DiRT Rally 2.0 Review

In the late 90’s, I used to play Top Gear Rally on N64 and liked it a lot. Then, I went on and purchased Colin McRae Rally for PlayStation 1 and simply couldn’t return to Top Gear Rally anymore. Colin McRae Rally was vastly superior, from its realistic handling to authentic tracks, to any other rally game out back then. Specializing solely in racing games, Codemasters has burned rubber ever since with a varying success. DiRT-series drifted more to the arcade-style rally racing game by game, but a few years ago, DirRT Rally made a corrective steering maneuver. Gone was frolicking presentation and other easy-going nonsense and focus was firmly shifted back to rally and rallycross. For the inevitable sequel, DiRT Rally 2.0, magic formula hasn’t been “add more” but rather “refine further”.

DirT Rally 2.0 isn’t your first driving game nor is it everyone’s driving game. When so many games, triple-A and indie titles alike, have a tendency to break out into every direction, I have come to appreciate discipline, and there’s bucketloads of that here. The game does its own thing and that is driving a rally car. No other frills and thrills, such as story or gaining followers, are needed because rally driving itself is such an adrenaline rush. It takes an immense concentration and proactiveness, applying brakes when needed, sliding into the corner and throttling the engine to pull away from it – until the next corner. It really testes the mettle when you drive at breakneck speeds on some of the most dangerous tracks in the world - with a deadly drop in one side and a sharp cliffside on the other.

Of course, it all would amount to naught if it weren’t for the game’s impressive driving physics that border on simulation. Several driving assists are turned off by default and should be left so because only then you learn to drive better. The new option in DiRT Rally 2.0 is degrading roads. You can feel how the tires bite onto the gravel and tarmac and gnaw them away at each roll of the wheels, with a heavy force feedback emitting a terrible tremble onto your palms. It’s a matter of taste which view you play from. Some like behind-the-car-view as they can see how the car is thrown into the corners but I played mostly from the cabin view, as from there I found it easier to manage the throttle control and constant corrective steering. Of course, you’re not driving blindly on the tracks as the co-driver (there are several language options for them) churns out notes as you drive. If you’re not familiar with rally notes, tough luck as there’s no tutorial or driving school, but on the plus side, they are pretty self-explanatory.

You start the game by choosing your driver’s appearance from a few male and female options, represented country, name and race number. For me it’s important that there’s not just a nameless, helmeted dummy inside the car (like in Gran Turismo series) but rather the driver of your choice. He or she pumps fists in outros as you’re performing well and as seen through a replay camera inside the car, squints eyes in concentration, rigorously steers and shifts gears, and jolts up and down on the driver’s seat. All the while your co-driver reads notes by the side, eyes both on the notebook and on the road. Seeing the driver duo in action adds immensely to the immersion. There’s no further narration and none is needed.

Even though the game throws players straight to the deep end with its challenge and demands a lot right from the start, it's not at all intimidating to get into it. Laid out in clear and explanatory menus, you won’t get lost as to what to do. Flexible save system allows storing multiple races in progress, so you’re not locked out of anything either but rather can drive different disciplines as you want. It’s great to spread across different events and get the feel for the game before heading to the career mode that’s the core experience of DiRT Rally 2.0.

The career mode, under My Team menu, features rally and rallycross championships to compete in as well as daily and weekly community and AI challenges. Italian developer Milestone has the official World Championship Rally license so the one in DiRT Rally is adapted and summarized version with six venues to race through; Argentina, Spain, USA, New Zealand, Poland and Australia. Each consists of timed stage events on tarmac and off-road terrain. There’s no soft landing as the championship starts from serpentine roads across rocky terrain in Argentina. If there also happens to be a night and rain, then it’s good luck, rookie!

Rallycross is a form of sprint style on a closed mixed-surface racing circuit, with modified production cars like in the world class rally. It’s perhaps more thankful to a random video game player as you’ll be driving around tracks so many times that you’re bound to learn their every twist and bend, and there are also other cars to race against. Rallycross really teaches throttle control and corrective steering on a micro level, so it’s substantive to participate in it to perform better in the timed stage races, too. Each career event earns not only credits to buy new cars and train the racing crew with but also research points that will make cars perform better in the long run with different upgrades. The tuning of the cars must also be unlocked with research points and credits.

In the free play modes you don’t have to worry about repair bills (a real trial for rookie drivers as upgrades and better cars must often wait because all your credits go into repairing your current car) as hammering the car back to shape is free. There are four historic races that are unlocked one after another by positioning in the top three. They feature classic racing cars from the past decades, like the 60’s Mini Cooper and the 80’s monstrous engines. You can also make custom offline or online races, and in time trials you get to race through whichever stage from any racing venue with whichever car in the game. It’s a great way to prepare for upcoming races and get a feel for cars you don’t have yet in the garage. And finally, there’s an officially licensed FIA Rallycross Championship across eight tracks with virtual representations of real rallycross drivers to compete against.

As you can’t go and win everything outright, you learn to appreciate little things, like driving a checkpoint under a control time. It feels great to gain your first career points even if you don’t hit a jackpot right away – and it would be difficult to do so with the untuned default cars of the garage. To perform better in DiRT Rally 2.0 is a long-term commitment. The game won’t be over in a weekend as there’s a long and rocky road ahead before you can afford better cars and spend credits in their research and upgrades, all the while paying to increase your racing engineers’ skills to cut down research and repair times. There are 50 cars in total in the game’s roster, from the 70’s classics to Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI, and all the way up to the latest and meanest world rally cars.

As the game aims for smooth 60fps, it means the graphics are a bit blurry on a stock Xbox One during races. Who cares, really, as beautiful volumetric lighting, lovely broken colors and real-time reflections and weather effects more than make up for a finer resolution. Besides, you won’t have much time to appreciate the lush backdrops as your eyes are firmly on the road and on the next corner. In replays, the framerate is lower and the resolution mutually higher for some stunning shots around the course. The soundscape is of Codemasters’ usually high standard (the groan of the bottom of the car was so sweet already in the original Colin McRae Rally!) and the co-driver’s notes are thankfully loud and crisp.

Maybe there are too few racing locations in the game and omitting snow coursers altogether from the release version is a big minus as driving on sleet is its own art. Then again, there’s nothing in DiRT Rally 2.0 that a well-timed DLC couldn’t fix. The game’s no-nonsense approach to rally driving is such a pleasure. Unlike in most modern and bloated games, playing isn’t a massive slog here. Thanks to the game’s iron discipline and focusing solely on the basics, it’s so much fun to race and learn to master the demanding trade of driving a rally car. I can tell it feels awesome when you gain more confidence to your abilities and dare let it rip!

Even though DiRT Rally 2.0 has such a realism on the surface and under the hood, it still goes with the video gaming first. Tuning the car has a clear cause and effect relationship, as one can expect from a game, and career races have five restarts to resort to in a case of complete disaster. Indeed, DiRT Rally 2.0 might be closest thing to driving a real rally car, but at the same time it’s not like driving a real rally car, no matter how brutally authentic it can at times feel. After all, you don’t need a driver’s license (or a death wish, judging by some of the tracks!) to be able to play and appreciate it and the game is fully content with that.

Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.