The best part of art of rally is just how minimalist everything is.
Deliberately stylised in lower case, art of rally comes from the studio behind Absolute Drift. Absolute Drift was all about mastering the art of drifting through urban courses, and art of rally is a natural extension for Dune Casu and Funselektor Labs.
It’s not a serious racer in the same vein as DiRT Rally 2.0, but rather a top-down arcade rally racer that’s more reminiscent of games from the ’90s. Best of all, it’s backed by a banging synthwave soundtrack from Tatreal — who came up with a really clever way for recreating the sound of gravel with peas. There’s 51 tracks in all, which is more than some AAA games get.
It’s absolutely perfect, and even though you’re supposedly racing on cars from the ’70s onwards, the low-poly style just gives art of rally this incredible Initial D vibe. Listen for yourself.
I could — and frequently do — listen to this stuff all day for work. Synthwave has been my jam since a mate put me onto it a year ago, and the way it’s used in art of rally is absolutely perfect.
That vibe’s important, because it helps paper over some of the game’s simplicity. There’s no advanced tuning, repairs, adjustments. There’s no cockpit view or much in the way of controls. You’ve got access to the clutch, handbrake and gearbox if you want to drive stick, but otherwise, it’s very much a retro experience.
You’ll be either driving from one of 8 cameras, all of which vary between top-down views or high shots behind the car as you drifting through towns, mountains and some very vibrant landscapes. The game takes you through career-style stages, with each year adding longer stages — so three or four races instead of two — and more difficult environments, like night-time rallies and challenging weather.
Each stage is set after a particular year, so as you move forward, you’ll unlock cars relevant to that time period (along with some nice quips about the background for each vehicle). You’ve got about 60 stages to work through across five countries (Finland, Sardinia, Norway, Japan and Germany), although a good chunk of those are reverse courses.
Blissfully, the game’s quite generous with the graphics settings on PC. You can turn it all the way down to 320×240, which is handy if, like me, you’re stuck on a bit of a potato. I spent most of my time playing art of rally in my week off, when I wasn’t really equipped or geared up for doing reviews. Nonetheless, with some tanking of all the graphics settings, the game ran serviceably on a 8th-gen Intel laptop with Intel HD 620 integrated graphics.
It didn’t run well — you’d want to apply a 30 frame rate cap to avoid heavy spikes when forests start to get drawn in — but it was certainly playable. On the other side, however, the game looks absolutely gorgeous at 4K, especially when the soft sun sunset falls on the square spectators fleeing off the track. The photo mode, added to art of rally since launch, leads to some incredible images too.
Even when it’s running at pure potato quality, art of rally looks fantastic. That’s the strength of its crystal clear art direction, and there’s enough of a skill ceiling with the driving mechanics to really challenge you if you want to push for the fastest times.
Along with the campaign mode, there’s daily and weekly online events. You can free roam around five “levels” which have their own collectibles to find, and there’s custom rallies and time attack modes, the latter of which will let you customise weather conditions. If you’re brave, you can also race around the whole thing in a logging truck, or a triwheeler if you fancy.
Art of rally‘s trickiest challenge is really just getting to grips with the controls in the beginning. The game launches you into the freeroam mode, but doesn’t provide much in the way of an instructive tutorial on how to actually drift. It helps if you mess with the default controls a bit. There’s percentages for how much counter-steer, anti-lock brakes and stability assist you want (but in the gameplay settings, not controls), while the controls menu has sensitivity and deadzones for the brakes, throttle and steering. You can also adjust the FOV and camera rotation, as well as disabling the camera shake entirely if you want.
As long as you know what you’re getting, and you’re prepared to wrestle with the controls a little to get comfortable, art of rally has tons of charm. It’s one of those indies that knows exactly what it wants to be, and hits the brief perfectly. Plus, the synthwave makes for some excellent chilled vibes.
This story has been updated, ahead of art of rally’s console release on August 12.