In the long history of racing, rally is an acquired taste. It’s history spans shorter than other goliaths of the track, but the respect given to the drivers, or survivors in the same breath, is much earned and well placed in the racing community. To push vehicles to a level expected on private pavement and asphalt, but unleashing it on dirt, snow, gravel, or whatever is wide enough to drive on; it’s a level of finesse, adrenaline, and pure chaos and that only be dialed in by a chosen few. art of rally embraces these connoisseurs of speed with a love letter devoted to the history of the sport. Funselektor have comprised a few countries’ worth of stages with dynamic weather selections and several garages’ worth of vehicles spanning of the sports birth in the 1960s through the well-known monsters of the road that peaked in the 1990s.
“To do something dangerous with style is art,” a quote that is well-versed within the characteristics of art of rally‘s aesthetics, as one look will take you into a dream-like world that looks like it belongs in a Micro Machines or a PLAYMOBIL catalog. Each country is lush with vibrant colors and small details that show an attention to detail while maintaining its overall minimalist feel. Cherry blossoms surrounding the roads on Japan, the snow capped forests and sheets of ice in Norway, to the teeming tone of sepia and autumn in Germany: each stage is beautifully crafted and are an absolute sight to behold, especially when fiddling around in art of rally‘s Photo Mode.
But what ride will you take on these gorgeously constructed worlds? Take your pick of over 50 cars spanning different eras of the rally world across 5 decades. Each car comes with a little history lesson for interested drivers, and a litany of decade-reminiscent colors to choose from. From the early 1960s with cars just toying with new sport, to the 1990s where 850hp beasts required ear buds for spectators, to a cheeky selection of fun oddball vehicles Funselektor slapped in for good measure. You ever wondered what a logging truck would look like taking hairpin turns in Japan?
But the sport of rally has always gotten its popularity and love for the way its drivers handle these combinations of steel and power, and does art of rally extend its love letter in its gameplay? Well, yes and no. I’ll be the first to point out that I have not played many rally games in my days, but I came into this game knowing full-stop it would not be like other power-sliding connoisseurs like Hotshot Racing and Slipstream. What art of rally achieves is making you feel like a genius in one turn but an absolute idiot on the next. When taking sharp turns at rapid speeds a gentle touch and a swift hand are necessary. Gone are the days where you can floor it through turns with a tap on the break and a sharp throw of your rear tires. These roads require, nay, demand a feathering of both the accelerator and brake, and a knowledge of when to floor it to shave time off your run. But knowing when to hit these requires more than just a knowledge of the road. It requires a knowledge of your vehicle, knowledge of your terrain, knowledge of your past mistakes, and art of rally expects perfection of these aspects to qualify a successful run. Just don’t do what I did: start on career mode.
Career mode takes you through six groups of vehicles, each spanning a different decade of rally, and showing off art of rally‘s 30 pre-made tracks, becoming 60 with the optional reversed starting points. Here you will pick your appropriate car and difficulty (I played the normal AI difficulty with the standard car damage setup) and participate in five seasons per group, which hold 1-4 rallies with around 2-5 stages in each rally. It’s a strange enigma how career mode unfolds because in my experience it felt like an elongated tutorial, but with how one-dimensional the gameplay is, I couldn’t imagine working on my problems outside this mode.
In broad terms, art of rally masters the feeling of being in control of something uncontrollable, but the case against this is that there are plenty of times where the game’s commitment to this cause sacrifices a lot of fun in play. No matter your terrain driven or car seat sat in your rally experience will feel like it’s on ice at all times, and art of rally‘s lack of a specific tutorial mode makes the learning experience a tough one. No matter how much time you’ve spent playing racing games you will spend the first few hours of art of rally careening off of the road and into whatever is around: walls, trees, rocks, cliffs, et cetera. The learning of the mechanics is not particularly a problem since hitting those beautiful hairpin turns in one fell swoop is a joy. The problem is that by the time you’ve gained at least a decent graps of how art of rally works, chances are you’ve seen everything the game has to offer.
Career mode’s rallies are randomly generated, so there’s a good chance that by the second or third group you would have played every stage in the game either on reverse or normal. And while you have been learning how art of rally actually works on slower vehicles, each group takes you forward to a faster vehicle, thus removing all the muscle memory from the previous group and throwing you back in the learning bin all over again. As career mode gets farther in the seasons become even longer: where in the first two groups you may do 2-4 stages per season, the later groups will have you run 15-20 stages, bloating the career mode to something over 15-17 hours. Even though I personally enjoy the gameplay for what it’s worth, I was struggling to even bother finishing career mode, and the fact that only 7% of all players on Steam have finished it gives me a clue that I may not be the only one who feels this way.
Another issue is how art of rally‘s career mode rewards are given out. Completion of seasons will unlock different vehicles to choose from, while colors are given by stockpiling a certain number of restarts throughout the season. While the unlocking of cars isn’t a real problem, though having slower cars from past seasons unlock in later groups is a little odd, the unlocking of colors almost feels brash in execution. art of rally demands perfection to achieve a truly fun experience so messing up would instinctively require a driver to restart to try and hit that perfect line. With limited restarts, messing up multiple times forces the player to forgo progress and restart entire seasons, which are already long in the first place, or stumble through new stages and vehicles with the promise of unlocks after you crawl past the finish line. To hide unlocks behind a system that would help your drivers understand the game better is confusing and downright rude.
And you will need those restarts. Getting a clean rally is aggravating under certain weather situations, mainly snow and rain. Players will have their gripes on different terrains but the addition of snow and rain slows art of rally to a crawl, with rain soaked roads making turns a nightmare and snow capped areas requiring a surgical touch to even think about placing. This touch of realism is an absolute bore to play, and groan-inducing when your randomly made season is mainly comprised of these two.
By this point you’ve spent countless hours in career mode, with each stage only holding a 2-5 minute run time. You have played the living hell out of every stage imaginable, so its other modes feel almost unnecessary. Time Attack is a single stage run with a shot at the leaderboard. Custom Rally is a make-your-own-season category. Online Events is a half-winded title as Funselektor picks a specific mode and stage, with daily events being one stage and weekly events a full rally, then lets players duke it out for the best time. Free Roam is the best of the bunch here, allowing full reign over the territories in which the stages are made with some collectibles to find, but mostly it’s to just launch your car off cliffs at 120mph.
It’s not the inclusion of its modes that feels underwhelming, but the exclusion of modes that would have benefited art of rally so much. Where are the challenge modes? Playing specific turns, like a hairpin turn course or a S-curve track, could not only be used as practice modes but add another achievement on a racer’s resume. Playing on specific terrains with the ability to replay spots immediately would help with art of rally‘s lack of a specific tutorial. This genre of racing requires practice, and practice can be made fun and accessible, but replaying levels ad nauseam is a rough ask when you have that massive career mode looming in the distance.
So art of rally puts me in quite a bind. When you put forth the effort and time expected, art of rally is a gratifying run through history and an immensely rewarding experience. But getting to that point is a task that I found to be a tall, tall order. The lack of a tutorial for a game that absolutely needs it, tedious playing conditions that further bog down a tough as nails driving experience, and a 15 hour career mode on 3 hours of content make this a hard recommendation for anyone who isn’t balls-to-the-wall for rallying and its style of racing, even if the art, aesthetically and physically, is as beautiful as they hoped.
Reviewed on Steam.