Over the last month I’ve been playing a lot of both Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Fortnite. And those are both big, complicated games, with lots of little intricate systems that you have to learn to excel, like Zelda’s insane “stick anything to anything” weapon and vehicle system and Fortnite’s rotating pools of fiddly guns and movement mechanics. After finishing Zelda, I craved something simple and focused to help me unwind, and I found it in Art of Rally.
This top-down racing game from 2020 is about as simple as racing gets: Start at the starting line, finish at the finish line, and do your best to minimize the time in between them. It’s also visually simple, eschewing both the latest bells and whistles of the Unreal engine and the trendy pixels and voxels of most recent indie games for a clean, low-poly look that emphasizes lighting and weather to give each location character. As with real rally racing, there are no other cars on the track, just you and the clock.
But the simplicity of the setup is deceptive. Art of Rally is a game that’s deeply in love with rally racing, both its straightforward mechanics and its history. In the main campaign you’ll get a truncated tour of the history of rally’s rise to prominence, and you’ll unlock the cars that made that history. Unfortunately there’s a bit of obfuscation in the names and livery of these famous cars, but fans of the sport will be able to spot the intended homages instantly, and the rest of us can probably figure it out with a little Googling.
The surprising depth extends to the racing itself. Despite the simplicity of the tracks, this is a racing game that absolutely demands your full attention and focus, with each car handling differently on asphalt, dirt, and snow, reacting to the rise and fall of the road with realistic physics. Art of Rally might not look much like AAA entries like Codemasters’ Dirt or V-Rally, but it demands just as much skill from players even if you don’t opt for the optional manual transmission. (Hey, don’t judge me, I can drive stick in real life.)
The contrast between the soothing visuals and music and the absolutely demanding gameplay is a rare one, reminding me a bit of Risk of Rain 2 without the multiplayer. While it presents almost like a “chill” game a la Unpacking, it will absolutely punish you the moment you lose focus or take the track for granted. It’s not an impossible challenge — there’s a rather forgiving reset button that lets you undo a crash for a limited number of times — but mastering the vehicles and physics will take time, intention, and no small amount of patience. This isn’t the kind of game you can play with YouTube running on the other monitor.
Art of Rally is a pure and uncluttered experience, but that might also be its one failing. Once you complete the excellent campaign, there isn’t much to do except roam in free mode and get acquainted with the (admittedly gorgeous) photo tool. There are daily and weekly events from the developer, but those are essentially just remixes of existing content, like the custom livery that are the only built-in game mods. That might seem a bit anemic for a $25 game, though you can often find a key for far cheaper.
That said, Art of Rally is an absolute treat for anyone who loves technical, precision racing, and wants a game that doesn’t demand a huge commitment in time. Or a huge commitment in GPU power, for that matter: Even with the settings turned up to the max, most GPUs can handle this game without breaking a sweat, and even my dinky little ThinkPad with integrated graphics managed to keep it humming along on integrated graphics. I’m sure it would make a great addition to a Steam Deck.
Michael is a former graphic designer who’s been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.