DiRT Rally 2.0 Review

February 27, 2019
Xbox One
Also on: PC, PS4

Since the Colin McRae Rally days on the PlayStation, Codemasters’ racing games have become synonymous with the rally genre on consoles and after pivoting initially to a more arcade-like experience, the rebirth of Dirt Rally in recent years has led to a more hardcore simulation approach for console gamers.

Dirt by name...

I’d like to start by saying, very clearly, that Dirt Rally 2.0 isn’t a racing game for the faint-hearted. This isn’t a Sega Rally-style arcade racer and if you treat it like one, you’re going to end up in a ditch with rally-ending damage straight away! It’s fair to say that this game is very much for returning fans of the series and hardcore rally racers alike, so whilst new players are very welcome, there is absolutely no hand-holding on offer here.

Dirt Rally 2.0 has two different rallying disciplines to get stuck into. The first, and most traditional is the point-to-point rally mode which is very much at the heart of the series’ roots. The second, Rallycross, is fully licensed by the FIA World RX championship and offers more traditional racing against other drivers on a track of various different surfaces.

Old school.

The vehicles available in Dirt Rally 2.0 are varied if not as expansive as your Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo garages. There are some excellent cars included, ranging from the historic ones like the Mini Cooper, Ford Mk.2 Escort and Lancia Stratos to the modern classics like the iconic Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Contemporary race cars include the current WRC Citroen, Ford and Peugeot offerings, as well as some GT class cars from Aston Martin and Porsche. When you add in the wide range of club and official World Rallycross cars, you’ve got a nice range of different cars to drive -- each offering a very different experience.

Career mode should be the main focus in Dirt Rally 2.0, but was probably the most disappointing area for me. Once again, just like Codemasters’ F1 2018, an extremely lacklustre avatar selection starts things off. To reiterate what I said in my F1 2018 review, without an actual character creator or helmet designer, I always find it really difficult to be “myself” in the career mode. Even more disappointing was that I was not able to even select a basic helmet design here (let alone design my own) and I found out later on that your helmet just takes on the colour of whatever overalls you’re wearing at that time. It might seem like a small thing, but it really takes me out of the experience.

Spoiler alert.

The career mode itself, dubbed “My Team”, felt hugely underwhelming from the offset. I was expecting to build my very own racing team up from club level to World Championship domination, but you can’t even give your team an identity. Surely the whole point of creating “My Team” is so that you can give it a name, design a commonly used livery across all of your various team cars and then sign different sponsors to attach to said livery based on the team performance? Codemasters themselves did this with one of their old Grid titles, so it’s extremely disappointing to see this level of immersion in creating your own team missing here. In reality, it makes “My Team” nothing more than a glorified menu system.

Once you’ve purchased your first car, you can start taking part in My Team events, which consist of Rally or Rallycross championships at various levels, depending on the cars you own, and then there are a number of daily and weekly one-off challenges that you can take part in. Running in any of these races rewards you with money which you can then use to buy new cars, upgrade and repair the cars in your garage and upgrade your co-driver and engineers which are employed by the team. Upgrading your engineers (and hiring new ones) allows you to repair your cars more cheaply and in less time, whereas upgrading your vehicles means that they take less wear and tear during an event, thus reducing the need to repair regularly. It’s all fairly basic stuff and nothing in-depth.

Still not entirely sure why the "I" in the name is small.

Rally stages are the series’ bread and butter. Along with your co-driver, you tear through country lanes across the globe, from Australia to the United Kingdom. Each rally is split into multiple stages and you can perform a service on your vehicle every couple of stages. Your co-driver preps you for the twists and turns ahead and, as usual with these games, it works really well. Rallies can be brutal, however, and if you’re playing with damage enabled, you could find yourself wrapped around a tree very easily indeed. Another interesting development is when you lose your headlamps halfway through a night stage!

Rallycross events in Dirt Rally 2.0 follow the standard rallycross format of multiple short four-to-six lap races around a circuit, culminating in a semi-final and final to decide the winner from the final six drivers. There are eight different tracks available, each of these following those from the official World RX championship, which will no doubt delight fans of the series. Each circuit features a slightly longer corner which must be taken at least once per race, referred to as the Joker lap. These events can all be raced in the career mode, as an individual event or championship, and of course in time trial mode against the clock to perfect your skills.

Fast, furious...dirty.

Visually, Dirt Rally 2.0 is a delight on the eyes. The cars, stages and tracks have been beautifully created and when coupled with the range of weather options available and how they can impact the surroundings, it’s really impressive. Surface degradation to the road surface is included, which adds a whole new level to some of the more muddy events that you can take part in. The more cars that go before you in some of these stages, the worse condition the track surface will be, resulting in thick grooves embedded in the gravel or mud that make driving conditions even more treacherous. The damage models on the cars are also fantastic. Your car can look as bad as it drove at the end of a stage and clearly a lot of work has gone into making this game look as realistic as it feels.

Multiplayer in Dirt Rally 2.0 is available, but somewhat limited. You’ve got individual races that you can take part in but it would be really nice to have some sort of online championship or something similar. The daily and weekly challenges also have online leaderboards which will no doubt start to see some action as the weeks roll by.

Handbraking for Dummies.

Overall, when you’re on the track or rallying through the mud, Dirt Rally 2.0 is a highly enjoyable experience. From a driving perspective, racing fans will thoroughly enjoy the way cars handle and the awe-inspiring backdrops of some of the stages and circuits. It’s the off-track activity that I fear lets the game down and those looking for a fully immersive career mode might find the experience somewhat underwhelming.

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If you’re a diehard fan of the Dirt series, or relish a rallying challenge, this is the game for you. Casual racers will find enjoyment here with a little patience but will probably enjoy something that can be picked up a little easier.
James Harvey

An avid gamer and seasoned critic, James has always had a
soft spot for Nintendo and their loveable characters. Whilst Mario Kart 64
might just be his favourite game of all-time, you’d be wise to never come
between him and his beloved Dreamcast.