Here’s a little known fact; while the original DiRT Rally may title itself as a rally sim it’s actually a horror game in disguise, especially in VR. It has an uncanny ability to constantly put you on the edge of your driving limits with rocks, trees and drops mere inches away from your spinning tires. It’s fucking terrifying, like being stuck on a roller coaster that’s falling apart while you urge it to go quicker and quicker.
But like any good horror film or game, DiRT Rally 2.0 seeks to lull you into a false sense of security. Jump into a Championship or the My Team career mode and you’ll be given an ancient machine with just 4-gears and the acceleration of an old lady in a Skoda. Just getting up a hill can result in the car coughing and heaving its mass to the top. Driving these classic rally machines has its own set of unique challenges, but it’s hardly terrifying.
No, for terrifying you need to race a few stages in the classic cars then hop out, enter free play and choose a modern rallying machine. Suddenly, there’s far, far too much acceleration and more power than you could ever potentially need. It doesn’t matter about top speed because getting anywhere near it is an exercise in screaming and tensing up all your muscles until you turn into a ball of pure cramps. It. Is. Fucking. Glorious.
It isn’t as glorious as it should be, though. Let’s get something out of the way; there’s absolutely zero VR support for DiRT Rally 2.0 out of the box. Considering the original DiRT Rally was a major reason for me to buy a wheel and a VR headset Codemasters’ decision not to have full VR support at launch is disappointing. However, the good news is that Oculus Rift support will arrive sometime in the summer. If you’re one of the growing crowd of people who simply can’t imagine ever going back to flat screens when racing, hold off until then.
Weirdly, you have to be online so that you can log in into Codemasters’ RaceNet in order to access the main meat of the game in the My Team panel. Codemasters, while I appreciate needing to be online for some aspects of the game, the main single player career is not one of them. Here you can progress through separate Rally and Rallycross championships while earning cash to spend on new cars and upgrades to your existing vehicles. It’s nothing we haven’t seen and in comparison to Codemaster’s efforts in F1 2018 or DiRT 4 it feels surprisingly bare-bones and under developed. Upgrading your cars, for example, just means choosing whether to bump up engine performance at the cost of some reliability, or chucking in a clutch or set of brakes that won’t wear down as quickly. That’s it. You can spend some cash on upgrading your crew as well, but the benefits never feel worthwhile.
On the track DiRT Rally 2.0 successfully recaptures the first games fantastic feat of making you feel constantly on the very edge. There’s no chance to rest on the various stages; you constantly have to be making adjustments due to bumps, humps and dodgy cambers shifting your car around, and if you aren’t doing that then you’re probably slamming on the brakes or feathering the throttle.
Speaking of which, the throttle is probably the most immediate change I noticed from the original DiRT Rally. Now, you have to be a lot more controlled with the pedal (or trigger, if you’re on a controller) or risk the car spinning in circles.
It’s hard to describe just how tense the racing is as your co-driver calmly attempts to deliver the stage’s pace notes while you barely manage to keep your car on the road. There’s a level of intensity few other racing games can even dream of matching. Whether it’s accurate to real life or not is something I can’t answer due to having never been in a rally car, but frankly it doesn’t matter because DiRT Rally 2.0 feels real. When you pile into a tree it’s your fault and your fault only. If you come last it’s your fault and your fault only. If you just suck, well, it’s your fault and your fault only. You can never blame the game because the cars behave exactly how you would expect them too. They’re beasts that perform at their best when you are on the very ragged edge. Taming them takes time and skill, but the rewards come in the form of immense satisfaction and plenty of thrills.
Tarmac is where DiRT Rally 2.0 is the weakest. Naturally the grip is a lot better on asphalt, leading to plenty of fun as you toss cars into turns much faster than you would dream of on gravel. However, the tires don’t feel properly connected to the tarmac like they would in real life, instead there’s the sensation that you’re gliding on top of some invisible layer of plastic. But it needs to be made very clear that racing on tarmac is by no means bad. It simply could have done with more work yet.
Making the racing an even bigger cause of stress is the lack of safety nets. Unlike other racing titles, including Codemasters’ own games, there’s no instant rewind feature to get you out of a tight spot. A crash makes taking damage and a hefty time penalty, especially if you need to use the reset button. You also get a limited number of restarts per event, so you have to choose carefully when to use them.
Of course, there are bunches of driving assists you can play around with in order to get the balance you like, plus a slider for A.I. difficulty. Although this is a tough game purely from a racing standpoint the A.I. can be surprisingly easy to beat, especially at first. Eschewing a rally school or proper tutorial Codemaster’s seem to have opted for easy to beat A.I. for the first while.
Prior to launch Codemasters made a pretty big deal about their new track degradation system which promised to alter the surface of stages depending on where you are in the running order. If a bunch of cars go pelting off into the distance before you, for example, then the surface of the stage will have a lot more ruts in it that could potentially grab your tyres. It’s a cool idea on paper but one that ultimately made almost no difference to my experience. Without playing each stage dozens of times at varying times of the day you can’t tell if the track condition is any different to its norm. Still, if you sink plenty of hours into the game you may grow to appreciate the system. Only time will tell.
Aside from the usual swathe of car tuning options there’s also ability to switch tires. You’ll now be able to choose from soft, medium and hard compounds as well as wets. Naturally, the softer the tire the faster you can go but the quicker it degrades, so you’ll need to check out the forthcoming stages and pick out what you think is best. It’s a nice new addition that adds a tad more thoughtfulness to the game.
Personally, I spent most of my time playing DiRT Rally 2.0 using a Logitech G920 steering wheel and shifter. Everything worked perfectly fine as soon as I plugged the wheel in. The only issue is that force feedback is set to 100% by default and that results in a very heavy feel. I’d suggest turning it down. I’m no rally expert but I do know that the handling on them is actually very light, but I guess Codemasters’ wanted the heavier feel because it’s probably what most people expect.
On controller things can be quite tough as modulating throttle and brake with the triggers takes practice. Eventually, though, you’ll get the hang of it. This is certainly the kind of game I’d recommend having a wheel for, but if you want to stick with a controller then you should still be able to have plenty of fun.
If you get bored with the rallying (how could you even?) then you can jump into the Rallycross, of which DiRT Rally 2.0 is the Official Videogame. For those of you who may not be aware, Rallycross is closed-circuit racing where the track switches between tarmac and dirt. Laps are very short and the action is hectic. There’s plenty of it to watch on Youtube and I heartily recommend checking it out if you want to gnarly racing.
Anyway, the available eight Rallycross tracks offer up a fun change of pace to the rally stages. The circuit nature means doing well is more about perfecting your lap versus rallying where it’s more about flooring it and hoping for the best. While I personally prefer the point-to-point action of classic rallying the WRX events offer a great way to mix things up a little.
Daily and weekly community challenges offer up an extra way to earn some cash while competing with the world, too. There’s not much to say about them as so far they appear to be standard races with cash rewards depending on how far up the leader boards you are.
Of course, you can always head online to race against other people. RallyCross is exactly what you’d think; bloody mayhem, but so far the penalty system seems to work reasonably well. Keep in mind, though, that I reviewed the game prior to public launch and was racing against people with good manners. Once it goes fully live I expect DiRT Rally 2.0’s online to be a bit messier.
Given that three years have passed since the last DiRT Rally game there’s been a pretty substantial visual upgrade, bringing DiRT Rally 2.0 up to and possibly above the standards set in last years DiRT 4. The cars and tracks look nice and detailed, even if its hard to appreciate when it’s all a blur, and each of the six locations are visually distinctive. As you slid around corners dust kicks up, as you splash through water there’s a lovely glint to the droplets and when it rains you feel like your vision has been cut in half.
The audio is superb throughout, with the pops, snarls and occasional wet farts of the cars being the highlight. Rally machines sound vicious and DiRT Rally 2.0 does them justice in this sense. Each one sounds unique, and there’s a lot of nice detail to be heard if you listen for it. Mind you, you’ll probably be concentrating on your co-drivers instructions, so a lot of the fantastic audio design will likely go unheard.
There are also a couple of things missing that I want to talk about. First off, there’s no sign of snow or ice to be found anywhere. Driving the snow-covered stages in any rally game is arguably one of the best parts, and DiRT Rally was no exception. It’s baffling to me that DiRT Rally 2.0 is somehow missing snow stages.
The other missing feature are the hill climb events. Taking place on the famous Pikes Peak in insanely powerful cars the hill climbs were a personal favourite of mine, so I was disheartened to see that they are entirely absent here.
Codemasters have already announced a post-launch plan for DLC which happens to include Monte Carlo stages dusted with snow. It’s disappointing to see snow stages being kept back for the post-launch DLC, and if hillclimb events turn up down the line I’ll be properly pissed off.
I was also a little saddened to see that DiRT 4’s track generation system didn’t get included. While handcrafted stages are preferable – and they’re all bloody good fun – the inclusion of the generation system could have helped give DiRT Rally 2.0 a longer lifespan for dedicated players.
But one pleasant surprise comes in the form of R-GT class cars. The group B RWD beasts from the original DiRT Rally are missing (but a few have been confirmed as DLC) so the R-GT class monsters sort of make up for it. In real life R-GT racing is actually tarmac-based, but for whatever reason you can now take an Aston Martin or Porsche and attempt to wrangle them through a rally stage. They’re frankly insane and controlling them is akin to prodding a dragon with a toothpick while demanding it sits, but trying to tame them is heaps of fun.
I also want to mention the groub-B cars which in the original DiRT Rally were brutally fast but also very grippy, which their real-life counterparts were notoriously not. For DiRT Rally 2.0 they are horrifyingly quick yet lethal through the corners, making driving them one hell of an experience.
Oooooooooh baby, do I love me some DiRT Rally 2.0. There’s certainly an argument to be made that it’s not leaps and bounds ahead of the first game, but I think that’s more a product of the genre. There’s only so much that can be done in a rally sim. Where it matters, though, DiRT 2 has stepped up its game. It looks better, sounds better and handles better. Why the official rally licence keeps getting handled to other companies and not slapped on the DiRT series is a mystery to me.
But it does need to be said that DiRT 2.0 is not for every one. It’s a tough game, often unforgiving and demanding of your time. Once you begin to understand how to shift those rally cars around, though, DiRT 2.0 becomes something special. I love this game. Love, love, love it. It easily gets a recommendation from me, and while 4.5 is perhaps too high a score considering the lack of snow stages and VR support out of the box I just can’t help but grin like an idiot when I’m playing.
Oh, and when your co-driver says, “Don’t cut!” you probably shouldn’t cut the corner. Just saying.
4.5 out of 5