Something about Dirt 4 didn’t quite scratch the itch that many rally fans had. Whether it was the arcade handling option, the My Stage procedural generation or even the lack of VR support, it didn’t speak as much to those that loved the hard-nosed sim rallying of Dirt Rally. Dirt Rally 2.0 is a straight up answer to those calls for more of the same.
It picks up right where Rally left off, with the official WRX rallycross license and season, sporting eight of the tracks from the racing calendar and with plans and hopes to add more after release. Similarly, there’s six rallying locations including New Zealand and Argentina, and over fifty rallying cars from across the eras.
Gone is the arcade handling option, with just the simulation model remaining in this game, with the same team from Dirt Rally picking up the reigns once again to evolve their outstanding work further. It’s been a case of fine tuning, as Codies brought rally driver Jon Armstrong in full time (when he’s not racing in WRC2, that is), with the occasional help of Ryan Champion, and Oliver Solberg for rallycross.
The biggest improvements that Codemasters have targeted are with the loose surface handling and increasing the realism of how different tyre compounds interact with the ground, putting tyre compound choices in the hands of players for the first time. Oh, and rear wheel drive cars should hopefully feel better too, something that’s notoriously quite tricky to get right in games.
Dirt Rally 2.0 returns to the bespoke stages and rallies that you can play time and time again, learning the twists, turns, bumps and everything that you can expect. You can learn to run a particular stage blindfolded, but if you don’t, then the voice of the legendary co-driver Phil Mills will be there to guide you – one key thing Jon’s been working on is tweaking the timing of the co-driver speech to guide you. However, while procedural generation has been put to one side, you now need to consider how track surfaces might have deformed, with deeper rutting the lower down the running order you sit on a stage.
Perhaps what’s surprising is just how easy it still is to pick up and play the game. For the casual player with a gamepad in hand, you shouldn’t be intimidated by all this talk of simulation and handling models, because it doesn’t really feel like that. I was surprised, having taken in the lengthy New Zealand rally stage we were allowed to sample, to dip into the options menu and find that really the only thing they’d afforded us was automatic gearing. Traction control, stability, ABS and everything else was turned off, leaving me with the raw game.
Sit behind a racing wheel, however, and it’s a whole other matter. The wheel fights you back, you’re having to move your hands and feet further to get the same rapid turning effect, the handbrake won’t necessarily be under your thumb, but something you need to search for or lift your hand to reach a manual control. All of these things add up, and while racing with a wheel is seen as the holy grail of realism, there’s the simple fact that I was 2 minutes down on my gamepad time and really felt like I had a long, long way to go – it’s been a while since I raced with a wheel, and I’d been personally challenged not to drive with left foot braking.
However, watching Jon blaze a trail with Thrustmaster’s highest end, most complete racing wheel set up was quite staggering in how easy he made it all look. He was getting absolutely everything out of the car, cutting corners just right, flicking the rear of the car out to drift round corners so effortlessly, looking like Neo dodging bullets as he threaded his car through turns in a way that felt almost surreal.
Dirt Rally 2.0 might boil down to being “more of the same”, but when that’s more of Dirt Rally, I doubt many will complain. Codemasters are tinkering with their formula, honing their simulation model further, and that’s exactly what fans of the first game want. Going for a full release from the off, instead of Rally’s stint in Early Access, there’s also the promise of post-release content, with six months planned out and seeing how much and what the community want after that point.
The only thing that’s missing at this point? VR, but that might change if enough people demand it…