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The next Dirt is PC only, Early Access and out today

Dirt Rally, a hardcore return to off-road driving, hits Steam this afternoon.

Codemasters' next Dirt game is a hardcore off-road simulation of traditional rally, is currently exclusive to PC and is also Early Access. It's also out today, with Dirt Rally - as it's called - available on Steam for £24.99.

Developed by the core Dirt team, Dirt Rally is the start of what will be the next big instalment for Codemasters' off-road series, and the most simulation minded game the studio's developed yet. The initial offering has 17 cars and 36 stages from three locations - Wales, Monte Carlo and Acropolis - and draws upon the real-life rally experiences of the game's director Paul Coleman.

The handling model is much more unforgiving than earlier Dirt games, and the rewind feature has been scrapped as an emphasis is placed on endurance. The damage you take over a stage can be fixed in-between stages, though you'll only have a limited window of time and number of engineers at your disposal - and you can acquire more engineers by progressing through the game. The stages themselves are also much closer to their real-life inspiration, with the Monte Carlo Rally's Col de Turini making an appearance in the first batch of tracks.

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Codemasters also stated that there will be no microtransactions in Dirt Rally, with all updates throughout the game's lifespan free to those that pay the one-off entry fee. The first significant updates are over the next few months, with an all-new take on the legendary Pike's Peak hill climb as well as a handful of associated cars due at the end of May and a selection of tarmac courses in Germany due at the end of June.

There will inevitably be questions about console versions, and while Codemasters can't commit to anything right now, it seems they're part of the plan.

"For me, this is the fourth Dirt," Coleman told Eurogamer. "Naming aside, there are conversations going on at an executive level, and there's a sense that if we call it Dirt 4 are people expecting all the bells and whistles of a console product with all the production values associated with it. They want to save that name for that product.

"My hope is that this builds into that, and certainly any initial discussions about where we go next after this - and it's all very high level at the moment - are to another Dirt product, and take the learnings of this and make the high production level product people are expecting from this studio.

"This is a circumstantial thing, and it's important to get this out there in its current format and getting people playing and giving us feedback on it. If people don't like it now, we need to do something about it now and use it to inform where we go in the future. That may mean returning to the previous format. But I hope the connoisseurs, the fact the audience has shifted a little bit and there are people playing both on console and on PC, I get the sense that people are crying out for a much deeper and much more refined experience they can really feel invested in."

Codemasters has downsized in recent months, with layoffs hitting the company earlier this year. Its first game on the new generation of consoles, F1 2015, is due out this June, while a new Overlord was also announced last week.

We've further impressions on Dirt Rally and an extensive interview with Paul Coleman elsewhere on the site.