Japan, or the delightful twists and turns of Sardinia.
It’s all very breath-taking, in a cartoony sort of way. Sure, the wedge-shaped spectators at the side of the road may look a little silly, but forget about them. Enjoy the colours and the surroundings, instead. There’s something almost casually relaxing about the whole experience. It's more Firewatch than Gran Turismo.
Still pedal to the metal
All that aside, this is still a rally game and rally simulation is part of the package.
The controls here work. You’re still encouraged to go pedal-to-the-metal, and there’s plenty of technique involved in the car’s handling. What's more, you need to know what you’re doing at each event - be it gravel, tarmac or snow - and each car handles uniquely, as you’d expect.
There’s even a full damage model, too. Between each stage, you have the option to repair certain aspects of the car if it’s damaged - be it the suspension, engine or gearbox - and you're racing for points in each year's championship that you pass through.
Outside of the career mode, there's even more fun to be had. There's 'time attack', daily and weekly online events and, best of all, 'free roam'. Free roam is basically a nod to the classic Tony Hawk Pro Skater games, where you're encouraged to explore and unearth hidden parts of each map, and find various collectibles. In Tony Hawks, you had to find the letters for 'SKATE'. In Art of Rally it's 'RALLY', naturally.
A break from sim racing
At worst, Art of Rally is a distraction from the trials and tribulations of many other racing games. There's very little frustration to be had here. There'll be no 'rage quitting' when you fail to nail the final hairpin of a stage, but you won't want to plug in your Cube Controls racing wheel or VR headset, either.
This is simply a rally game for the pure fun of rallying, and there's nothing wrong with that.