Sim vs arcade. Hardcore vs accessible. These are the ongoing battles between online racers. It's not hard to place games on the sim-arcade scale usually, but when it comes to accessibility it's much harder to judge.
The official Formula 1 series is the king when it comes to striking the balance between hardcore racing and accessibility. With a huge amount of settings and options that allow brand new and younger players to find their feet, the game still challenges even the best when they are switched off.
This is the example rally titles need to follow.
The hardest games around
Many racers will say that a true sim like iRacing or Automobilista 2 is the hardest racing game around, but they would be wrong. The real answer is a true rally game. Be that DiRT Rally 2.0 or the new WRC 10, off-road racing is easily the hardest thing a home-racer can do.
With visibility limited, pace notes flying through the airwaves, and stages so long that you can never possibly memorise them, rally titles take no prisoners when it comes to gameplay.
While assists like traction control and ABS are there, they won't stop you sliding off a cliff or into a tree. But there is no true automatic gearbox, and most importantly no flashback or rewind function.
That unforgiving nature along with the impossibility of practicing stages to get used to them makes rally titles incredibly inaccessible. And thus much harder for any new or younger player to get into them.
With the highly accessible Formula 1 game helping to create new F1 fans, it feels like WRC and other rally titles are missing a trick here.
Opening up the world
Building in accessibility to the rallying titles should be the focus of developers now. With racing growing in popularity, rallying is getting left behind.
The first thing to do is introduce more tutorials. Firstly about what the pace notes actually mean, and then some actually rally driving techniques since it is so different from circuit racing.
Then it's time for some in-game help.
Rewinds are key for new players, giving them a chance to undo a mistake and stay competitive along the stage.
Speaking of stages, there needs to be practice modes where they are cut up into manageable sections for practice. You'll never get comfortable with a 21km stage if you have to run the whole thing every time you practice it, but doing 1km chunks? Now you've got a shot.
Sure, it might not be realisitic to allow players to practice like that but it would certainly encourage newer drivers to pick up the game and give them a chance to get up to speed with how the car reacts and feel comfortable on the stage.
Will it happen?
With WRC 10's in-accessibility and no news about DiRT Rally 3.0 it looks like racers will have to wait a while for a more accessible rally sim title.
Codemasters gets its hands on the WRC license in 2023, and that is probably our best bet for a title that balances sim racing with a more gentle learning curve.
Having separated off the arcade off-roading into DIRT 5, the DiRT Rally series (or DiRT WRC, whatever they end up calling it) has the chance to learn directly from the F1 franchise and be a far more welcoming environment to newer players, and encourage improvement without requiring the strongest levels of patience.
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