Rallying games to me have often been a tense and fidgety affair, the handling of each vehicle slick enough to leave my body fully clenched right up to the finish line as I do my very best to keep all four wheels on the track. While my racing roots lean more toward a more street-racing heavy experience (think Burnout or Need for Speed), that isn’t to say I don’t find myself enjoying the odd rally racer every now and again, despite my struggling ability to take corners well on gravel, dirt and anything other than tarmac.
art of rally‘s debut on PC late last year caught my eye though, not just for its beautiful visual style but with its unique top-down view of the action, doing away with any dashboard views or low-hanging behind the vehicle camerawork.
While its simple look and almost Micro-Machines-like camera angle might lead you to believe you’d be playing a game with a far more arcadey feel, in fact, the game handles more in line with the likes of a DiRT or WRC. Instead of cars that stick to the track like a train to a rollercoaster or a simple tap of the brake being about all you need to concern yourself with when it comes to taking a 90-degree turn, art of rally has you thinking about things like counter-steer, anti-lock braking and car rotation. The game even allows you to adjust these and more in its options.
What this results in, is a game that’s – at least for me – tough to tame, the car constantly skirting out of bounds and speed being something to fear especially in the early goings. Was it frustrating? Thanks to some adjustable AI difficulties, rarely did I find myself losing my cool at the game. Sure, I may not have been great, but with opponents feeling on an equal level, my early hours felt rewarding rather than punishing especially as I found myself unlocking new cars and seeing more tracks quickly.
art of rally’s career mode does a great job introducing you to its increasingly faster line-up of rally vehicles. Events consist of a varying number of different races taking you from the snowy landscapes of Norway to the cherry blossomed hills of Japan. Between races, you’ll be able to repair any damage to your car (or simply clean it) while performing well enough overall against the AI opponents will reward with further events to tackle as well as liveries for your cars. Retries are offered should you massively ruin a particular event, however, use too many and the unlocks stay locked. Everything is kept fairly light and breezy overall and its setup makes it perfect for hopping in and out easily.
The cars themselves – while unlicensed – have enough features and colour schemes that will make them easily identifiable to hardcore rallying fans. The fifty-plus cars pulled from the ’60s through to the ’80s all feel different to race not only in obvious things like speed but in how they handle too.
While modes like time trial, custom rallies and daily or weekly challenges won’t surprise, the free roam mode is a fun, refreshing and relaxing option doing away with barriers and instead leaves you free to drive anywhere at your leisure taking in the sights, collecting cassettes, vans and letters to spell out R-A-L-L-Y (Tony Hawk, anyone?). There’s a therapeutic quality to free roam that left me wanting more areas to explore after I’d exhausted its handful.
The game’s art design – one of the most praised elements of the PC version – unfortunately struggles in some big ways when it comes to the Nintendo Switch. The low poly style is definitely unique and at first alluring, however, hopping into a race quickly reveals some ugly problems. Objects and shadows pop up within close proximity – distractingly so – while environments often feel rather barren at times, forests spotty in terms of tree cover for example while looking off into the distance reveals nothing more than empty bare landscape. It’s a real shame because art of rally has proven it can be a truly beautiful game, that just doesn’t seem to be the case here. Another thing that hasn’t translated over from the other versions of the game is the framerate, the Switch version running at 30 frames per second. The action still runs smoothly, however it’s just another way in which the PC and Xbox Series versions trump things.
At its heart, art of rally is a solid racing experience with a good assortment of cars to try, tracks to tackle and handling that’s both challenging yet satisfying. Unfortunately, the visuals struggle massively on Nintendo Switch resulting in a game that looks fine at best and barren at worst. This is easily the weakest version of the game and if you own an Xbox Series or PC you’re better off going for those superior versions.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Funselektor