Back in 2015 with DiRT Rally, Codemasters made a strong statement that they were taking the franchise back to its rallying roots. It was a very well received game, and though it faltered in a few areas, by and large it was held up as an excellent first step back in the direction that had originally endeared the series to a devoted and loyal fanbase over the course of many years and instalments.
With DiRT Rally 2.0, Codemasters are continuing to head in that direction, doubling down on everything that fans of its predecessor liked, and improving upon the aspects that they didn’t. The end result is a game that is unabashedly hardcore in terms of simulation mechanics, one that seeks to represent the rallying aficionados and recreate the rallying experience to as close to perfection as it can get. Does that mean that is stands the risk of alienating a large number of audiences who either aren’t too invested in the motorsport or just don’t care? It certainly does. But viewed on its own merits, does it succeed in what it sets out to do? Most definitely.
"DiRT Rally 2.0 is a game that is unabashedly hardcore in terms of simulation mechanics, one that seeks to represent the rallying aficionados and recreate the rallying experience to as close to perfection as it can get."
DiRT Rally 2.0 makes improvements in the kinds of areas that aren’t instantly and tangibly visible, but rear their heads in very obvious ways the moment you get on the track. The most obvious of these changes is track degradation- depending on where you fall in the ranking, and as such, how many competitors have raced over the same track ahead of you, the condition of the surface you drive on changes. Essentially, if you’re behind in the rankings, you’ll see more wear and tear on the tracks, which will increase the farther you fall behind, while if you’re performing well and making better time than your competitors, you’ll get to drive on a smoother, more untouched track.
These changes are, of course, not just cosmetic- DiRT Rally 2.0 puts its money where its mouth is, and makes track degradation a mechanic that makes an actual difference. Tracks that have suffered more degradation feel rougher and more slippery, demanding greater control and punishing you for being reckless more heavily than they otherwise would. Not only does it add to the authenticity of every event, it also creates a great risk-reward system, which pushes you to perform better so that you don’t have to deal with significantly more damaged surfaces as you weave and tumble your way through the game’s tracks.
On top of that, you also have to keep things such as tire wear and composition in mind. Depending on what kind of a track you’re about to drive on – with elements such as its surface and its length being vital – you have to decide prior to races what compound would be best suited to your vehicle’s tires. A track’s length and what kinds of surfaces its stretches entail will also have an effect on your tire’s surface, which might lose its grip as you cover more distance, thus giving you less traction later on when you really need it around tight corners. Add to all of this the effect rainfall can have on surfaces, and how much of an impact the time of day can have on your driving in terms of visibility, and DiRT Rally 2.0 constantly keeps testing your mettle as it forces you to adapt to different situations.
"DiRT Rally 2.0 constantly keeps testing your mettle as it forces you to adapt to different situations."
If you don’t pay attention to the condition of the track, or the condition of your tires, or if you don’t pay attention to what your navigator tells you, you’ll find yourself in hot water very quickly (unless you’re ridiculously experienced with the genre). That leads to actual consequences, with vehicles getting damaged, some times to the point of them just not being in a state to be driven more whatsoever. Between races, you also have to take stock of the condition of your vehicle and its individual components, repairing each of which takes a certain amount of team that can cut into the time you take to get into the next event, which in turn could see you driving on tracks that are worse for the wear. Though damage doesn’t always manifest realistically in terms of visuals, the actual effect it has on the performance of your vehicle is instantly tangible. Persistent damage, then, is yet another way DiRT Rally 2.0 doubles down on its authenticity.
It helps that cars control and handle incredibly well. Handling feels precise and tight, while cars respond to throttle and breaks with appropriate power or resistance as the situation calls. Turning around tight corners at speed while you kick up a cloud of dust behind you feels suitably gritty and weighty, and you can actually feel the difference between driving on a dry tarmac road and a wet asphalt one.
If you’re a fan of rally simulators and the sport of rally racing in general, all of that probably sounds like heaven to you. If, however, you don’t fall in that category, such might not be the case. That’s because DiRT Rally 2.0 is very clearly built that way- geared to cater to a very particular set of players. It’s a challenging game that doesn’t tutorialize much and expects you to be well-versed in at least the basics of rally racing. In doing so, it certainly loses a ton of accessibility.
"It helps that cars control and handle incredibly well. Handling feels precise and tight, while cars respond to throttle and breaks with appropriate power or resistance as the situation calls."
But while there’s a very daunting barrier to entry for those who’re looking for a more accessible experience, or those who’re not too invested in rally racing in general, if and once you do get past that barrier, there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had here.
I found myself turning off the HUD entirely, and just driving through whatever track the game put me in next. So while on one hand DiRT Rally 2.0 is a game that demands intense concentration and immaculate precision, I found that it is also a game that, with said concentration to make sure you don’t careen off the track, can also be quite therapeutic. Because there really is something oddly therapeutic about going for a rough and tumble drive across rough terrain in the middle of torrential rainfall. Every single location in the game is also designed and created beautifully- from a design standpoint, tracks demand constant attention from you, for obvious reasons, while from a visuals standpoint, the sights you see across the six locations DiRT Rally 2.0 takes you to are absolutely beautiful, from the lush and green forested areas of New England to the rocky, twisting, and turning roads of Argentina. Even if you don’t fully understand the intricate improvements Codemasters have made under the surface, then, you might just be able to find some enjoyment here nonetheless. It depends on how much patience you have with the game’s learning curve, ultimately.
While the tracks and locations recreated in DiRT Rally 2.0 looks gorgeous, it’s worth noting that the game’s visuals are only impressive when viewed from a distance- under scrutiny, they falter quite a bit. While the vehicles themselves – especially their interiors – look crisp and detailed, one careful look at other elements reveal huge inconsistencies. In the distance, environments look muddy and completely lacking in detail, foliage looks similarly unimpressive, while faces in the crowd look like something out of an Xbox 360 game. Other smaller effects also fail to impress- from the rainfall to the pixelated shadows to the limited visual representation of damage effects – which I’ve already mentioned – DiRT Rally 2.0 displays wild inconsistencies in visual quality quite a bit.
"While the tracks and locations recreated in DiRT Rally 2.0 looks gorgeous, it’s worth noting that the game’s visuals are only impressive when viewed from a distance- under scrutiny, they falter quite a bit."
Taken as a whole, though, DiRT Rally 2.0 seems to have a very good understanding of what areas it needs to prioritize to be successful at what it attempts to do. While most racers in the current market look to straddle the line between simulation and arcade racing in an attempt to appeal to as many people as possible, DiRT Rally 2.0 knows exactly what it’s good at and doubles down on those strengths. In doing so, it will surely turn away a large number of people who’re looking for something different than what it’s looking to provide, but for the people who Codemasters have made it for, and made its predecessor for, DiRT Rally 2.0 is a resounding success.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Cars control excellently; Track degradation feels like a meaningful new addition; Beautifully crafted and very well designed tracks.
It's not for everyone; Inconsistent visuals.
DiRT Rally 2.0 is a big win for the largely overlooked rally racing simulator genre.