Developer: Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios / Publisher: Microsoft Studios / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: 1,600 MSP ($20) / ESRB: Teen [Drug Reference, Language, Suggestive Themes]
The devs behind Forza Horizon seem to be on a mission to resurrect every dormant racing experience I once loved. The main game perfectly recreated the open-world Tokyo Xtreme Racer formula, and with the Rally Expansion Pack, they’re dusting off a fading corner of racing that has only been faithfully borne by the incredible Colin McRae / DiRT series.
Unfortunately, while Horizon completely nailed its ambition, the Rally DLC doesn’t hit the mark as completely.
This DLC includes seven rally tracks, each of which are broken up into four stages that include moderate overlap. Just as in the Horizon campaign, the design of the tracks shows a real passion for rally racing. Though the tracks are still located in Colorado, they still contain every rally hallmark: winding mountain passes, deceptively flat desert runs, and pastoral forests. Forza Horizon’s track and environment designs were completely stellar and that holds through to the DLC.
The game’s physics engine crosses the divide between tarmac and gravel / dirt extremely well too. I was initially concerned that the game just wouldn’t “feel” right in a rally setting, but the first time I flipped my car sideways and pulled a rad powerslide through a banked turn erased my doubts. Horizon’s individual assists for braking, shifting, and driving lines will help rally newcomers ease in to the experience too.
However, many features could’ve (and should’ve, given the DLC’s price) been included. First off, the rally courses aren’t integrated into Horizon’s open world at all. You simply pick the rally course you want from the menu and off you go. I could get over that, but the co-driver providing directions in this DLC isn’t that great either. He only calls out corners in five different severities (easy, mid, hard, square, and jhairpin).
With no option to switch him over to more detailed course notes, I had to rely on trial and error to learn the stages. Additionally, his callouts are occasionally mistimed. I’d be setting up to cut a corner only to hear “don’t cut” right as I was entering the turn. Invariably I’d nick a rock and my car would be launched into the air as though I’d hit a pinball bumper.
And on the topic of rocks, some of the track layouts are unnecessarily cruel for drivers that don’t use rewind. Trees that will stop you completely and small, hard-to-see rocks that flip your car are often placed in locations that you’re bound to hit if you take a corner just a smidge too fast. This can turn a simple wall bump and maybe another second on your finish time to a catastrophic DNF. That’s never fun at the end of a six minute rally stage.
Ultimately, though there’s not a lot of competition in rally racing, Horizon Rally has to answer to DiRT 3, which is a better rally experience… not to mention so much cheaper (at the time of writing.)
The Rally DLC is also playable online, which offers a fantastic experience with a few annoyances. One gripe I have with vanilla Horizon multiplayer is still true here — if you don’t have a car tuned to a specific performance grade, you get a loaner that is measurably worse than your competitors. You could have all the credits in the world to buy and tune an appropriate car, but there’s simply no way to do it from the multiplayer menu.
Additionally, even though player collision is usually turned off, other players are still visible while racing. This is extremely distracting as each car kicks up a giant plume of track-concealing dust. I didn’t find any option to disable this either, which gives an unfair advantage to whoever is leading the pack.
The core of the Horizon Rally DLC is solid; it recreates superbly the rally racing experience. Only in the additional features does this DLC fall short, which is less forgivable given its price point. It’s difficult to be a beggar and a chooser when there isn’t much rally racing in the game space, there’s little reason to get this DLC if you have any of the DiRT games to play.