As its name would imply, The Art of Rally is gorgeous. The stylized cars, lack of textures, bright colors and low polygon count all point towards a relaxing, simplified take on the racing genre. The game appears to be a breath of fresh air, a modern racing game with the volume of intensity turned way down.
And in many ways it is. The aesthetics of the game are practically screaming at you to smile. The menus are easy to read and simple without looking bare. There isn’t any sort of upgrade system and the career mode randomizes races rather than giving players a set progression through the various tracks. There’s a pared back feeling to the game that seems like it would lend itself well to an arcade racer, or even a mobile game that could be played in small increments.
But there is one thing getting in the way of this narrative: The designers of the game, over at Funselektor are evidently very passionate about cars. And it’s the car models themselves that give the first clue as to the true nature of this game. Low polygon or not, the vast majority of the vehicles in the Art of Rally are relatively faithful reproductions of old rally cars. And while their names have been changed for licensing purposes, you don’t have to squint at the “119” to see a Porsche 911. The car is more or less rendered as accurately as possible given the style of the game.
Funselektor’s previous game, Absolute Drift was also a top down car game, one that was surprisingly realistic despite the forced perspective. The Art of Rally continues in this vein, with physics that are far more complex than what the simplistic art style hints at.
Sharp corners need to be navigated slowly and with care. That means lots of braking before the corners, but not too much braking during those corners because weight transfer is absolutely ‘a thing’ in this game. Which makes sense, because while weight transfer is important on a road course, it’s doubly so on a gravel road. Get on the gas pedal in The Art of Rally and you’ll feel the front end lighten up, while mild applications of the brakes will cause the rear of the car to move around. It all comes together on corner exit, where careful throttle control can lead to that perfect balance between loading up the rear tires and overwhelming them with power.
It’s not a “one size fits all” physics system either. Mid engined cars are noticeably quicker to rotate, while rear engined cars tend to understeer if you don’t do your work to get the back end pointed in the correct direction early in the corner.
That said, the game is not a rigorous simulation like Dirt Rally, it’s far more forgiving and not even as accurate as something a bit more casual like the Forza Horizon series. Physics wise, it reminds me a little bit of the old Project Gotham Racing games. Which is to say grounded in reality but still heightened and stylized.
Which is good, because as charming as that overhead perspective is, it does occasionally get in the way of gameplay. The biggest problem is that weight transfer is easy enough to witness visually in a vehicle from every angle but above. And weight transfer is crucial in this game. In addition, good track design involves a lot of elevation changes and The Art of Rally has some pretty good track design, but judging hills, valleys and yumps can be difficult when seeing them from above.
Funselektor have obviously thought about these issues by offering some clever quality of life features in the game. The most important thing they’ve done is tweak the camera to be at a slight angle, rather than directly over the cars. This sort of hybrid overhead/3rd person view works decently enough and allows you to see a bit further up the road than you normally would. But it’s not perfect, as elevation changes and weight transfer can still leave you squinting at the screen. Other quality of life features include a “bubble” around your car that appears when traveling under trees or foliage to always ensure a good view of your vehicle. The game also has prominent and progressively created skidmarks to help judge when the vehicle has reached or exceeded the limits of traction.
For the most part, it all works together as a cohesive experience. For the casual gamer or car enthusiast, The Art of Rally will be surprisingly deep and challenging. For sim racing aficionados, the game will instead be every bit of the casual and relaxing journey that its simplified visuals seem to promise. Either player should be able to get quite a bit of enjoyment out of the game, provided they enjoy mildly challenging racing titles.
The downside is that The Art of Rally may not be as frantic and exciting as the arcade-like visuals suggest. There is no wheel to wheel competition in the game (or in any true rally racing for that matter.) There are also no power ups, or nitros, or anything of that nature. If you want more to do than simply gas, brake and steering, change the transmission to manual, start using the clutch or try switching off the stability control and ABS. The game is a love letter to classic rally cars, not a love letter to classic racing games.
With a price point of around $25, The Art of Rally is on the expensive side for an indie game. Most buyers will expect a lot of polish for that price point and the game more than delivers on that front. Content on the other hand, is a trickier proposition. Funselektor advertises over 50 cars in the game along with 60 stages. But the game can feel repetitive, primarily because there are only five different locations for those 60 stages. Funselektor didn’t knock it out of the park in regards to content, but I still think there’s enough on offer to not wait for a sale if this is a game you’re interested in. Especially if you’re a rally nerd or any type of fan of racing sims. The game is beautiful, unique and challenging. Furthermore, it’s a game with a palpable sense of passion and enthusiasm. If you’re anywhere close to as enthusiastic about rally cars as Funselektor are, the price of entry for The Art of Rally is well worth it.
The game is currently available on the Steam store for PC.