It’s with great excitement that the Codec Moments team await the release of a new rally game. We’ve nothing to hide – we love them, especially when it’s from the veritable maestro’s of the racing genre, Codemasters. The latest motor sport foray is the 13th instalment in what must be their longest running series, but at the same time it’s only the 2nd iteration of the most hardcore of rally games. DiRT Rally 2.0 shares the name with the more casual entries (if you could really call them “casual”), is the direct sequel to 2016’s rally only focused entry, and the numbering harks back to the influence of one of the original titles from nearly 20 years ago. There’s a lot of expectation resting on its shoulders – does it manage the weight shifting on the fly and power slide with grace, or lose control and crash into a ditch?
If you’re looking for a pick up and play rally game that makes you feel like a god as you deftly weave a 600 bhp monster around twisting mountain tracks with ease, leave right now. Go and buy V-Rally 4 instead because that delivers on the arcade action you’re looking for. DiRT Rally 2.0 is for those who want to experience rally driving from a professionals point of view. It expects you to know how to not just drive, but drive 2WD, RWD and 4WD classes of vehicle off road at speed – there are no tutorials anywhere, and barely a sentence said about what each menu screen does. It wants you to put the hard miles in and develop your skills. Every track and mode is open from the start, with a choice of a career in rallying through 6 countries or the officially licensed FIA Rally Cross championship; time trials with access to any car in the game; customisable stages and events; and the returning daily and weekly online challenges. It doesn’t actually look much on the surface, but as we all know, when you scratch away the first layer there’s usually plenty underneath.
The first career option, and really the only one because it makes everyone start at the bottom, is the Open Rally Championship. This is a typical introduction with 4 stages from each of the 6 countries to go at. It’s brutal, it really is. No event is designed to ease a player in, it’s hard and fast straight out of the gate. A single mistake on a stage can mean the difference between 1st and 30th, it’s that tight. Running off and resetting to the track incurs huge penalties, as does losing a wheel and replacing it mid-stage, but at least it means the event continues. Write the car off though and that’s it, country done, on to the next one. It’s punishing in its execution and means that newcomers or part time fans are as likely to bounce right off the game as they would off a guardrail on a Spanish road. Have a bit of patience and perseverance, spend time learning how the car reacts to each course, work out the right driving style, then hope for a little bit of luck with the opposition getting it wrong… and things do start to come together. The only drawback is it could do with a few more countries to throw a little extra variety into the mix – 6 events in the same locations for each championship does edge towards too much repetition. Sure, it spices things up by varying the weather conditions and time of day, but you do ending with a persistent feeling of deja vu.
This might be the serious entry that pulls the series firmly back into its rally roots, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t learnt anything from its siblings and the game has a user determined difficulty level that’s persistent across all game modes. Whilst it doesn’t turn things into a Sunday drive, it does dial back the competitor challenge so that they’re easier to keep pace with. DiRT Rally 2.0 also pulls in some refined team building elements so that it really does feel like a grassroots career getting off the ground. Just getting to the end of a rally event nets cash, finishing a championship gives out big rewards for being in the top half, and simply putting mileage on the cars opens upgrade options. Divert the funds into improving the durability and performance of the car and keeping up with the best in class does become easier. Start to develop the team skills and running off track and managing repairs mid-event get a sizeable reduction in penalties. There’s always an eye on buying bigger and better machines from the very decent (if familiar) selection to compete in, but there feels like a genuine balance and set of decisions to make on where to invest for a determined shot at the big leagues later on.
The same career logic carries across to the Rally Cross championship, and though the vehicles and sports are distinct it’s still your team behind the scenes. Here lies the counterpoint to the exacting precision needed in the rally career, it feels like it’s where you go to let off steam. It’s fast paced circuit racing that provides a lot of thrills as you hurtle along race tracks, handbrake around muddy hairpins, and rub door handles with all the others on track. Perfect lines aren’t as important as working out your Joker lap strategy (where you’re required to take a detour onto a longer section of track once per race), and the AI will make as many mistakes as you, but will also be as aggressive as you are too. When you get drawn into the race proper and are battling away with others, there’s a real adrenaline rush and sense of triumph if you come out on top, and the immediacy of reward that Rally Cross brings means it balances the more measured approach from the other career. Plus, it’s carnage at times and really shows off the surface evolution modelling which see the gravel and mud get churned up making it more difficult to get traction, as well as being a much bumpier ride.
Having enthused about the RX though, could this simply be down to the control method? This is the first DiRT title I’ve really put the time in with a full steering wheel setup and jury-rigged handbrake. That in itself lends an element of realism not available on a controller, and I can’t tell you how big a grin I’ve had at points ragging the wheel in a direction and yanking the handbrake on. It’s most likely down to the excellent wheel support from Codemasters (and in fairness we’ve seen that in a lot of their games), yet it doesn’t mean it’s unplayable on a game pad, far from it. Aside from some obligatory (for me) button remapping, no tweaking or manipulating settings are needed to get the best out of the analogue sticks and buttons, they do the job very well, and arguably a bit better with some of the powerful RWD cars. It’s a testament to the team working on the input and feedback that you can legitimately swap between both depending on what you feel like for a play session. If you’re mid career and have the luxury of both options then you might pick wheel and pedals, but if it’s a daily challenge that you fancy a quick blast on to earn some bonus cash then you can just use the pad… assuming the car for the event is available. Each motor you own is shared across all events that return an income so you need to manage which ones you want to enter, and remember to repair the cars in the garage beforehand as well.
Heading into the settings menu gives a plethora of options to adjust, from the aforementioned controls to the assists used during the action. In fact, it is more akin to the most recent F1 games in terms of tailoring to a particular style. Sound and graphics changes are basic at best on the consoles, with no visible enhancement options for the Pro/One X versions, though the game is gorgeous as it is and runs as smoothly as you’d expect. There are some animation stutters on the windscreen wipers occasionally, in the US event only I kept seeing a really strange de-focusing effect for around a quarter of a stage, and there’s a weird shift of navigation instructions from centre speaker to stereo that happens at random; but other than those minor gripes the presentation is top notch. DiRT Rally 2.0 also benefits from the chilled menu music, stylish and informative loading screens, and comprehensive replay options that we’re used to. There’s the expected full integration with RaceNet too for the online elements and it works seamlessly most of the time. It’s only noticeable when it takes a bit too long to communicate and you’re left itching to get out onto the course again.
It’s really hard not to love what DiRT Rally 2.0 is and does, even when you’re mired in damaged parts and miles from the end of a course. It’s become more accessible than the last one, but only in ways that enhance the experience – there’s no dilution of what made the last game great. It’s tough and does not allow room for error, yet here it’s not a detracting point because it’s almost always fair as it’s generally your lack of following instructions or reading the conditions correctly that’s at fault. Ultimately though it rewards consistency and forces you to take on that mindset of knowing when to push for the win, when to go flat out, and when to consolidate your position. Sometimes bringing the car home 9th in one piece can be like a victory.
A PS4 review copy of DiRT Rally 2.0 was provided by the Codemasters PR team, and the game is out on the 22nd February for the deluxe edition, or 26th February for the standard version. It’s on PC, PS4 and Xbox One and will have additional season content released over time.