Review: Art of Rally
By: Roberto Nieves
Developer: Funselektor Labs
Publisher: Funselektor Labs
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Xbox Game Pass, Steam, GOG, Epic
Racing games used to be a dime a dozen in the gaming world. I grew up playing everything from Need for Speed to Gran Turismo, along with unforgettable experiences, such as Midnight Club. It's understandable as to why such a genre doesn't exist like it used to. The ultimate goal of a racing game is to drive fast, go through a course multiple times, and get first place. It's a formula done to death, and it can be seen as boring for some. To break the mold and be seen, the formula has to be done differently. In 2010, a few games dared to be different. Split/Second introduced a racing game inspired by reality TV and Michael Bay films, and Blur was a street racing game described as Mario Kart for adults. Even Modnation Racers introduced the ideas of creating your own track and your own racer in a gran international online community. Alas, all three of these games never quite took off, leaving racing into the hands of established franchises, such as Forza. Once again, for a racing game to truly go places, a game has to be willing to do something different. In the case of Art of Rally by Canadian developer Dune Casu and Funselektor Labs, racing games must return to their roots to go forwards. Following the success of Absolute Drift, the team sets its sights on the forgotten world of rally racing, making for an experience that causes a lot of trouble. Trouble in putting it down. Art of Rally introduces players to a minimalistic setting and a surreal world not far from the world of today. In this world, the world of off-road rally racing flourishes in a setting that is calling and pleasant to absorb. Glowing green plains fill the eyes, and lakes glean of the shine of the sun. There are people, but they have been reduced to the simplest of shapes, and there are cows and horses, but they have become as simple as such creatures can get. In this world, there is only rally racing and the enlightenment that such a sport can bring. It's a calming sea of light and earth; in all of its a simplistic wonder.
Similar to Absolute Drift, there is no larger focus on an overall story, except for the focus of rally racing and its impact on people, culture, and the athletes. There isn't a narrative with a protagonist and an antagonist. Instead, there is simply an experience. Art of Rally invites and comforts players into this surreal world of minimalistic racing. The visuals are complemented by a synthwave soundtrack, the highlights marvel of off-road racing. The roar of an automobile, charging through the elements of the Earth. While Art of Rally appears as a cozy racing game, it's not quite like that. Art of Rally's racing gameplay is phenomenally strong, with attention to input in particular. While Art of Rally doesn't have highly detailed terrain, as seen in games like Gravel, there is a sense of visual feeling and sensation with the terrain. Most notably, there is a tremendous amount of feedback with the handling and maneuvering of each vehicle. Each car has a degree of heft and weight, handling very differently with different speeds and maneuverability. The HD rumble in the Nintendo Switch actually compliments this sensation, as the gamepad will vibrate in different tones, deepening on the action being done. It isn't anything like the haptic feedback of the PS5, not that I've experienced it since I have yet to obtain a PS5, but it is a recognized effort as most games would feature a simple BRRR in the rumble features.
Art of Rally's racing is unique and unlike anything else. One on hand, it's scenic, relaxing even, running through a mystic off-road to the glow of a sunset. On the other end of that spectrum, it's remarkably engaging, challenging the player to understand the movement and momentum of their vehicles and handle the turns and corners with the utmost precision and timing. It isn't easy, and a mistimed moment of handbraking can send players careening off of cliffs. Fortunately, there is a reset button to get players back on the track, at the cost of a five-second penalty during a race. The racing feels genuine and authentic, even without the smaller details commonly associated with off-road driving games. Art of Rally does a lot with its minimalistic setting, and it's such a remarkable achievement. I've played games like Motorstorm that have kept me hooked into the mud-soaked trails, but Art of Rally provides that same sensational and powerful racing feeling, even with polygonal visual effects. As I gripped my Nintendo Switch firmly, my sense became fine-tuned to every roar of the engine and every screech of the tire, along with the rousing soundtrack by composer Tatreal. Playing the game both docked and undocked matches a sort of harm for Art of Rally. That charm is a small, simple, but riveting game experience and the charm of a system that can be taken on the go. Art of Rally contains a strong, lengthy single-player campaign, going through the world of rally racing from the '70s to the '80s. Surprisingly, Art of Rally has a damage system and a difficulty system tailored to the players' needs. Players can adjust their experience in Art of Rally to be as hard as they want or as easy as they wish. The difficulty is focused primarily not on the handling of the car but the likelihood of AI drivers making mistakes. Keep in mind that in races, players aren't racing others like a traditional grid race. Instead, it is one car at a time, and your time through the course is based upon your time and any mistakes you made. The easy difficulty still provides a solid challenge, especially when contending with the elements and turns. Taking damage eventually affects performance to some degree, but it doesn't make the gameplay experience impossible. At least not in a way that I was able to notice, though it did make my car look satisfyingly worn out. During certain race events, there is an opportunity to repair and clean the car through a simple repair system.
In addition to a campaign, Art of Rally contains a free-roaming mode that allows players to find collectibles and roam the maps freely at their own leisure. This is an excellent place to practice and adjust to Art of Rally's drive mechanics and play around with the physics and handling of each car, as well as take and absorb the scenery. Art of Rally does so much with its simple setting that it's impossible not to feel strongly connected to the game, its philosophy, and what it is trying to do. Granted, it isn't a perfect experience, but any blemishes are nitpicks. Art of Rally was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch and had a slight difference between docked and undocked modes. Docked, the framerate and resolution are slightly higher, while undocked, the framerate does take a slight dip but absolutely nothing close to distracting or game-breaking. Could Art of Rally have been made to go 60 frames per second? Perhaps, but I am not the engineer here, and Art of Rally runs extremely well for the Nintendo Switch.
Art of Rally is filled with ambition, and I can easily imagine the game going to big places from this concept. Perhaps we will see nods to other rally racing classics, such as Sega Rally Racing and Gran Turismo. I can also foresee races along mountains and other terrains. Of course, with drift and rally racing conquered, it will be interesting to see how street racing, F1 racing, and even NASCAR are portrayed through the lens used for Art of Rally.
Art of Rally celebrates the art of offroad racing, and I am personally excited a game such as this exists. Art of Rally strikes a balance between engaging, soothing, and immersive, with a fantastic presentation. While it may be limited in variety, it's not even a nitpick to an otherwise phenomenal game. Art of Rally was made by Dune Casu, who made the game from an RV, touring the country. Absolute Drift and Art of Rally are only two such stories that have been told by him. Like a car looking towards the endless horizon, I eagerly anticipate the next story from Dune and Funselektor. Art of Rally is an excellent racing game, and it should be in everyone's library, from consoles to PC.
Art of Rally was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch hybrid gaming system thanks to a key generously supplied to Stack Up by Future Friends Public Relations.