Ever since we established DiRT Rally as the greatest racing simulation of 2015 here on PRC.net, a small yet extremely vocal crop of sim racers have cried foul. Despite our gushing review of the title in the fall of 2015 – which indicated you needed to run out and purchase this game if you hadn’t already – certain hardcore sim racers were simply not sold on the potential this game had to dethrone Richard Burns Rally as the greatest point-to-point off road experience of all time. For a while, I believed these anonymous users were nothing more than obsessive trolls, desperate to extend the lifespan of a simulator that they had grown emotionally attached to, rather than move forward into something new.
Make no mistake, DiRT Rally is a phenomenal rally game. The combination of impressive visuals and authentic physics is something the sub-genre desperately needed, especially considering front-runner Richard Burns Rally had been conceived during the height of the PlayStation 2 era and most certainly wasn’t easy on the eyes. However, when it comes down to comparing the two titles in terms of accuracy in the raw driving model, dedicated DiRT Rally players have accidentally stumbled into the lone element keeping DiRT Rally planted firmly on the simcade side of the fence.
Downforce is the process of large quantities of air being displaced over top of a race car while at speed, which plants the car to the ground and increases the vertical force on the tires – producing an increased level of grip. Sideforce, on the other hand, is the process of airflow catching the side of the car while the vehicle’s angle of attack is not directly facing forward; in simpler terms, air hits the side of the car while cornering and also generates downforce. The reason you’ll see World of Outlaws Sprint Cars run such mammoth asymmetrical wings, and retain ludicrous speeds through the center of the corner, is to generate insane levels of sideforce and drive the whole track almost wide open.
There have been a group of sim racers claiming DiRT Rally’s tire model has been heavily simplified for mass market appeal – it’s a Codemasters game after all – but to everyone’s collective surprise, this isn’t actually the case. The main problem with DiRT Rally’s physics, as displayed in the video uploaded by Ethan Dean above, is the ridiculous levels of sideforce generated by every car in the game. Dean can be seen throwing a variety of rally cars off of the biggest natural jump in the game, and they are literally curving in the air like a cheeky baseball pitch. The Peugeot Group B entry, which was literally just a hatchback with an absurdly powerful engine stuffed in the boot, takes off from the far side of the screen in the very end of the video, and curves so rapidly mid-air it actually goes into the spectator section with what appears to be forward propulsion.
Technical terms aside, DiRT Rally’s physics engine, and the underlying values governing each car, have been written in a way where there is a literal hand of God catching the car in the center of the corner and stabilizing it far beyond what would ever occur in real life. This is what’s allowing some of the Aliens on YouTube to post ludicrous world record times while seemingly throwing the car around like it’s an Xbox game from a decade ago. Codemasters have given econoboxes with no aerodynamic pieces whatsoever, the aerodynamic properties of a Sprint Car when cornering.
The delicate act of balancing the car on the edge that has become a stable of Richard Burns Rally’s grueling difficulty level, is simply not present in DiRT Rally. You have a giant invisible wing guiding the car when you’re even the least bit sideways.