Oh! This is unexpected. Codemasters have just announced Dirt Rally [Steam page] and the news comes with the unusual detail that the game is also out already via Steam Early Access. Although it's got the Dirt name, Rally tosses out all the screeching gymkhana flash in favour of focusing on muddy roads, too-close trees and the feeling of your backwheels lurching perilously out of control. Trundle below for a launch trailer and some further details.
The dirty, dirty Dirt game costs £25 (10% off for launch week) and includes 14 cars and three rally locations: Powys in Wales, Monte Carlo in Monaco, and Argolis in Greece. That sounds like a fine starting point to me. Development so far has apparently focused on the game's physics system, which means that though it has careful simulation of different types of road surface - important for this kind of game, obviously - it may not yet or ever have the razzledazzle interface and thousands of game modes that normally come with a modern racing game. Currently the plan is for the Early Access to run til the end of 2015 when the game will release in full with a higher price.
PCGamesN have more detail on the game and its creation. For example, that Codemasters are planning on running tournaments throughout the Early Access process to try to inspire a competitive community, and that the game was made by a small team while everyone else was focused on Grid Autosport.
The streamlined goals of Dirt Rally all sound appealing to me. Most of my favourite racing games were those that tossed off the shackles of closed circuit racing in favour of off-road rallying; games that were about trundling carefully across muddy islands and snowy wastes. In terms of the enjoyment I gained from them, they were wheel-attached predecessors to walking and survival simulators. I also just re-connected my steering wheel to my PC for a weekend of driving around muddy roads in crash-physics simulator BeamNG.drive, so Dirt Rally arrives at the perfect time.
And blimey, isn't it nice to have a game from a big publisher that you can play the moment you hear of it, instead of years after. Kudos to Codies for experimenting in this way.