art of rally (Xbox Series S) Review

Art of rally finally arrives on the consoles, albeit with some visual cutbacks. Does it still manage to provide a cathartic blend of challenging racing and audio-visual spectacle?
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Just under a year since it was first released on PC, art of rally – developed and published by Funselektor Labs – has finally arrived on consoles. The console release brings with it a year of fixes and content updates. Something is thrilling about watching vehicles tear down off-road tracks at high speed, listening to the co-driver shouting pace notes at high speed. It’s fast, high-intensity, and, unlike so many track-based sports, easily consumed in short bursts. art of rally, despite its stylised, low-poly visuals, still manages to capture this sensation. Unfortunately, for a game so dependent on blending challenging driving with the audio-visual experience, there are some cutbacks on consoles that lessen the impact.

art of rally provides an experience with a strong focus on the basics – you, your car, and a winding track through stunning natural environments. There’s no official licence but keeping with art of rally’s artistic intent, it provides a remarkable facsimile of the real sport. You’ll recognise real-world cars from their distinctive shapes and simplified decals. The environments use visually distinctive objects and props to capture the feel of their real-world equivalents. Funselektor Labs have done an incredible job of capturing the “feel” of a rally event, and it always reminds me of watching a post-race highlights reel captured from the air.

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It’s just you, your car, and the beautiful (treacherous) environments.

art of rally is unlikely to satisfy die-hard simulation fans, but this is by no means a “casual” game. Cranking up driver-assists to max will help, but art of rally is a game in which you’ll still spend plenty of time cursing your digital vehicle for handling like a drunken ice-skater. As such, the career and free-roam mode are the best places to get a grip on the driving mechanics and ease you into the game before trying to set times on the online leaderboards.

The career starts with the low-horsepower Group-2 cars from the late ‘60s. These feature manageable top-speeds and acceleration, before moving you onto Group-3 and Group-4 races (think higher speeds and acceleration but reduced handling), and eventually to the infamous “golden age of rally” Group-B cars (i.e. high speeds and bugger-all handling). It doesn’t stop there though, as you can tackle events based on the cancelled Group-S variants, before moving onto the modern era Group-A cars that replaced them.

Unlike most rally games, art of rally only offers a distant viewpoint – above and behind your car with height variations. There is no driver- or bonnet-cam, there is no co-driver calling out pace-notes. This may seem a far cry from traditional rally games, but both are features that would ruin your appreciation of the beautiful landscape, crisp audio effects, and phenomenal techno soundtrack. That said, these missing features do have an impact on stage structure. Regardless of the location, the track is uniformly wide, and you’ll rarely encounter a tight succession of sharp corners or hairpins,  that you’d see in other games. This is all in service of the gameplay, however, as art of rally wants you to stay at top speed when not drifting around corners.

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Once you hit Group A, you’ll begin to recognise some iconic vehicles from the last two decades.

Despite several patches, the structure of art of rally’s career still provides an uneven sense of progression. With the limited acceleration and top-speeds of the early classes, you’ll have time to master over- and understeer when cornering in front-wheel and rear-wheel drive vehicles. However, as you move up towards Group-B, the FWD and RWD cars feel faster and faster, but less and less controllable. Then, when you finally arrive at the Group-S and A events, all-wheel drive (AWD) cars make handling much easier, even at top speeds. Suddenly, you’re learning not to oversteer into corners and spinning out from the apex.

Again, I doubt the variation in vehicle handling will satisfy simulation fans but casual players will find each vehicle feels significantly different to drive. Jumping between game modes and different tiers of cars can result in driving whiplash, as you constantly readjust. art of rally is a game that demands you invest time in mastering each vehicle. Maintaining your racing line, breaking into corners, accelerating out of them, dealing with over- and under-steer – all the basics are accounted for and driving assists won’t save you if your idea of a racing game is holding down accelerate and steering.

art of rally is packed with content despite its low price. The career mode takes you through all the groups, each consisting of five rallies over 5 years, but it’s a low-stress affair. You don’t have to win to progress but, on “normal” and “hard” AI difficulties, consistency will often see you finish in the top three. The handling model encourages careful cornering and maximising your speed on straights, so cautious players will want to up the difficulty and set the crash damage to “heavy” to up the challenge. The cars and liveries you unlock for completing rallies (and avoiding restarts) are carried over to other modes. Once you feel you’ve got a grip on the car handling and the driving physics, you can tackle the time-trial leaderboards and daily or weekly challenges.

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The large, lacklustre HUD hasn’t changed since launch but it doesn’t impact your driving experience.

art of rally is the perfect quick-burst game with bite-sized stages that’ll take you between 2-5 minutes, depending on the length and complexity of the stage (and your skill, of course). Rallies range from single 2-stage events at the beginning of each group, to back-to-back 5-stage rallies by the end of the group (with a chance to repair your vehicle every 2 stages).

In addition to the online time-trials and challenges, art of rally also allows you to create custom rallies, mixing and matching your favourite stages and time-of-day. You could also simply cruise around the free-roam mode, a sandbox-like experience that takes place in more open maps, based on each location featured in the game (Finland, Sardinia, Norway, Japan, Germany and Kenya). This mode is another great way to improve your driving skills without worrying about forced resets. These are also some arcade-like challenges: hunting the letters R-A-L-L-Y (to unlock the next location), vantage points for screenshots, and cassette tapes for music tracks.

As would be expected from a game with a strong focus on the audio-visual experience, art of rally has a solid, if uninspired photo mode that can be triggered at any time during a race (or replay). You can position the camera, adjust the depth of field, shift several visual settings (think colour saturation, contrast, bloom intensity), and add visual effects like a vignette or lens dirt. To its credit, art of rally is a game where every moment can be turned into an attractive screenshot.

short-stages
The short stage length is perfect for quick gaming sessions or incentivising you to master each one.

Mastering the handling of each vehicle and layout of tracks will keep you preoccupied at first,  but – hopefully – you’ll soon shift into a zen state, watching your car drift between corners as you lose yourself to the beat of the techno soundtrack.

Sunrise and sunset are always impressive, with the low angle sun piercing through trees while the road ahead of you takes on a reflective golden glow. At night, headlights send dynamic shadows flashing past trees, grass, and barriers. A heavy depth-of-field effect blankets distant terrain, keeping your focus on the immediate surroundings and masking any technical limitations. Inclement weather – think mist, rain, and heavy snow – is not that common but looks great (and has a big impact on handling). The warm, yellow fields and vineyards of Sardinia, the snowy trails and frozen lakes of Norway, the asphalt roads and autumnal German forests, the winding slopes and cherry blossoms of Japan, the open savannah and wildlife of Kenya – they all look and sound incredible… most of the time.

Despite looking sharp (and running at what feels like a consistent framerate on the Xbox Series S) the console versions have two glaring issues. The first is the shadow-draw distance – something most obvious when racing through areas that should be fully occluded by hillsides yet display a bright area ahead of you. The second is the dense, sprite grass that seems to be a uniform colour now and lacking many of the embellishments seen in the PC version. As a result, it only stands out in headlight beams at night, in the low-angle sun, in the shade of another object, or at an angle near a steep slope. This leaves too many backdrops – especially during the daytime events – looking like flat, textureless plains.

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The photo mode may be more functional than intuitive, but it still kept me occupied for longer than I care to admit.

Visual issues aside – which can hopefully be patched – there are a few structural issues with art of rally that remain unchanged since the initial release. The HUD remains functional but bland. The car reset mechanic, which drops you back on the road with a 5-second penalty, feels inconsistently applied. You can be drifting just wide of a corner and be reset, whereas other times you’ll spin out near an intersection and have to manually force it if you don’t want to spend 10-seconds getting back on track. The mid-career Group-B cars still feel like a horrible difficulty-spike until you get to the AWD cars. Track randomisation in the career mode is still off. Bad RNG could see you tackle the same rally location more than once in a group, or find yourself tackling the same track back-to-back, just in reverse. When I first played art of rally on PC, I got to know Japan like the back of my hand; when playing on Xbox, it felt like every other rally was Finland.

Despite those criticisms, art of rally remains my go-to chill-out game. It’s an incredible hybrid of challenging driving, striking visuals, a soothing soundtrack, and an addictive gameplay loop that’s perfect for short bursts. Despite many simplifications that’ll turn off simulation fans, art of rally is still a competent rally game, but also an audio-visual experience that attempts to capture the feel of a rally event, rather than emulate the fine details. This means it can feel shallow the longer you play but works brilliantly as a palate cleanser between work or other games.

art of rally was reviewed using an active Xbox Game Pass subscription on Xbox Series S

art of rally (Xbox Series ) Review

art of rally (Xbox Series ) Review
8 10 0 1
art of rally remains a fantastic chill-out game for short bursts - a hybrid of challenging driving, striking visuals, a soothing soundtrack, and an addictive gameplay loop. Sure, there are simplifications that’ll turn off simulation fans but art of rally is by no means a casual game, just one with a strong focus on the audio-visual experience that attempts to capture the "feel" of a rally event, rather than emulate it.
art of rally remains a fantastic chill-out game for short bursts - a hybrid of challenging driving, striking visuals, a soothing soundtrack, and an addictive gameplay loop. Sure, there are simplifications that’ll turn off simulation fans but art of rally is by no means a casual game, just one with a strong focus on the audio-visual experience that attempts to capture the "feel" of a rally event, rather than emulate it.
8/10
Total Score
  • Gameplay
    8/10 Very Good
    An unexpectedly challenging handling model that'll punish you for being reckless, but with tracks designed to encourage you to keep at top speeds and corner aggressively.
  • Longevity
    7/10 Good
    There's plenty of cars, rally locations, stages, and game modes but art of rally is best in short bursts or the experience can begin to feel shallow.
  • Visuals
    8/10 Very Good
    A beautiful facsimile of real rallying, let down on console by some visual bugs that need patching asap.
  • Audio
    9/10 Amazing
    Vehicle sounds are solid but the soundtrack is phenomenal, drawing you into a zen-like state as tear down straight and whip around corners.

The Good

  • Simultaneously challenging and cathartic
  • Plenty of vehicles, rally locations, and stages
  • Beautiful environments and a fantastic soundtrack
  • Perfect for short bursts of gaming

The Bad

  • Cutbacks on console impact the overall audio-visual experience
  • Career-mode RNG can result in too many visits to the same location
Total
4
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