DiRT Rally 2.0 – Codemasters Greatest Achievement yet?

Following on from the surprisingly impressive DiRT Rally of 2015, Codemasters have plenty of expectation resting on their shoulders for the new game – and they have seriously delivered.

The wait for a true successor to the fabled Richard Burns Rally has been a long and often frustrating journey for rally fans, with many pretenders stepping into the ring only to be seemingly knocked straight back out again, including it has to be said Codemasters themselves - although the original DiRT Rally was certainly the closest yet to dethroning the widely acclaimed king of rally games.

Despite lacking an official World Rally Championship licence, and initially shipping without some of the more popular content from the original title, DiRT Rally 2.0 immediately comes out of the starting gates with plenty of headline grabbing new features and goodies, over and above the original title and even introducing things that have yet to be seen within the rally game genre.

Dropping the well-intentioned but poorly executed stage generator from Dirt 4, Codemasters have instead switched their attentions to developing deformable surfaces within this new release – introducing a crucial element of the real world category into the simulation and opening up a significant aspect of strategy and tyre management that was so starkly missing from the first title.

Codemasters have done stage deformation very, very well, adding to DiRT Rally 2.0 a significant increase into the depth and richness of the driving experience, whilst also increasing the useful playability of the game. With this new feature active on all locations within the title, in theory each pass of the same stage can present a wholly different driving experience, depending on the conditions of the roads and weather at the time of departure, as well as your running order in the rally itself. Start further back; expect to encounter a less than ideal road surface when out on stage.

This aspect alone makes DiRT Rally 2.0 worth the price of entry for me, and is one of the single biggest improvements Codemasters have made to any of their racing game franchise in the last 10 years. It’s that good.

The feel of the road under your wheels, and the way the car reacts to those different road surfaces, is improved considerably over the original game – itself a step above the competition in the rally game marketplace. Codemasters have clearly spent much time fine-tuning the car reaction to different racing surfaces, and these details shine through clearly when strapped into your virtual car of choice.

While we talk about cars, DiRT 2.0 does a very respectable job of presenting a nicely entertaining selection of vehicles right from the very off – with various different classes of car represented in the game more than making up for the lack of a modern WRC licence. Returning once again are the Group B monsters from the 1980’s, however Codemasters have attempted to mix things up a little by sprinkling a wide variety of different cars into the sim – so lovers of modern machinery still have something to enjoy thanks to the R5 class – featuring such beauties as the Skoda Fabia and VW Golf amongst others, while those of us with longer memories get a bonus with plenty of historic content – the ultimate king of which has to be the 90’s Group N era and the stunning Subaru Imprezza of Colin McRae, still iconic some 24 years after the great Scotsman took to the stages of the world in that wonderful car.

Traditional point-to-point rally cars aside, DiRT Rally 2.0 also does a very good job of representing the FIA World Rally cross category of racing – with plenty of content from the main series and various support categories available to do battle over what appear to be significantly updated and improved rally cross stages. More of which are set to come in future DLC packs for the game.

DiRT Rally 2.0 Full Car List

This category really has stepped up over the original DiRT Rally in almost every way, now offering a very convincing and visually stunning experience for players to enjoy. WRX has impressed me the most this time around, really stepping up in every aspect to present a very, very enjoyable representation of the category within DiRT Rally 2.0.

Moving on to the driving experience itself, I need to talk about wheel support for a little while – boring I know, but worth a few moments of your time.

I am using the SimCube OSW Direct Drive wheel for this test, and it needs to be noted that this isn’t a supported device out of the box, so some fun and games need to be had in order to get it working and producing force feedback within the sim. Plenty of google searching and overwriting of internal game files later, the wheel is now a functioning device within DiRT Rally! However, although “working” and producing force feedback, at least at this early stage I’ve been left very underwhelmed by the level of detail the force feedback is producing through my wheel. Ok, I’m getting some weight in the wheel, and the absolutely major hits and jolts are registering, but the very fine detail and the small things that communicate from the road surface to the car just aren’t present at the moment, which has frankly left me feeling a little bit disappointed.

The surface detail just doesn't feel present in the game, leaving me the impression of driving over smooth surfaces no matter what car I choose. I suspect this is specific to my own wheel, however increasingly I'm hearing of others with similar experiences, using different wheels, so that could be something to keep an eye out for as more and more people gain access to the title. What I will say however, is that the physics do feel more convincing than DR1, with more of a weight transfer feel than the previous release, and generally just stepping up the feeling over and above the original release.

DiRT 2.0 Supported Peripherals

Now to be fair I’m hearing plenty from the community about how they feel the handling of DR2.0 has improved over previous games, so I’m left wondering if it is more down to my own wheel configuration, coupled with the fact OSW isn’t supported out of the box, that is leaving me with a numb ffb experience from the title. With this in mind, during my review I am going to deliberately step away from further ffb and handling discussions, as I can’t be sure exactly which parameters are affecting my experience at this stage. I will say however, with the OSW patch and my current settings, for a driver at my (low) level of skill, the handling and feedback experience is ok, if a little "flat", although it certainly doesnt reach the heights achieved by so much else within the game…

… and those heights are very high indeed.

DiRT Rally 2.0 is shaping up to be the thing that pretty much every sim racer has been wanting to see since the glory days of Richard Burns Rally back 2004, small issues aside – hard-core, visually stunning, plenty of gameplay depth, audibly outstanding and with enough detail to present a game that you just want to keep heading back to for more and more punishment out on the stages.

Oh, and it finally has good mouse support to !

As for a career mode, DiRT 2.0 does play around with this idea, but somehow feels like it hasn’t quite gone far enough to capture the imagination over longer periods of time. Here you can hire and fire people for your team, however as a long time doubter of the usefulness of career mode style gameplay features, the lack of any depth in this department isn’t something that will keep me awake at night – anything that delays going out on stage – the actual core of the game – is best kept to a minimum in my opinion, and is a sideshow at best. It’s also worth pointing out that all cars and stages are accessible from the off, so no need for any long grinding through the game to get that car / rally combo you’ve been wanting to try.. Thankfully.

DiRT Rally 2.0 does some things very well, and some things can on occasion feel a little bit under loved, almost as if the studio have been that keen to make the action on stage as best as it can be, leaving the stuff on the edges of the driving experience a little bit behind the main gameplay itself. Frankly, this is something that is very easy to overlook, as the good things within this title are just exceptional, and more than make up for any of the small annoyances here and there.

Does DiRT Rally 2.0 deserve the unofficial crown as king of all rally Sims past and present? I think so, and by quite a margin