I have been reviewing games in a professional basis for around three and a half years now. In that time, I have reviewed almost forty racing games. I love the genre. I’m also pretty good at them and have even played at a competitive level. I am now at the point where I can pretty much judge a racing game after the first few corners of a race. My general opinion may move up or down by half a point or so but I’m usually pretty accurate. DiRT Rally 2.0 is the first racing game I’ve come across where my initial opinion was well wide of the mark. Allow me to explain.
I reviewed the original DiRT Rally when it came out in 2015. I described it as “the most incredible rally game I have ever played, but it has also had me wanting to throw my controller across the room.” The reason for this is that it was hard, really hard. When I started up DiRT Rally 2.0, I expected it to be challenging. At first, the Racenet options weren’t available as it hadn’t been turned on. This left me with the ability to play Time Trials, Historic Rally, or the official Rallycross Championship. As I had seen a lot of promotion about this having the license for the FIA World Rallycross Championship, I thought I’d try that out first.
I spent 4 hours trying to win the first Rallycross event. Try as I might, I just couldn’t do it. For the first time ever with a racing game, I tried lowering the difficulty (I usually dial it up). I then spent around an hour trying to win the four qualifiers. Eventually, I managed this only to not qualify for the finals because my times weren’t fast enough (despite winning every qualifying heat). I was ready to throw my controller at my TV. To save myself a big repair bill, I put the game down to go and do something else for a bit. When I came back to the game, Racenet had opened up, and I decided to try that out. It’s from here on that I started to fall in love with DiRT Rally 2.0.
The Racenet events are like the career mode of the game. You can choose to race in Rally or Rallycross events. You begin entering Open events before moving on to Clubman events, then Pro, and upwards. This is where you want to start the game. It eases you into the handling. Helps you learn the risk vs. reward of pushing hard. It also gradually ups the difficulty. I began the open Rally championship with a low powered Lancia Fulvia HF. This was a near perfect introduction. Pretty quickly I got a grasp of the way the car moves, turns, slides, and grips. I got in the groove of listening to my co-driver’s notes, keeping them in my head, and understanding the appropriate response to each level of corner. Before I knew it, I was rallying again!
After I’d completed my first event, I was able to upgrade my car. There are three types of upgrade that can be bought at any time through money (in-game, no microtransactions here). These were durability improvements for the brakes and the suspension, as well as the ability to tune your vehicle. Then there were four engine upgrades that are available to buy once you have driven a set distance in the car. Each level of engine upgrade will grant your car more power but will reduce the durability of your motor. You will need to decide if you want to risk the extra power at the chance of blowing your engine. Another area you can upgrade is your team. You can hire more staff and train them to fix problems quicker. This is particularly useful where you have limited time between stages of an event to patch up your car.
Of course, another thing you’ll want to spend your hard-earned money on is new cars. There’s a new batch of vehicles available every few hours. You can pick up used cars or brand-new ones. Used vehicles tend to need some repairing, so it’s best to not spend every single penny you have on them. All of these cars are real licensed vehicles, and the models are absolutely spot-on. They look and sound just like the real things. The reflections, deformation, and mud build-up are also incredibly realistic.
In fact, all of the visuals in DiRT Rally 2.0 are seriously impressive. On my Xbox One X, the game runs in 4K at 60 frames per second with HDR. The sunrise and sunsets look stunning. The dusk races, in particular when it’s raining, look so realistic you could be forgiven for thinking you’re watching real footage of a race. The particle effects for the dust being kicked up by other cars is also worthy of praise. Forza has been the market leader in terms of visuals for quite a while now. Codemasters are right on their heels now, though, and the results they are achieving with their EGO engine are a sight to behold. The style is very naturalistic and serves the rest of the game perfectly.
Having completed a few championships in the Racenet career, as well as the available daily and weekly challenges, I went back and tried the FIA Rallycross championship again. It was still hard as nails, but it only took me around 30 minutes to complete one event on the original difficulty. This seems par for the course and a lot more tolerable than when I started. It’s clearly just not the event to start your DiRT Rally 2.0 experience with. The only other niggle I had with the game was that I experienced a few visual glitches. There were a few competitors’ cars where the lights or the mirrors were separated from the vehicles and floated in mid-air. I also had one race where one of my tires was rotating around the middle of the car which was really distracting. These were extremely rare occurrences, though.
I have to say that DiRT Rally is no longer the best rallying game around. And that’s because this second game in the series usurps it in pretty much every way. The progression system in the career is much better. Visuals, which were already impressive, have taken a big leap forward. While this entry doesn’t have any hill climb events, it makes up for it in having some truly great rally stages and the official FIA Rallycross championship license. This is still a brutally hard racing game, but the early Racenet career events help to ease you into it. If you want an ultra-realistic racer or a great rally game, then DiRT Rally 2.0 is a title you simply have to play.