Dirt Rally is a hardy driving game (opens in new tab) for purists. No flashy extras, no hip 'n' happenin' commentary, no snazzy marketing campaign to drill its existence into the public consciousness—just raw, dirty rally. Now, ahead of the console release and a free PC patch adding the likes of the Peugeot 207 and video tutorials, lead designer Paul Coleman has explained the series' previous heading (opens in new tab) and its sudden change of course, exemplified by the well received absence of Dirt 3's Gymkhana mode.
"When we made Dirt 3, rally was getting smaller and smaller," Coleman told our Ben Griffin. "The sport itself was in decline: there'd been the same world champion for the last 10 years and it was almost a foregone conclusion who was going to be winning at the start of the season. Ken Block was doing his Gymkhana videos, and it made perfect sense to focus on the knew thing that he was bringing to the table. But what we knew from Dirt 2 was that players were keen for us to return to our rally roots.
"Dirt 3 was a bit split. We had a bit of backlash from our fans about how much Gymkhana there was. Ken didn't renew his contract with us and moved to Need for Speed, so we couldn't actually use Gymkhana as a licence term anymore—it would have to have been something else, which would have probably felt a bit contrived anyway. So it was just a series of circumstances that occurred over the last four years since we released Dirt 3 where we felt like Gymkhana wasn't right for us, and even if it was, we couldn't really do anything with it."
Coleman doesn't rule out a return to Dirt 3's stunt driving with Rally's technology, but he's confident in the series' new feel. As to its sudden appearance in Early Access, it sounds like the Codemasters team enjoyed being free of the standard PR cycle, whatever effect it had on their sales.
"With dirt rally we felt like it would be better to just go out there and surprise people and just say, 'Look we're making this game, it's available now, but it's in Early Access so we're going to continue to develop it for the rest of the year'. And i think people appreciated that. We're just fed up of doing that thing where you announce a game and you've got to try and keep the community motivated without telling them too much. Marketing budgets were a lot smaller. Like, tiny, bare minimum marketing on Dirt Rally, but word of mouth has meant that it's got out there.
"The fact of the matter is we weren't sure Dirt Rally was going to be a huge success."