Release Date: February 26th, 2019 (Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 4)
Back in the summer of 2006, I was a few weeks away from being a high school junior as I sat down for a quickly forming tradition of watching the X Games. This was the first year for an event that the X Games called Rally X – where cars drove over a mixed surface course in a time trial event. That weekend saw the legend Colin McRae roll his car and immediately restart racing, only missing gold by .52 seconds even with the roll. Once I saw that, I was instantly hooked. The next year, the event consisted of two drivers racing head-to-head and Colin McRae once again had a spectacular crash, before dying a little over a month later from a helicopter crash. X Games would then go on to eventually add a “Super Rally”/“Rally Car Racing” event that is officially called Rallycross. Needless to say, by that time, I was a fan and it’s why I am pleased to be able to review Codemasters’ DiRT Rally 2.0. This is the thirteenth game in the Colin McRae Rally series, the seventh to carry the DiRT name, and the second using the DiRT Rally moniker.
Despite my love for the sport, and having Game Pass, I have never gotten around to playing a game in this franchise. Just a heads up though, this game is DIFFICULTin the beginning – even for someone like me, who has experience with racing games. With that said, the first hour or two will have the player getting used to the feeling of the cars and what works or does not work. The true-to-life, authentic feeling of everything is the calling card of Codemasters, and may be why their attempt at a new, more arcade-y feeling IP, in the form of Onrush, failed last year. For those players who are not racing fanatics, the controller does just fine and will leave the player satisfied. Additionally, the players with racing wheels will of course be pleased with the more real-to-life controller setup and the immersion that setup brings with it.
Another excellent mark for immersion is just how beautiful the game looks. The scenery is breathtaking and as close to lifelike as it can get with current technology. For those players who have played the Forza Horizon series, the graphics for both are nearly on par with each other and shows how far racing games have come. It is amazing how the mindset seems to have shifted from focusing on what is happening on the track to focusing on the overall look and immersion of the game. Then, tie in the track degradation and everything is finished in a little neat bow. For those unaware, a lot of the racing in either rally discipline includes driving on dirt or gravel. This means when cars travel down the path and the elements take effect, the path degrades and gets beaten up. DiRT Rally 2.0’s degradation is spectacular and really throws a wrench into the player’s best laid plans. It really is the little things that count when it comes to immersion.
Speaking of disciplines, there are two distinct types of rally racing in real life, and thus in the game. The first is the original Rallying that is a time trial using staggered starts at regular intervals. In real life, this setup is split into stages over several days with the driver and co-driver trying to finish the stages the quickest. Granted, this is not the most fun to watch, but luckily for the player they can finish a staged event in around half an hour. Not only does that make it more fun to play, but also gives the player ample time to take in the beautiful scenery while being a much less stressful mode than the quick races of Rallycross. There is also the factor of this discipline doing a great job of showing off driving in the elements and at night as well. The game has a series of Rallying “challenges” in Free Play that can be unlocked in order that go through the history of the sport. Not only does this give a history lesson and an easier intro to the game, but it really highlights the track degradation and how other cars react, as the player is likely to pass cars broken down on the side of the path.
Compare this to Rallycross that is a series of quick races with at least four cars competing in a closed circuit through qualifiers, semifinals, and finals. Stress levels not only skyrocket, but the scenery is not as easy to digest in such short bursts. The FIA World Rallycross Championship Free Play mode is also a sudden difficulty spike from the beginnings of the Rallying through history mode. Track degradation also takes a bit of a backseat and even though the player is going through a championship, there is seemingly no progress or drive to finish it. This is where the game begins to fall apart for me a bit, as the game sees the progression “driver” to be the My Team mode. While I appreciate Codemasters’ line of thinking, that mode also does not give much of a drive or add any stakes to keep players interested. There are several live challenges, with more content being added consistently that adds an extra layer of fun and allow the player to rack up credits to be used for upgrades and new cars, but that is peanuts compared to a Forza Horizon or even F1.
DiRT Rally 2.0 is a visually stunning, authentic experience that will appeal to hardcore fans of the action racing sport. Casuals will more than likely be driven away by either the demanding controls, authentic feeling of the cars, and/or the minimal feature set of the game. This being Codemasters though, they would rather appeal to the hardcore fans than the casuals. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but the developers should give those hardcore fans more features and depth to the game. (That said, the series has been around for thirteen games and is highly regarded, so who am I to tell them to do something differently?) This is a game that hardcore fans will love, and casuals may be able to dive into and enjoy if they come at it open-minded and expecting a challenge. Regardless, now is the time to step into the car and get dirty!
Review copy provided by Deep Silver.