Review: Dirt Rally 2.0 fixes its predecessor's problems but forgets to add anything new

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Played on Xbox One

The original DiRT Rally still holds up as one of the greatest racing simulation games of all time. It wasn’t perfect for sure, but the overall driving experience was so good you could easily overlook its relatively minor flaws. When Codemasters announced it would be getting a sequel last September, I had big hopes they could build on the original to make something truly special. The day of judgment is finally here. It’s time to see if DiRT Rally 2.0 lives up to my steep expectations.

Driving wise not much has changed at all. Going back to see how the original felt for direct comparison pretty much led me to one conclusion. They both feel and play almost identically. Some may call that copy-and-paste development but in Codemasters’ defense, the original felt about as good as it could have. It’d have been a big risk to mess around with the handling model too much. Noticeable tweaks have been made to weather impact with heavy rain, in particular, changing how you should approach each stage very differently. Wet surfaces slow you down and punish over-zealous driving hard.

Punishing mistakes is a theme that DiRT Rally 2.0 sticks to religiously. This game is one hell of an unforgiving, tough cookie, It does not have time for your potential lack of skill. I found that out the hard way. You start off with the lowest tier rally class, FWD Historic 1. Anyone familiar with rally or motorsport probably knows front wheel drive cars are far from optimal for racing purposes. Whilst iconic classics such as the Lancia Fulvia do feature, everything in these entry classes is very slow. You might think this would make for a suitable introductory car class but the reality is that you are simply left unprepared for what is to come. The step up to RWD Historic 2 is pretty difficult and then anything beyond that starts to require significant practice to just not crash into flames every run.

Perhaps the highlight of this difficulty jump is when in the first hour of play I decided it was a good idea to give one of my personal favorites a ride. The one of a kind, Group B Audi Sport Quattro. Perhaps the single most exemplary example of what people think when you say ‘rally car’. Powered by a mighty 550 BHP, 2.1 Litre, turbo-charged straight-five engine. Or, in English, a really fast car. I made it through four corners before locking up my brakes and flying off a cliff at 80mph. No exaggeration, it took at least 40 minutes of practice before I could even begin to somewhat consistently attack routes I already knew well. I love that grind and practice to get better but it isn’t going to be for everyone. Obviously, having more assists than I choose to play with helps a lot but even then you are going to need to invest time to get decent at this game. DiRT Rally 2.0 is tough as nails.

Codemasters haven’t introduced a wide range of new features but optimizations of existing features are present. The use of daily, weekly and monthly challenges was something I highly praised in the original. They offered great replayability for those looking for a long-term experience. Thankfully, they are back once again but this time with the addition of A.I challenges too. Standard dailies pit you against other people in a classic leaderboard time trail set up. A.I challenges are single-player only and perform very similarly to standard campaign events. It’s an okay addition and doesn’t harm the game but it does feel a little lazy. A.I Challenges don’t give unique rewards and pay out slightly worse than their online counterparts. This seems like the kind of feature you’d play for the first week and then never touch again. Somewhat disappointing.

The campaign features no story and instead chooses to focus on the old-school idea of just letting you play the game. How exciting. Progression is based on climbing tier lists across Rally 2.0’s two disciplines: rally and rallycross. Similar to older Forza Motorsport titles, you race, you get credits, you buy cars. There’s not much else and for some, this is probably going to make you feel there’s a lack of an end goal in mind. However, Codemasters have gotten this one completely right in my mind. The core racing fan who is going to keep playing this for years in the future doesn’t value some poorly written story attached on late in development. We want a core racer that supplies the cars and the tracks and lets us do the rest. This is a pure-bred racing game that doesn’t make the mistake of trying to force appeal to both genre fans and casual consumers.

DiRT Rally 2,0 fixes its predecessors biggest flaw of all by implementing a fully-fledged online custom lobby mode this time around. The original only featured rallycross tracks on multiplayer. You could not race rally online beyond leaderboard comparisons. Obviously, comparing two times on a leaderboard is not interesting as racing your friends against the clock live. Both public and private lobbies are available and multiplayer seems to function very well. I didn’t notice any significant latency, input delay or general performance issues that don’t already appear in regular gameplay.

If you’re an options first kind of guy like me, a trip to the settings menu will leave a huge grin on your face. Fully rebindable controls for both pads and wheels, customizable U.I, detailed tweakable assists on a scale of 0-5, adjustments to how early your co-driver will call out upcoming corners and the option to dump pesky camera shake. I’ve always loved how Codemasters’ games go further than just having on or off options for assists. Being able to adjust them exactly how I want makes Rally 2.0 very accommodating as long as you’re willing to put the time in to learn. There is one disappointing omission for me. DiRT Rally 2.0 features heavy post-effects use including a strange blur filter that gets placed on both your car and the surrounding environment. At least on the Xbox One version, there is no option to remove this. Over time I did get used to it but I don’t play my racing sims for cutesy cinematic visuals to mess up my screen. Clarity is what I desire and the inability to disable this filter certainly affected my experience of the gameplay.

Minor performance issues do pop up during more intensive gameplay. Severe downfall or clustering of vehicles can cause the mostly solid 60 FPS to waver. I experienced slight hitching for no seeable reason on longer rally stages, especially when making sharp hairpin turns. Rally 2.0 suffers from a dreadful draw distance. It’s not uncommon to see trees popping into the world as close as 25-30 meters in front of you. This is particularly notable on Monaro, Australia where long, straight dirt paths with trees on the side of the route are everywhere. It can hurt immersion but there is a sense that these visuals stepbacks were taken to keep the framerate at an acceptable level. Given DiRT’s strong overall performance outside of these smaller issues, the draw distance isn’t a huge deal, especially for more casual players.

Content-wise DiRT Rally 2.0 performs fairly well with the rallycross mode specifically getting a considerable bulk-up. In total there are 9 rallycross venues and 6 rally locations. There’s an argument that having only 6 rally routes leaves a little to be desired but I found they were diverse enough to avoid it feeling too repetitive. No doubt though if you are looking to play this game for hundreds of hours this might become a far bigger problem. Hopefully, Codemasters gets to work on some DLC to amend this issue.

The car collection available is fine with almost all of the iconic rally cars throughout history featuring in some capacity. There are 51 cars in total and the only omission that I’d go as far to call criminal is the lack of the 99′ Ford Focus at launch. We’re talking about the very car rally legend Collin McRae was famous for driving and it doesn’t appear in the very series originally created on McRae’s heroics. There’s a nice return of the Crosscarts from DiRT 4 that don’t feature in many other games at all and the Modern Rally GT class hosts the hilarious Ford Mustang GT4 and Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R. To think the day would come when these huge, super-powered monster muscle cars would show the gravel drifting world what they are made of.

Unfortunately, Codemasters missed out on a huge amount of potential by not implementing any arctic rally of sorts. It feels odd to realize that snow or ice is nowhere to be seen in a game that’s supposed to be the ultimate rally simulator. I used to be able to skid around that white goodness back on 2004 racing phenomenon Gran Turismo 4. I get that implementing a feature like this now is far harder as it would demand its own handling model but you put the effort into making the weather system fantastic. Why stop there? Surely arctic rally was the next step needed to take Rally 2.0 to the next level.

Overall, DiRT Rally 2.0 is a very good game. It feels as satisfying as ever to drive and general improvements to the original’s underwhelming quantity of content make for a very solid experience to delve into. All of the content that features is very refined and well done although a few more rally venues would have been nice. For the most part, visuals are exceptional, especially for base Xbox One and Codemasters deserve credit on getting Rally 2.0 to look that good whilst still running at a consistent enough 60 FPS. It’s tough and not going to be for everyone. Very casual players might struggle to see the appeal but those that know this game was aimed at them can be sure they’re going to get a top tier experience. I would have liked to have seen a little more than what we ended up with but Rally 2.0 still manages to be most likely the best rally simulator we’ve ever seen.

More about the topics: codemasters, Dirt Rally 2.0, xbox one