Art of Rally is what happens when you take driving—usually depicted in video games as a very loud and busy thing—and strip it back to its most beautiful basics.
An incredibly minimalist effort from Funselektor (of Absolute Drift fame), it’s a full-blown single-player racing game described as “a stylized experience inspired by the golden era of rally,” where you race from the ‘60s through to the ‘90s across idyllic countryside, with little to keep you company except...the countryside.
This game is beautiful. The in-game stuff is obviously what’s getting the most attention, but there’s an adherence to minimalism that extends through the rest of the game as well, with gorgeously bare, hassle-free menu screens also a highlight. Even the in-game graphic design is superb, replacing actual brands (or parodies of brands) like Shell with simple slogans and cool little logos like “OIL”.
Art of Rally’s minimalism serves a purpose. It’s not just a random aesthetic choice. It’s there to help create a zen-like experience. As is the electronic soundtrack that quickly retreats, kicks its feet up and puts on its slippers in the background. There’s no commentary, no pop-ups warning you about stuff, no other drivers out there, it’s just you, the car and a lot of gravel corners.
In every race the soft visuals and lo-fi music, combined with the competition-free nature of rally (you’re never overtaking or being overtaken), means that everything that’s not the most direct parts of driving fades away into the periphery, and all you’re doing is focusing on the ground in front of you.
It’s like Tony Hawk, or Super Monkey Ball. Just this laser-sharp way of getting the player to focus on doing a handful of basic things over and over to the point where perfection, while never attainable, always seems tantalisingly close on the horizon. Seconds turned into minutes then hours while I played this, as I sat there entering race after race, honing my skills, pushing the envelope and unlocking new tracks and cars, each somehow cooler than the last.
The driving here is just so good! Like everything else in Art of Rally, the beauty in its handling is in its simplicity. You need to master braking and sometimes drifting, and that’s it. But the gently undulating courses, distracting you with their beauty and cunning successions of corners and jumps, are a constant test of your reflexes. Yet I haven’t met a course, location or weather condition I didn’t love, and even the worst car’s handling is smooth and a blast to drift around in.
Oh, and me bringing up a “zen-like experience” isn’t just reaching for a lazy trope. It’s literally the point of the game, which opens with an intro where the disembodied premise of career mode is explained by...Buddha.
Art of Rally is out on September 23 (tomorrow!) on PC. This trailer will show you everything you need to know: