“If everything seems under control, you are not going fast enough”
“The following is a contributor post by the Slipstream Mage.”
Rally racing games first started appearing on consoles in the mid-90s, spread across a variety of entrants to this niche racing genre. Titles like Sega Rally, V-Rally, RalliSport, Top Gear Rally, WRC, Colin McRae, and more have all made a run at representing rallying, at various levels of realism from arcade to simulation style.
In 1998, British studio Codemasters created the Colin McRae Rally series, a racing game focused on realism and delivering an authentic rallying experience. During the Xbox 360/PS3 era, this series evolved into DiRT, spawning several sequels. Each new DiRT game pulled in more of an ‘X-games’-style element, adding gymkhana and other stunt or drift driving modes to the base rally and rallycross standards.
As the Colin McRae/DiRT series transitioned to accommodate more driving modes, Codemasters found that there was still a contingent of rally game fans that craved the sim-style realism and raw challenge of the car versus the road and a stopwatch. From that realization, the DiRT Rally series was born. The original DiRT Rally first appeared on PC only in 2015, then about a year later made its way to consoles. Well received and praised for its realism, steep learning curve, and addictive challenge, it did well enough to spawn a sequel. That brings us to 2.0, enticing masochistic fans to try their hand again at tearing down dusty roads at breakneck speeds.
Fans of the first DiRT Rally will notice right upon boot up that the menus and set up screens for 2.0 have upgraded visuals and flow. The same two primary racing styles are present as well. Rally (car versus stage/clock) and RallyCross (mixed surface lap racing in heats with other cars) are both here, with a number of options to customize the experience. Career modes are available for long term progression, along with customizable events for brief one-offs or a marathon rally of night-only stages. Customizable options for both race modes and cars are expanded in 2.0, including surface degradation rates. This improves the overall racing experience as personalized adjustments can be needed to get the most out of this game.
Rally stages are at a completely different set of locales from the first game – New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, New England (US), and Poland. Gone are the snowy French Alps, the Greek highlands, and the rainy forests of Wales. The 2.0 locations are just not as interesting. Australia and New Zealand stages seem too similar. Poland and New England are rather boring with minimal elevation changes. Only Argentina stands out with its extreme rocky terrain and blind corners. A winter/snow stage and the Pike’s Peak Hill Climb are also lacking in 2.0. I’m hopeful that planned DLC will restore some of these old locales. Why they weren’t included in the base game is no doubt a means for Codemasters to monetize some content, knowing that the die-hard fans will want to drive these previous routes.
The car selection is solid, with plenty of historic options for the nostalgic rally fan. No rally game worth its salt can leave the Lancia Stratos or the Audi Quattro S1 off its roster, but notably absent are the Group B rear wheel drive (RWD) ‘monsters’ (i.e. Lancia 037, Opel Manta, et al). Given that 2.0 will have at least 2 additional forthcoming seasons of DLC content, presumably, these well-known rides will make an appearance later this year. DiRT 2.0 also adds a whole new group of cars, the ‘Rally GT’ which takes popular RWD sports cars like the Aston Martin Vantage and the Porsche 911, mods them for rallying, and then pits them against the perils of loose gravel. Modern rally cars are well represented but are pricey to unlock. Fortunately, custom modes allow for the use of any car, and so you can play with these more costly vehicles there until you’ve earned enough cash to buy them for your garage.
Cash is not just needed for building up your garage though, you’ll also need it to upgrade your vehicles and improve your racing team members’ skill sets. Cars can have their powerplants upgraded, and more resilient components added to brakes, shocks, etc. Your staff engineers and co-driver have upgradable abilities that will make life easier for you when you start pushing the limits out on the stages and really damage your car (and you will). Engineers can better diagnose and shorten repairs, while improved co-driver skills can reduce penalties in the field.
Money for cars and upgrades can be earned in career modes, but perhaps the most fun way available to both earn cash and challenge yourself is the Daily and Weekly Challenges in the ‘Events Mode’. These challenges cycle every 24 hours or 7 days, respectively, and can earn good dollar for a single stage run or full rally. Winnings are tiered and based on how your times stack up against other online participants.
The overall package here in 2.0 is much the same from DiRT Rally, but with more expanded options and different rally locales, and a few new cars.
Note: This review was completed while playing on a regular Xbox One, and a non-4K TV.
This game looks its best in replay mode, after you’ve completed your stage run or rallycross heat. Its looks just don’t hold up well in stills, or upon close inspection when you compare to the Forza games. Too many stages have distant fog/haze, even on clear days (in terms of stage weather), and the ambient vegetation and spectators are plain and look almost as if they are from the last days of the previous generation of consoles. The dust and exhaust effects that trail your car look excellent though, as do the car models. Put everything in motion though, at 60 FPS, and it all looks wonderfully dynamic and real. There is some framerate drop on some stages, especially during races where it is raining. It’s worth the time to watch your stage run replay after you grinded it out, as it looks much better with the multiple camera angles.
In Rallycross, there are some annoying graphical ‘effects’ that act to pull the gamer out of immersion – namely the explosion of plastic and scrap that blows out of your car anytime its struck by another vehicle, even in the most minor of contact. It looks ridiculous, and I’m not sure why it was set to such a sensitive collision level.
Racing games often require extremely strong graphics and visual effects to really pull in a gamer, but 2.0 is really average at best in this department. This series will likely never compete with the Forza series when it comes to visuals.
For my first rally stage, I drove the Lancia Fulvia. I was immediately struck by the throaty engine note and how clear and distinct it sounded. Bouncing between chase and cockpit views, the engine sound appropriately muffles. Other cars all had their own distinct engine sound, from the high whining, high revving Rallycross cars to the big grumbly Group B 4WD beasts. All the engines sound great. Tire and surface noises are subtle but noticeable. You can hear the appropriate squeals and sliding gravel as you skid on asphalt or dig in on a hairpin. Ambient crowd noises and nature are present at just enough a level to add to the immersion.
There is no soundtrack during the actual racing, your ears are left to listen to the car and the road. That’s good, and it works. There is some minimal instrumental music played during replays and pre-race activities, but it’s hardly notable. The sounds that matter are good, and the ones that don’t are minimized.
As far as racing games go, the game sets the appropriate tone of the stripped-down nature of rallying. It’s firm in the ‘set up/tune your car, get on the stage, and race the clock’ all while trying to avoid terminal damage as you negotiate a ribbon of road. But all the in-between activities are not particularly strong in carrying the rallying theme. There is little to see or watch from your engineering team during repairs. You have no ‘home base’ as you set up in DiRT 4 where your crew works at tuning and improving your car between rallies. And your co-driver is generally flat and unemotional both during the race and afterwards, despite your results. Like its predecessor, 2.0 relies on raw realism alone to carry the feel of being a rally car driver. Luckily, the realism is strong enough to keep you engaged, despite the lack of pre- and post- visuals.
Without question, gameplay and the challenge of mastering it is what really makes the DiRT Rally series stand out. Rally cars are light, powerful, and unwieldy. To the uninitiated, the default settings (no ABS braking, no stability or traction control) may make the car feel like you’re driving on ice with bald tires. The reality is the cars handle well, but the use of throttle appropriately is almost more important than steering. Rally 2.0 is really an exercise in maintaining optimal traction using the right amount of throttle while nosing your car around corners. Binary gas/brake pedal operators will struggle with this game. Feathering the throttle is the name of the game, and learning to master it is the key to dropping your stage times. Then mix in the need to utilize a touch of handbrake to get around the tightest corners, and you’ve created a formula for challenging, realistic driving.
Running through a rally stage with minimal error is surprisingly rewarding, even if afterwards you realize your time was relatively slow. This is where 2.0 really shines and gets its hooks in you. No mistake made feels cheap or unfair. It’s all on you.
The immersive gameplay itself is what carries the realism here. While the visuals are adequate, and the cars look and sound good, it’s the gameplay and the controls that make the game feel real in your hands. If the handling and controls didn’t nail my perception of what it’s like to barrel down a dirt road at 70 mph and transition into a 90-degree turn, then the game would feel arcadey and less satisfying. And while that’s fine for some games, that’s not what Codemasters was going for here. Hyper-realism in handling is the goal here. And they nail it. Car damage also adds to the realism, and makes you have to choose between babying a car through a stage to get to the next repair break or push through and hope you don’t lose it off the road.
There were a few minor things that broke my level of immersion. Rallycross starts are highlighted with an in-cockpit view of your driver, and his hand clips through the parking brake to reach the gear shifter. A small thing, but it’s distracting and makes me wonder why they bothered with even including the scene. The aforementioned explosions of plastic bumper shards upon even the most minor collisions are also distracting and feel silly. Aside from these moments, the realism holds throughout the rally stages, and you take a deep breath when you cross that finish line, holding your car together.
For many rally racing game fans, the overall challenge is the other big draw to this game outside of gameplay. Mastery of the controls for each of the car classes is no small feat of gaming. And once you initially get comfortable with a particular car or class, you realize that you still have so much time to cut down to get to that elite level (there are some terrific drivers out there, with eye-popping times). This level of challenge is not for everyone, and some gamers may be immediately discouraged after putting their car in the ditch repeatedly on a short stage. But stick with it, learn to recognize the nuance needed making sure your controller inputs are smooth and precise, and you may find yourself addicted to mastering your control over these cars. Learning to make a pendulum turn (aka the Scandinavian Flick) is another vital skill for your toolbox, and 2.0’s controls are conducive to this and other techniques to trim down your times. If you are like me, you’ll never approach that elite level of times. But it’s pretty satisfying to land in that top tier of Daily Event rewards every now and again.
The only aspect of the game’s challenge that may feel cheap or frustrating is dealing with the Rallycross driver AI. Opposing drivers seem to be overly aggressive, but rarely get penalized for their ramming, pushing, bumping ways. It’s as if their cars are significantly heavier than yours. Best bet is to get a good start off the line, and separate from them ASAP, before they send you spinning off the track.
Because of 2.0’s high challenge at gameplay mastery, this understandably makes this game a tough pill to swallow for casual race game fans. Unless you are a prodigy, you cannot pick up a controller and expect to place 1st in a stage, like a Forza Horizon or Need for Speed title. Challenge is the name of the game, and adapting to negotiate the learning curve is what makes this game fun and addictive. That’s not for everyone. But stick with it, and you’ll be rewarded with a sense of satisfaction that you don’t necessarily feel in a lot of games these days.
Coming back for more is what 2.0 is all about. You’ll want more cash to buy that next car. You’ll want to find a way to claw into a top 3 finish to unlock that next Historic Rally class. You’ll keep checking in on those daily and weekly events to see how you stack up with other drivers around the world. If 2.0’s controls and gameplay dig its hooks in, you’ll keep coming back and logging hundreds of miles.
My Personal Grade: 8/10
I loved the first DiRT Rally, and subsequently, I love 2.0. It’s more of the same formula that worked for me and got me driving daily for months on end. Codemasters has a nice formula here, even if it is only for a niche group of racing fans. Challenge propagated through addictive gameplay, it’s not for everyone but works for me. But if forced to choose between DiRT Rally and 2.0, I’d still pick the father over the son. The original had more interesting stages, hill climb mode, and didn’t exclude Group B RWD cars. Forthcoming DLC content could sway that opinion though, particularly if it adds more than just what 2.0 seems to be missing in its current state.
Aggregate Score: 7.5
The Slipstream Mage has been a gamer for over 35 years, and got his start begging for quarters from his parents at a hotel pool game room. By day he’s a proud father to two young gamer sons, works as a geologist to pay the bills, and coaches youth football. By night he’s a racing game junkie, Destiny guardian, and Titan pilot. Find him @JTorto40 on Twitter.
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Categories: Game Review