Drifting into pole position?
If there is one thing to say about Codemasters, they know how to make a robust rally racing game and they have been doing so since the late 90’s. Every iteration of the McRae/Dirt Rally gets more impressive and advanced as the technology improves alongside it and I’m happy to say that Dirt Rally 2.0 for the most part, carries on that trend in a very convincing way. So, without further ado, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of what makes Dirt Rally 2.0 a special rally game and one that can hold its head up high.
Let’s start off with how the game looks and sounds. From a visual standpoint, Dirt Rally 2.0 generally looks beautiful whilst on the main racing portion of the game. The car models look super impressive with sharp and detailed visuals with fantastic car damage that the Dirt series has always been famous for. One thing that really makes Dirt Rally 2.0 just a beautiful game to look at is it’s HDR. It really shines here with its lighting effects. light bouncing off of puddles, sky and cloud formations alongside the fantastic mud and water splashing effects and tie in together to give the game a realistic feel and depending on the time of day and/or the weather, this all plays out beautifully with the HDR and general attention to detail doing a fantastic job at replicating rally in its truest form. As well as the HDR doing a brilliant job, the game looks sharp and runs at a super smooth frame rate without any slowdown or judder at all. It runs smoothly and without hitch which is something that all racing titles should always be able to do and thankfully, that’s exactly what Codemasters have done with Dirt Rally 2.0.
That’s not to say it’s not got its flaws, however. At times, the game gives off an odd filtered look when up close with various objects (close-ups of stewards and environments before you start a race and some textures give off an odd ‘muddy’ look). The game also has a few instances where pop-in appears briefly but thankfully it’s a rare occurrence and doesn’t effect the overall experience. The menu system within Dirt Rally 2.0 has been cleaned up and feels more responsive to years past. Each option and game mode feels easy to get to and with a snappy menu system, it all feels way more user-friendly than previous entries. Inside the menus is of course where you’ll find the ‘Freeplay’ and ‘My Team’ tabs which are essentially the areas (beside tweaking your cars settings) where you’ll be spending most of your time.
Inside Freeplay is where you can find and start your official FIA World Rallycross Championship. Codemasters have made brilliant use of the license with official tracks throughout and with official overlays and real-life video footage shown from past races at each circuit before a race starts. It’s something minuscule in the grand scheme of things, but having an official license like this is always a good thing to bring authenticity to a game that uses the official license so well. Alongside this, you find a traditional time trial mode that includes 14 tracks at that ranges from the asphalt and dirt at the Circuit De Barcelona to the heavy gravel at the Catamarca Province in Argentina. The game at launch, launches with six rally locations and also eight from the official WRX calendar.
Whilst the tracks and weather vary substantially, I was hoping to see more in the variety in courses and weather (snow being one them) and whilst this will probably be added later on through DLC, I would’ve preferred to have this included at launch. Time Trial also features a dedicated online leaderboard of your times (good or bad!) where you can compare them to friends and the wider community and even filter your lap times across all platforms the game is available on or the selected platform that you’re playing the game on. New for Dirt Rally 2.0 is something called ‘Track Degradation’ and in its simple terms means that the more cars that race on a stage before you, the more the track will get cut up and in turn mean that it’s harder to handle your car on with a more slippery surface and less grip in certain areas . It’s a great ‘risk + reward’ system that makes you want to do the best you can on your current section knowing that if you do, you’ll end up moving up the list for your next sector of racing and avoiding the masses that went before you and cut the track up like a ploughed field. Its a great addition and something that really works in the rally genre of racing.
Freeplay also offers you a chance to race through history in the historic mode that sees you dive into a championship with a modern classic car or if you prefer, something a little more retro, a classic 80’s car for example. Whilst this mode was a whole lot of fun and even features a cool little video clip of the era you’ve selected, at present, this mode is limited in terms of what it offers but maybe more will be added later on down the line through DLC. Another mode within Freeplay is a custom option where you can create a solo or an online championship if that’s your thing. Unfortunately, the online portion of the game was a bit of a non-starter for me whilst reviewing this game, which I go into more about why, below.
Next up is the My Team tab which is a hub (connected online through what Codemasters call ‘Racenet’) where it offers you ability to view your garage where you can check out your current vehicles, take them for a test drive, sell them on, or purchase new vehicles which can be done by earning credits by completing both career or community events. My Team also offers you the option to familiarise yourself with your staff in which you can train them up or hire totally new staff if you so wish by using the in-game credit system (no micro-transactions at the time of this review and here’s hoping it stays that way). Also within My Team are events such as online challenges and career races that are going to be updated frequently. These can vary from a career rally to a daily challenge community event to a weekly AI challenge. Not only does it give you a variety of new challenges from the get-go, but as this will be refreshed on a constant basis, it will always feel like you’re finding new content within Dirt Rally 2.0.
Let’s talk about how the game feels and sounds on the track. In a word, the game feels phenomenal from a racing standpoint. Each car feels unique and handles completely different to the next. A weighty Suburu Impreza handles totally differently to a ‘twitchy’ and lighter Peugeot 205 GTI. The control of each car feels tight and precise and how you’d expect a rally car to feel. Tight and precise when it needs to be, but ultimately nimble in its cornering. Whilst this is true for all cars, each have their own feel to them and getting to grips and learning how each one drives is an experience in itself and in turn, gives a game a very rewarding feel to it all. The dev team has done wonders with how the game handles as it’s a joy to be able to control such machines. Learning to control one car is one thing, but trying to master them all is a serious challenge for anyone familiar with the Dirt series as the game doesn’t hold your hand in any way and has always had a challenging aspect to the driving and nothing has changed with regards to Dirt Rally 2.0.
Regarding the audio side of the game, Codemasters have, like the way the cars feel to drive, absolutely nailed it. Again, each cars engine sounds completely different to the next. The whine of an 80’s Mini Cooper or the high-pitched rasp of a Peugeot 208 R2 sounds totally different to the grunt of a Mitsubishi Evo VI or a thump of a Chevrolet Camaro GT4-R and this is evident across the board with all vehicles included in the game. If you have the ability to play this game using a surround sound headset setup, the audio really shines and shows off just how much of this side of the game has been given the care and attention that Codemasters rally games are famous for.
One slight negative is the online portion of the game. At the time of reviewing the game, i was unable find a session to join or even when creating an event for others to join, it came back with the same results. Obviously, this slight issue is mainly due to the fact that the game hasn’t officially launched yet, but it would’ve been nice to be able to find others out there reviewing the game to go up against, but unfortunately this didn’t happen. It would’ve been great to include my thoughts on how the online side of the game runs, but at the time of writing, this was something that I couldn’t test out in the manner I would’ve like. This isn’t going to be a huge issue for anyone buying the game at launch as the online portion will be full of ready and waiting participants raring to go.
One thing that a lot of gamers worry about with regards to rally titles is that they’re far too hardcore for a more casual racing fan and while Dirt Rally 2.0 doesn’t hold back in terms of what’s on offer from a sim experience, it also offers so much in terms of someone wanting to learn the ins and outs of the genre first and foremost. If you’re a hardcore sim style racing and want to turn the likes of driving assists off, you can do so within the settings menus or if you’re new to racing and/or rally titles in general, you can adjust the game is a variety of ways to help you become accustomed to it before diving in at the deep-end. The great thing about what Dirt Rally 2.0 offers in terms of turning certain variables on within the settings like traction control or the anti-lock braking system is that it’s not just an ‘on’ and ‘off’ like a lot of other racing titles offer you, but you can fine tune exactly how you want your car to feel due to the game offering you a slider modifier from 1 to 5 when switched on. 1 meaning it’ll give you a tiny bit of help, whilst 5 is essentially the variable switched on.
It’s a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but it adds so much depth and as you improve over time, the modifier can be adjusted to your various tastes and each variable is independent of the next. Say you want to race with your anti-lock braking at 1 but you want to have traction control at 4, you can do just that. Also, the game offers the same adjustable modifier with regards to the AI difficultly. 1-30 being very easy, 31-60 being easy, 61-80 being medium, 81-90 being hard and 91-100 being very hard which means that a 64 on medium will differentiate to that of a 80 on a medium. One thing that the game doesn’t hold back on is the toughness of the AI regardless of what difficulty you set it to. They are tough to beat and will knock you totally out of the way (legally of course) if it means they can gain an extra position over you. Codemasters have always said that they want their games to feel aggressive and tough and that’s certainly the case here. Don’t expect to jump in straight away and be winning everything from the get-go as that’s not what a Codemasters rally game is all about. Be prepared to learn and have fun with it.