art of rally – lowercase in fifth gear

some people view racing as an aggressive, reckless, chaotic sport, but the experience of competitive driving is the complete opposite of that. pushing a fast car to its limit requires such precision that you are forced to focus your mind. to do this, you need to shut out everything else that might be distracting, which consequently brings a feeling of calm. you’re finally in control. nobody else can hit that brake pedal, only you.

life has an endlessly confusing amount of avenues vying for your attention, but when you’re in a car you know exactly what you need to do. the only thing that matters is the next braking point, because you might die if you miss it. this intense level of sustained focus instills a level of discipline that can also lead to ultimate zen and peace. art of rally harnesses the zen feeling of racing and allows it to flourish with beauty and creativity. we don’t need upper-case letters where we’re going.

the handling takes some getting used to. it’s a good thing they start you off in free-roam mode, so mistakes are encouraged and the track can be anything you want. even though this looks like a simple top down racer, you can’t just throw the car into the corner at full speed. it requires braking and throttle control like a realistic racer would. the cars feel heavy and realistic despite the top-down view. in a way the top-down view can actually make it harder to judge bumps and speed. just brake before a hill while keeping the car as straight as possible and you’ll be right.

once you start doing more rallies the handling very slowly clicks, revealing quite a bit of depth. the shaky unstable feeling slowly becomes a measured reference point as you dance around the corners and express your inner self. the open landscape welcomes you as giraffes, zebras and elephants chill around the track and get on with their day. they are your best friends now and they won’t judge you. in fact, the giraffe encourages you to use its shadow as a braking point, a rare communication of harmony between nature and machine. you don’t have to worry about your petrol fumes contributing to their extinction because it’s a videogame.

as you rank up the cars get faster but more difficult to control. i played the xbox one version and it was nice to have analog triggers for throttle control, it’s hard to imagine staying on the road without it. I’m sure the game is great on switch, just a warning that it might be harder without these flexible triggers. you can compensate by mashing the acceleration button.

at the end of the day though, the difficulty is entirely customisable so you don’t even have to push the limits of the car. even on the driving front, you can change steering sensitivity, use auto or manual gears and adjust traction. with the ai on “easy” you’ll win every rally by 5 minutes or more, and you can turn damage off too.

photo mode is almost a game in itself. after pausing the game, you can zoom and hover around anywhere, even completely leaving your car if you want (here’s a vid I tweeted). you can run off into the forest like it’s breath of the wild or look through the eye of any spectator on the track.

yes those blocks are people. it’s amusing how they put more detail into the animals, but this is all you need really. i never really liked seeing an unimpressed hipster’s detailed face in the crowd in forza anyway. just make them all blocks from now on. it’s hard to capture in a screenshot, but they come to life in motion when they all rush to get out of the way of your car. it shows that the personality and movement of something is so much more important than what it looks like. in your peripheral vision, all you see are rally fans scrambling out of the way and cheering you on.

the game’s career mode is structured in years and you slowly get a sense of history as you move forward through time, starting in 1967. there’s a decent amount of cars and liveries to choose from, each with their own amusing fictional side-stories in their description. it’s refreshing to see entertaining stories here. i’m more interested in hearing about a disgruntled truck driver who felt like rallying after his shed was destroyed, than a bunch of sports statistics. this game reaches for the more human side of driving.

art of rally has daily and weekly online challenges where you get one single attempt on the leaderboard. it’s a pretty exciting formula since everything you do on that attempt matters, and having a crack each day has been a thrill. you don’t have to be a pro to give it a try, i’m quite happy to be consistently in the top 50. straya represent.

if there’s one word i would use to describe the graphics and track design it is “modest”, it accomplishes a lot with so little. the tracks will often feel empty, especially at the start. every so often you’ll be hit with a mesmerizing view, and these will get more and more frequent. the track variety is so massive that no track ever felt the same to me. things get even more varied with night races, and different surfaces like rain and snow that will alter the handling of the car.

art of rally is a fun, engaging, addictive rally game with as much depth as you want it to have. the driving physics strike that wonderful balance of being engaging at any skill level. it gently encourages you to push the limits, but never pressures you. the game itself is your friend and wants you to do well and extract the most you can out of life. art of rally truly lives up to its title, providing a colourful racing experience that nourishes the soul.

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