Dirt Rally 2.0 is, as you might expect, the second game in the Dirt Rally series, developed and published by Codemasters and the follow up to 2015’s Dirt Rally. Dirt Rally focuses on rally and rally cross events and championships with a healthy dose of historic rally cars thrown in for fun. There are over 50 cars to drive in six different locations, plus eight rally cross tracks for the RX cars. More locations and cars are also on the way via “Season” DLC. As a long-time fan of the rally genre, I was keen to see how this game improved on its predecessor and whether it could topple Richard Burns Rally as the king of rally simulations.
Dirt Rally 2.0 is unpretentious from the outset. When you launch the game, it’s straight to the menu via a skippable intro sequence without needing to do a test stage to set your difficulty setting. Codemasters have set the game to an accessible difficulty level from the outset. Those that want a real challenge can change the difficulty setting at any time, even during a championship, although you’ll have to wait until the next event for the change to take effect. You can also set the damage model to “realistic” if you want a real mental barrier pushing back against your stage times.
Once in the main menu, you can start a rally or rallycross championship, choose to do a historic rally, or create your own custom event. Creating a custom event means you can drive any of the cars on offer in the game, on any of the stages. You can also jump into a historic rally which will let you sample cars from the Mini era through to Group B. However, it must be said that the true focus of Dirt Rally 2.0 is the experience of real-world rallying as a pastime or as a professional racer. This includes the financial risks of damaging your car, the costs of making your car more competitive, and the management of staff in your team, again, to make you more competitive. The game encourages you to improve yourself and your car and see if you can do better next time around.
Stunning visuals can sometimes be mistaken for real.
When you start a championship, Dirt Rally 2.0 gives you a small choice of cars to buy. This first car will not cost anything to repair which is a good way to ease into the game, especially for novices. However, any cars you buy after this to add to your garage will incur costs to repair which provides a disincentive to trash your car carelessly. Let’s just say I walked away from some events having lost money due to inattention. The championships feel like they have proper depth. A full season will take you to most, if not all, the locations. And each rally within each event consists of half a dozen stages. The stages in Dirt Rally 2.0 provide varying lengths and are all hand-designed. This means when you do multiple events, you begin to learn the stages like you would in the real world and it avoids the déjà vu feeling you get from Dirt 4’s procedurally generated stages. In Dirt Rally 2.0, the weather and time of day of stages seem randomised. Unfortunately, this means you frequently have to do a dry and a wet stage between service. It is never one or the other. This means you never get to use the full wet or soft tyres. A little tweak here would be appreciated because it feels like every rally has Melbourne’s weather with four seasons in one day.
Beyond the championship journey, a welcome inclusion in the game are the community events. There are many daily and weekly challenges, in which daily challenges usually feature single stage sprints and weekly events include many stages and can be considered a proper rally. I love the challenge Codemasters have provided with the community events. You cannot restart them and you cannot retry. You post your time or fail, and that’s it. If you like a real challenge, turn damage to realistic, and you’ll be wincing every time you hit a wheel on a curb or big rock and pucker up when you miss those trees by a whisker. I really enjoyed the sense of risk this created and the mental challenge you have to overcome in order to post a fast time. As the old adage goes: to finish first, first you have to finish. Your cash reward for community events is based on which tier your time falls into, with most events being a 4-tier split. Community events pay really well, which encourages you to partake alongside many thousands of other players around the world.
Community challenges provide plenty of challenge and freshness.
Dirt Rally 2.0 oals drives very nicely. It’s rare to have the feeling that you are completely out of control unless you foolishly purchase a Renault 5 Turbo just to “see how it goes.” Codemasters have done a great job with the physics simulation to allow you to adjust your car’s attitude using the usual methods. Different car layouts feel about like you’d expect them to and they require different methods to get yourself out of trouble (or into it). You can develop a really good rhythm yawing and sliding the car from turn to turn, even with a controller. You find yourself looking well into the distance and not worrying too much about what is right in front of your car.
Once again, however, I found the default settings on the controller a little difficult to contend with. The game does not seem to detect a full range of motion on either the controller triggers or on my pedals, and I wasn’t able to resolve this in the game’s settings. I was able to get around the issue to an extent by tuning each car’s braking to compensate so that I wasn’t locking the front wheels all the time. It also feels like the force feedback isn’t right. The steering seems too heavy for a fast-moving car on a loose surface, and it is hard to feel if your wheels have grip or if your car has become light over a small bump or jump. You can tweak the settings a bit so that it doesn’t feel like the car is wrestling with you, but it is hard to get a great feeling.
The general feeling of the driving in Dirt Rally 2.0 feels great when you’re inside the car. However, there are times when things deviate enough to break the immersion. For example, one time I rolled a car onto its roof and it proceeded to slide along the track around a corner on its roof. The soft edges of the rally track can sometimes feel a bit more like hard curbs. This highlighted that the physics simulation of the cars might be a little too artificial. The cars don’t have the weight and momentum you expect, and for this reason Dirt, Rally 2.0 does not quite hit the heights of realism present in Richard Burns Rally.
Did I mention the lighting and reflections?
There are no complaints, however, with the visuals of Dirt Rally 2.0. I would rate them as a substantial improvement over the predecessor Dirt Rally, and a good step up from Dirt 4. Codemasters have really upped the immersion and apparent detail in the scenes and cars. There are times while driving at speed that you forget that you are driving through a computer-generated scene.
The lighting and reflections are sensational, especially when it rains. But this leads me to a small nitpick. Codemasters have done such a fantastic job with the lighting and water effects that it seems they really want you to see them. As mentioned before, the randomised weather and time of day results in there almost always being wet stages and night stages and sometimes both. While variety is nice, it doesn’t quite fit with the real world. Nevertheless, the lighting and reflections certainly are impressive to behold.
Another impressive feature of Dirt Rally 2.0 is the soundscape. The game features some of the best car sounds in any mainstream car simulation. The cars all sound like you would expect, from the rough bark of the Mini’s A-series to the unique, smooth roar of the Audi Quattro’s turbo 5-cylinder. All the engine characters are really well captured. Atmospheric sounds like rain, water splashing and the sound of the different surfaces under the tyres all sound top shelf. The audio team have done a fantastic job to help you feel immersed in the world.
Dirt Rally 2.0 caters to casual drivers and hardcore enthusiasts alike with difficulty and game modes to suit both. The game is a noticable step up from its predecessor, improving on many of the elements that made the original great. The community events also provide an ongoing challenge to keep the game fresh or when you want to take a break from your championships. Overall, Dirt Rally 2.0 is an excellent rally game. Although it doesn’t quite nail the physics of the king of rally simulations, it surpasses its predecessor and Richard Burns Rally in several key areas and is therefore highly recommended for fans of the genre.