There are several different categories to choose from that fall under the broad heading of racing simulators. Rally simulators are one of them, and they are arguably one of the most entertaining forms of sim racing available. However, there is a lot of variation in the quality of these sims.
The 5 best rally simulators are:
- DiRT Rally 2.0
- WRC 8
- DiRT Rally
- Project Cars 2
- V Rally 4
Each of these games brings something unique to the sim racing table, and we will look into each one in more detail below. However, before you go out and choose which one is right for you, it is important to think about what you need to look for in a rally simulator.
What To Look For In A Good Rally Simulator
As with any kind of racing simulator, there are plenty of variables to consider before you buy one. These factors vary from the way the game looks and sounds to the way it feels and how realistic it is. You need to consider each factor individually, in the context of what you want to gain from the game. So, in no particular order, let’s take a look at each one in detail.
How It Looks & Sounds
The first thing a lot of people consider when buying any racing game, and in particular rally games, is the way it looks. Graphics are very important, as they can have an effect on the realism of the game as well as the playability. If the game doesn’t look great, it just simply will not be as fun to play. The most fun rally games tend to be those that look the best.
Graphics in rally games are very important as the racing involves a lot of terrain changes, flying dirt and debris, and rapid changes in the scenery as you go around countless bends. With so much going on in the game from a visual point of view, it is key that the game captures everything well. If the game looks good, chances are it will feel good too.
Aside from the visuals, the sounds in the game are also important. As games have gotten better graphically over time, they have also improved their sound quality as well. From the noises of the engines to the sounds of the rain and the mud as you slide round corners, there is a lot to listen out for in a rally game, so high-quality audio can be almost as important as the visuals.
Track & Car Variation
The number of tracks and cars in the game can be a deciding factor across all categories of racing sims. In rally games, the tracks are arguably the most important part. You will often find several layouts of the same track, with shorter versions and reversed options as well. But no matter how many there are, if they are not well-designed, they will be difficult to play.
For some, the realism aspect of the tracks is important, but even if you don’t mind how well they represent the real thing, you still want the tracks to be playable. This means they need to be detailed enough to pose a challenge, but you also want a variety of lengths and difficulties. This will make them more suitable for a range of experience levels.
This goes across to the number of cars available as well. Having a wide selection of cars in different categories will also help to make the game more playable for a wider audience. However, it will also mean you can challenge yourself with different types of car too. You want a good mix, as if there aren’t many cars to choose from you might not find one you like, or you might get bored quickly.
The level of customization in rally games is also important. The in-game options can range from very few to quite a lot, and they can offer even more room for making the game better suited to your individual experience level. Being able to change things about the car, such as weight distribution and the type of tire you are using, will give you more control over your experience.
Compatibility is another important factor to consider, as a lot of racing games are only available on certain consoles. Most rally games are not exclusive to one platform, but not all have full compatibility. Thus, you have to make sure that your setup supports whatever game it is that you want, so you don’t end up wasting money on a game that you can’t even play.
However, compatibility reaches further than just your platform of choice. You also have to make sure that your chosen game works with your sim racing setup. There is no point having a high-quality wheel and pedal rig if your favorite game doesn’t support it. Most of the best rally games do support racing rigs, but it is definitely something to remember to check before you buy.
One of the most important factors from a realism point of view is the way the game portrays the driving experience. The driving physics of a rally game can ‘make or break’ it in terms of quality. If realism is what you are going for, you want to make sure that the game does a good job of portraying what it is like to drive a real rally car.
Rally driving is a lot more chaotic than most other types of racing, and so there is a lot more movement going on. This means that if the driving physics are way off, it just won’t feel right and it can be very difficult to control the car. These problems can be amplified if you are using a sim racing rig rather than just a controller, as you will struggle to find the right settings to use.
Another aspect of realism with rally simulators is the damage simulation. If you really want to experience a realistic rally racing game, you won’t be able to slam into every rock and tree and still expect to drive at your top speed. The best rally games involve intuitive damage simulation that provides realistic results when you crash the car.
Although this can be difficult for beginners to get used to, it definitely provides a more realistic feel to the game. It also presents more of a challenge, and so it will make the game more engaging than if you were to just get away with bad driving. Damage simulation has the added benefit of training you to avoid crashing, because if you do it will just become harder to drive.
The ability to compete with real people is also important when considering which rally simulator to go for. A lot of rally games do not offer multiplayer capability, and some that do have very limited options. If you want to experience the true competitive nature of rally racing, a game with a solid multiplayer game mode is a must.
So, now that you know what to look for in a good rally sim, what else might you need to get started?
Extra Equipment You Might Need
If you are going for a truly realistic rally racing experience, you need to expand your setup from simply a good TV and a controller. You will need a decent sim racing rig, with the basics being a steering wheel and a set of pedals. Without these, it will be hard to emulate the true feel of sliding around a corner before putting your foot down and accelerating across the line.
A good steering wheel will make the corners feel exciting, and you will find yourself fighting for grip every second. Pedals will also prove to be a good investment, as you will need to learn how to manage your throttle with your braking. This can be very difficult to do with your fingers on a controller, especially when rally racing involves a lot of the handbrake.
So, the next thing you should consider buying is a handbrake for your racing rig. Almost every corner requires using it, and so it is one of the most important pieces of equipment in a real rally car. A decent handbrake can be bought on a budget, and it will allow you to experience more realism while also helping you to improve your driving as well.
Aside from a handbrake, another great addition to your rally racing setup would be a sequential gear shifter. It will be almost impossible to set the best course times using an automatic setup, and H-pattern shifters can also be difficult to master with the constant speed changes involved on a rally course.
A good handbrake and a decent sequential shifter will work wonders for your driving, although they will take some time to get used to. The benefits to be gained from these simple pieces of equipment far outweigh the relatively small financial and time costs. So, now that you have the right setup, let’s find out what the best rally simulators are right now!
1. DiRT Rally 2.0
Platform: Windows, PS4 & Xbox One | Year of release: 2019
At the top of our list is the latest in the DiRT franchise. DiRT Rally 2.0 was first released in February of 2019, and since then it has provided excellent rally driving experiences to those on both PC and console. The game is part of the famous Colin McRae rally series, which is known across the world for providing some of the best rally games over the years.
In terms of visuals and sounds, Dirt 2.0 doesn’t make too much of an improvement on the first Dirt game, which will be discussed below. The cars and the tracks are highly detailed, but the rest of the environment seems to have received less work. This is perhaps the only main drawback of the game however, and it doesn’t take much away from the actual playing experience.
What Dirt 2.0 does very well is capturing the realism of rally racing. One of the ways it does this involves its brilliant surface degradation feature. This involves the tracks changing as more drivers use it, which means the first run will be very different form the final run. This is similar to the track dynamism seen in other racing simulators, where more rubber is laid on the track each lap.
The realism extends further than just the track, as the actual driving physics of Dirt Rally 2.0 are spot on. You will find yourself twisting and turning your wheel constantly as if you are really negotiating all of the corners. The game can be played well on a controller, but to experience the sheer realism of the game you need a good racing rig, with at least a racing wheel and pedals.
Extensive Lineup Of Cars & Tracks
The game involves an impressive lineup of 80+ cars and 26 locations, meaning you will be able to try out each one and have a completely unique experience. This adds to the game’s playability, as the variety of cars and tracks means you will always have new combinations to try. The cars range from WRC to GT4, and each one handles and drives as they would in real life, presenting unique challenges.
The game also offers a lot of tuning options, which can add to the realism while also giving you more control over your own experience. The game is ideal for advanced sim racers due to the heightened realism and variety of tracks, but it can also be a fun challenge for new racers. DiRT Rally 2.0 is definitely our number one choice for best rally simulator.
- Highly realistic driving physics
- Intelligent surface dynamism
- Lots of cars and tracks
- Graphics are fairly average
2. WRC 8
Platform: Windows, PS4, Xbox One & Nintendo Switch | Year of release: 2019
Released in late 2019, WRC 8 is second on our list. This is a game that does well to cover the fun side of rally driving while also maintaining a decent level of realism. You can enjoy this game on a gamepad very easily, while a wheel setup will also provide some solid entertainment alongside a very good challenge. This means the game suits sim racers of all experience levels.
The gameplay is made up of several different modes, with a long career mode that involves a lot of customization and management. This can make the game an enjoyable one for those that like progression, but you can of course just decide to race on the tracks that you like the most under time trial conditions. There is definitely a lot to do in WRC 8.
WRC 8 does a good job of emulating the competition aspect of real-life rally racing, featuring the same 14-country roster of locations as the real thing. There are some stunning visuals as well, from the lighting effects to the realistic weather too. You will be able to enjoy some brilliant sound effects, from the cheering crowds to the roaring engines.
As WRC 8 is the official simulator for the World Rally Championship, it comes with a large range of fully licensed vehicles and tracks. There are more than 100 stages in the game, providing plenty of opportunities to test your rally racing skills. With the large range of cars, you will be able to find playing combinations for every occasion, so you will not get bored playing WRC 8.
High Level Of Playability
This is a rally simulator that puts more focus on playability than realism, but not enough to make it an arcade racer. The physics feel very reasonable on all racing surfaces, which sets it far apart from other rally games that struggle to find the balance between fun and realism. The cars do handle well with supported wheel setups, so you can have some truly immersive fun in WRC 8.
WRC 8 is second on our list of best rally simulators and is a very good choice for racers of all experience levels. If you are a beginner, you will enjoy the different game modes within the game and the elements of progression. But even if you are a more advanced sim racer, you will find the physics and the level of immersion to be on par with some of the best racing sims out there.
- Fun game modes to choose from
- Lots of fully licensed cars and tracks
- Good driving physics
- Some areas lack visual detail
3. DiRT Rally
Platform: Windows, Linux, Mac, PS4 & Xbox One | Year of release: 2015
DiRT Rally is the predecessor to the number one spot on our list, and it is well deserving of its own spot too. The game was first released in 2015, and still holds its own against a lot of its competitors. The game looks great for its time, and the sounds have been really well-captured too, from the engine roars to the sound of gravel spraying under your wheels.
Tracks & Cars
The game offers a reasonable number of cars and tracks, with more than 40 vehicles to choose from alongside 36 course variations. The tracks range from Greek courses to tracks in Finland and Sweden. Although there are not as many cars as the newer Dirt 2.0, there are still enough to keep you entertained for a long time, and you will be able to race with cars from several groups.
Multiplayer & Compatibility
There is multiplayer capability within Dirt Rally, which adds a new level of competition to the already exciting base game. No matter which game mode you choose, Dirt Rally does present a good challenge for drivers of all experience levels. However, if you are a beginner, you might find it harder than some other driving games, but it is very rewarding when you get used to it.
The game supports most racing setups, but as it is a few years old it is definitely worth double checking that yours is compatible. You can master the game with a controller, but this will definitely be a challenge. A good sim racing rig will make this game a lot easier, and a lot more fun. Not only that, but it will also help to make it feel even more realistic.
For its age, Dirt Rally still holds its own against a lot of other racing sims. The fun factor is definitely there, but the game also provides reasonably realistic driving physics. Alongside the good physics sit a decent number of tuning options, which gives a good range of control over your driving experience. All in all, Dirt Rally is a good choice for any sim racer.
- A good number of cars and tracks
- Excellent sounds
- Ideal for drivers of all experience levels
- Career mode requires a lot of grinding to get new cars
4. Project Cars 2
Platform: Windows, PS4 & Xbox One | Year of release: 2017
In fourth place, we have Project Cars 2. Although not built to be a rally simulator, PC2 has a rally element built into it that rivals a lot of the other rally games on the market today. The game was released in 2017 and is compatible with consoles and PCs as well.
A Lot Of Realism
The compatibility extends from the consoles to the racing rigs that you can use. Project Cars 2 puts a strong focus on realism across its track racing, with some truly innovative features such as Live Track 3.0, which lays rubber on the track during each lap. This changes the track surface, just like it would be affected in real life. This strong focus on realism continues into the rally mode.
Although limited to rally cross racing, rather than point to point courses, PC2 still delivers a unique racing experience. The physics of the cars is carried over from the rest of the game, where it does an exceptionally realistic job of it. You will find subtle differences between the cars that will make every race feel very unique, and you can still have a lot of control over the customization.
Project Cars 2 also offers VR support, which is quite unique for rally games. Although VR support was added to Dirt Rally 2.0, the VR in PC2 is on another level. This allows you to play with your favorite sim racing rig and experience even more immersion.
Project Cars 2 has a very good rally mode, and although it is quite limited in terms of cars and tracks, its VR capabilities and realistic driving physics grabs it a spot on our list of the best rally simulators.
- Very good driving physics
- VR capabilities
- Very realistic experience overall
- Limited to rally cross
- Not that many cars to choose from
5. V Rally 4
Platform: Windows, PS4, Xbox One & Nintendo Switch | Year of release: 2018
In fifth place on our list we have V Rally 4, which was first released in late 2018, and is compatible with PC, PS4, Xbox One and even Nintendo Switch. This makes it one of the most compatible games on this list, and so is accessible to a wider market. It is much more focused on fun than the other games on this list, and some even class it as an arcade rally game rather than a rally simulator.
Nonetheless, given that it is a relatively recent addition to the rally genre, and the fact that it does provide a lot of fun, V Rally 4 is still on our list of best rally simulators. The realism factor is quite low, with the driving physics being tuned to suit beginner racers as well as more experienced gamers. This means it might not be the right choice for advanced sim racers.
In terms of cars and tracks, V Rally 4 has a reasonable selection, but again this is not where realism is a focus. The tracks are not quite the best representations of their real-life counterparts, and there is not a great deal of detail when it comes to the cars. However, the tracks are definitely varied.
They range from Japanese courses to Malaysian ones too, with Siberian options even being available as well. The tracks themselves look great, and the environments are super colorful, making for a very entertaining playing experience. They play fairly well, but again it involves much less realistic physics and is geared towards those that want to just enjoy the race.
Focus On Fun
In terms of playability, V Rally 4 does very well. You can play the game with a wheel setup, although there are fewer options than on some other games. The primary method of playing this game will be using a controller, and you can enjoy several game modes including multiplayer.
Although V Rally 4 is more on the arcade side of things, it is still a very decent rally game. It is a good choice for those just getting into sim racing, and for those that just want to have a bit of fun without worrying too much about the realism.
- Brilliant visuals
- Good range of tracks and cars
- Compatible with a lot of platforms
- Optimized for controllers, not wheels
- Less realistic than others
When it comes to picking a rally simulator, you have to consider what your own setup allows for. If you only have a gamepad to play with, you are limiting yourself to some of the more arcade-style racing games. For these situations, V Rally 4 is a good choice, with WRC 8 being very playable as well.
However, if you want some extra realism and have a decent sim racing rig, games like DiRT Rally 1 & 2 will give you a new level of immersion. The high compatibility of these titles along with their realistic driving physics, extensive car and track lists and the amount of fun they provide set them apart as our top picks for the best rally simulators you can buy.