Funselektor Labs has crafted a top-down title that offers a different perspective on rally racing.
There is something meditative about how the extremely stylistic Art of Rally portrays rally as a sport. I drive with my keyboard, as I did 25 years ago, using only one hand and falling into the rather slow game tempo in an almost hypnotic way as if my brain was connected directly to the computer. There are few games in this genre that are as soothing as Art of Rally can be, even though in the end it's about going as fast as you possibly can on gravel, ice, snow and asphalt with an old '80s rally icon from the idiotically wonderful Group B. And here, the Absolute Drift developers Funselektor Labs have really managed to find a unique and distinctive feel that isn't really reminiscent of much else in today's gaming climate.
Art of Rally intends to dissect rally as a sport down to the bone, down to the core itself. It's all about investment into corners, as early as possible, and about moderating your speed in relation to these investments. The turns should be taken before they have even begun, if you want to be fast, it is important to drive tight and the slightest mistake means that you naturally lose precious time. It doesn't feel like you're going very fast, not at all, but that is also the point.
As a player, I have time to react, plan and, since Funselektor Labs ignored the pace notes and instead placed the camera 50 meters up in the air above the car, visibility is very good. It sometimes reminds me of the old NES classic RC Pro-Am, Super Off-Road, the Amiga classic Super Cars 2, or why not my personal 16-bit favourite, Micro Machines II: Turbo Tournament. Everything is done with the help of the arrow keys and space (which acts as a brake) and it is therefore possible to drive with just one hand and stuff candy in your face with the other. Which I have done. All weekend.
The driving experience is as simple as the layout itself. The cars skid quite easily and as I said, it is about maintaining control by being soft on the gas, point braking in the right place, and at the right times meeting the skid early by tilting the front tires in the opposite direction that the car wants to go, counter-steering and balancing the car's weight with the throttle. Super basic and really easy to learn yet hard to master. I have nothing to complain about here.
The game structure is just as simple.
It all starts with a training track that acts as a HUB world and as soon as you have become fairly comfortable with the feeling of the car, it's all about going all out in the career mode, touring the world and winning rally after rally to unlock more classic cars. The cars are all based on classics such as the 206, the S1, the HF Integrale Delta, the Stratos and the Kadett GT, but Funselektor Labs lacks the licenses, which means that they have been redone a little (a little) and renamed them with made-up names. In a full-size rally game like Dirt Rally 2.0 or WRC 9, this would be a problem for me. In Art of Rally, it becomes rather appropriate, and a little cute. The cars differ quite a lot from each other as well, at least handling wise, which I did not initially expect, and it is important to learn how they behave early on in order to be able to complete the distances with competitive times.
The graphics are delicious. So stylistic, minimalist and set in a colour scheme that is as dreamy and lovely as very few of today's games dare to be. Together with the superb music that offers pulsating beats and sweeping, beautiful tones in a very impressive 5.1 mix, the audiovisual experience that Funselektor Labs offers here is something out of the ordinary. Of course, Art of Rally is not a competitor to the genre giants Dirt Rally 2.0 or WRC 9, instead, it's a fun retro racer that entertains on merits that for too long have been lost in time.
7 / 10
Beautiful to behold; The music is superb; Easy to learn handling; Great variety across the environments.
Stages are very much the same when it comes down to the actual corners; Low sense of speed.