It’s been a tad over three years since Codemasters released its last fully fledged off-road racer, and in the next week it’ll return with DiRT Rally 2.0. It’s suffice to say, this game is in every way a continuation of the foundation that was laid down years before. When it comes to motorsport, rally offers a challenge and experience that is simply not present in other disciplines, and for both racing and returning fans of the series, I can gladly confirm that both translate well into DiRT Rally 2.0.
I began my playthrough with a quick stage in my Lancia Fulvia along the New Zealand coastline, and despite having only 115 horsepower, the entire idea of risk and reward that underpins rally is certainly evident. Jeremy Clarkson once compared racing games against real-life when he threw a Honda NSX around Laguna Seca, and mentioned that fear and self-preservation always stopped you from replicating what you did in the digital world, in the real one. There’s perhaps no better example of that than here with DiRT Rally 2.0.
There’s a constant struggle behind trying to push your vehicle to the limit and absolutely binning it in the process. The need to shave precious seconds off your stage time as you chase the leader for those championship points, but at the same time hoping you won’t clip that one rock jutting out of a mountain wall or throwing off the car’s balance and ending up as a pinball between fences. There’s a fine line between pleasure and pain, and also between terminal damage and a corner cleared just right.
With this in mind, there’s a great sense of accomplishment to be had with DiRT Rally 2.0. There’s something unique about pushing the limiter as you tear through the countryside and narrowly avoid coming off, or feathering the throttle, brake and handbrake and nailing the camber of each corner just right. In rally you need to be out of control to be in control, the only issue is that you’ll lose it and end up throwing important seconds away if not bowing out of the stage entirely as you find yourself in a row of trees.
With no rewinds to pull you out of a sticky situation, DiRT Rally 2.0 demands your absolute attentionat all times. A quick stage might take a handful of minutes to complete should you need to restart, but a 10+ kilometre sprint that takes 10+ minutes to finish is a nightmare to do again if you slip up halfway through. It’s fine for Codemasters to take this line, but it’s something players will need to be accustomed to from the outset.
Similar to the last title, from a gameplay perspective DiRT 2.0 offers just two disciplines to race with – traditional rally and rallycross, and you can choose to participate in these either through a career-esque mode or through time-trial/custom championship. With rally, the game is broken down into time periods, starting in Classic Rally and then moving through to your 80s legends, modern classics and finishing with present day. While this works fine and makes sense – you’d want to start off in something like a vintage Mini Cooper before trying your luck in an Aston Martin Vantage (yes, you read that correctly – an Aston Martin in a rally game), there is one major flaw.
In order to progress through the career you must place third or higher in the championship of the league before it. This would be easy enough in most games, but the problem here is DiRT 2.0 is anything but. Even with the difficulty dialled to just before Easy (represented on a scale from 0 to 100), I was still averaging anywhere between 10th and 20th place in each race. You’d think slower cars make for easier races but it’s simply not the case, and just finishing the stage without damage can prove difficult, let alone a podium finish. The difficulty curve is dialled up to 10 from the outset despite any assists you use to help yourself out, which feels frustrating, if not disheartening. Once again, you mightn’t consider this a fault with the game, but Dark Souls in racing-form might be discouraging to some.
Difficulty aside, the game brings with it what you’d usually expect from a Codemasters’ title: a combination of some great locations and a varied roster to experience them with. Not to simply rehash the same locations we’ve seen in other rally games, DiRT 2.0 introduces a host of new locations with some fan favourites too. The red and desolate Australian outback and quick-tarmac roads of Spain both make their return, but are accompanied by the likes of New Zealand, North American and Argentinian stages too.
As already mentioned the coastal stages of New Zealand are a delight to tear through, with the lush greens from the country and forest vegetation contrasting well with the occasional sea views, matched perfectly with the rocky heights of the Argentinian mountains where you’re almost racing in the clouds. Stages vary in both length and complexity, with some offering opportunities for frightening speeds that are a misplaced steering input away from disaster, to more technical runs requiring delicate and frequent use of the handbrake to manoeuvre successfully. There’s also a total of 8 rallycross circuits too to try your hand at.
When looking at vehicles, DiRT 2.0 also delivers with a great range of both classic and modern vehicles, many of which we’ve grown accustomed to in previous games. Vintage cars like the Lancia Stratos and Audi Sport quattro E2 make their return with the likes of the Subaru Impreza WRX STis and Ford Mk.2 Escort, but it’s the addition of the new Modern Rally GT class that is truly interesting. For the first time that I’ve seen, Porsche, Aston Martin and Chevrolet all make their debut in a rally title – although I’d be lying if I said each was a pleasure to drive. Do they really belong with the likes of your Citroens and Mitsubishis? Eh, not really. That said, they exist in real-life so…
Visually DiRT Rally 2.0 looks great and it’s nothing you wouldn’t expect from the publisher if I’m honest. Menus are simple yet clean and inviting, and both car models and environments look great whether you’re going 50 or 200km/h. The game also employs a filter that seems to smooth much of the visuals to avoid any harsh edges on the vehicles or surroundings. I will note that DiRT 2.0 does experience screen-tear on the occasion. The game sounds great too and combines all the cues you’d expect – from the engine growl to the turbo wine, the tire squeal and the sounds of dirt and rocks pelting the undercarriage as you drive through the many gravel stages. There was the one occasion where all sound completely bugged out during a race, and there are some slight inconsistencies when racing over wet tarmac, but overall these are small issues in an otherwise decent offering.
If the initial DiRT Rally was a no-nonsense rally racer, then consider DiRT Rally 2.0 very much a continuation of the same thing. The game makes no effort to revolutionise the genre and it needn’t have to either. With a host of new locations and the roster of cars we’ve come to expect and love, DiRT Rally 2.0 once again offers a brutal rally experience that demands player skill and patience. If you’re a racing fan or a rally enthusiast it makes for a great addition to your collection, but don’t underestimate the challenge that’ll come along with it.
DiRT Rally 2.0 is available on 29 February 2019 for Windows PC, Xbox One and PS4.
DiRT Rally 2.0 was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.