Register
A password will be e-mailed to you.

In my DiRT Rally 2.0 review, I put the latest Codemasters rally simulator, available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, through its paces and end up crashing a lot.

In case you hadn’t guessed from the number, DiRT Rally 2.0 is the sequel to Dirt Rally. But what you may not know is that the decimal bit is a nod to the classic Colin McRae games from yesteryear.

Like McRae was a rally master, DiRT Rally 2.0 is a rally masterclass in terms of realism. The satisfying highs and the soul-crushing lows of the motorsport delivered to your television in glorious 3D. Well, half-decent 3D as you’ll read later.

Having played DiRT Rally 2.0 for around eight hours, using both a controller and steering wheel (Thrustmaster TS-XW), I am unqualified to tell you everything about the game. But I can tell you it’s not for the faint-hearted.

I can also tell you that you need the reactions of Lewis Hamilton to save a slide in a Group B rally car, that front wheel drive cars are hugely forgiving and that driving smoothly is the key to success. Or, at least, far fewer dents in your polygon-based rally car.

DiRT Rally 2.0 review: DiRTY thoughts

Being the sucker for pain that I am, I switched off all assists. It’s at this point and with the interior cockpit view, of which one features the steering wheel and the other doesn’t, that DiRT Rally 2.0 proves most challenging. A constant struggle between wanting to go fast but keep on the road.

You have to be so delicate with every input that it’s mentally tiring to drive fast, mirroring the real life experience. Minus the G-forces, ability to actually die and the smell coming from your co-driver’s trousers after a near miss, of course.

With a decent steering wheel, DiRT Rally 2.0 is much less frustrating although I’m dubious if a group B rally car would actually be that difficult to drive at moderate speeds in real life. Just one little mistake and you’re upside down in a tree.

To be fair, it’s not just that I need a lot of practice. The sensation of speed seems muted, with 65mph feeling like 35mph, making it easy to misjudge your entry speed into a corner. There are times when the game feels V-Rally 4 fast, but most of the time it’s the opposite.

Dirt Rally 2.0 review: Alpine A110 in action

Not only that, DiRT Rally 2.0’s graphics can be distracting. There’s a weird graphical shimmer every now and then, while the views where you get a head-up display speedometer glitches and you see a black square behind it. Fixable in future updates, especially as Codemasters has acknowledged their existence to me, but annoying nonetheless.

Then there’s the visual aesthetic of DiRT Rally 2.0. Inside the car, you can see all the switchgear in suitably impressive detail in most cars. Enough, presumably, to help the forthcoming virtual reality support make you feel like you’re actually driving a rally stage in a rally car during a rally championship.

But the outside models such as the people in the crowd, the foliage on the floor and the surfaces below your tyres are more Xbox 360 than Xbox One. Coming from Forza Horizon 4, my eyes almost started bleeding from the lack of detail.

The weather effects are also low-rent, with the rain polygons low in resolution and happy to pretend physics doesn’t apply. But then the close-up gathering of water as the wipers clear your view looks good, while the reflections in the puddles on tarmac are nothing short of impressive.

DiRT Rally 2.0 does have moments where it looks photo-realistic. The gloomier times of day, or when the sun is beaming into your face, or when at night when your headlights can only see so far ahead all prove pleasingly lifelike to behold.

No doubt a PC with a hefty graphics card will make a noticeable difference, too, especially coming from a standard Xbox One.

DiRT Rally 2.0 review: No hand-holding here

Dirt Rally 2.0 review: Narrow stages in Argentina in the VW Polo

Difficulty-wise, DiRT Rally 2.0 can be brutal and the slow, classic rally cars and their front-wheel drive powertrains, easily tameable, soon pave the way to a twitchy, spin-prone Porsche. What worked initially in terms of driving technique proves woefully ineffective.

That means you have to put the time in to succeed, which only highlights Codemasters’ focus on realism over all else. With that said, there appears to be times when a controller is inadequate for the job, as is the case in Project Cars 2.

This is especially true when you start to see just how different each car handles and how they react to each different surface. The classic Lancia, for instance, loves to understeer without a touch of toe-out adjustment. Here, a controller works sufficiently.

The MG Metro 6R4, meanwhile, of Group B rally fame has a nasty habit of unsaveable oversteer. Partly because of its ridiculously short wheelbase, but also because it has well over 400bhp. In this car, it can be tough to steer gently enough using a joystick without overdoing it and spinning round. For the 12th time in one stage.

When it rains, you also have to deal with far greater braking distances and a much higher chance of the wheels locking up. Get it wrong and understeer is assured. Veer off the road and nudge the dirt, meanwhile, and the surface friction change will make the car snap hard and it rarely ends well.

It’s these moments that make DiRT Rally 2.0 such a painful chore or momentously satisfying, depending on how quickly you can adapt to the White Cliffs of Dover-steep difficulty curve. For those wanting a quick bash of fun without much effort, you are better off with Forza Horizon 4. Or maybe a real rally car.

If, however, you crave a heart-pounding experience, with all the highs and lows that go with driving a dangerously fast car along very thin roads, you will find little better out there.

Dirt Rally 2.0 review: Rallycross action can be the most hectic

DiRT Rally 2.0 does make some mistakes beyond the mixed bag visuals. The car reset option when you go off course, for instance, comes and goes before you have a chance to use it. It’s annoyingly inconsistent or perhaps it’s another deliberate move designed to penalise you for being terrible.

I also dislike the lack of help. In real life I can fathom why a car is misbehaving. In this game, it seems like various driving styles can result in the same result (crashing, usually).

Perhaps a slightly easier and more structured set of initial challenges, explaining common driving mistakes and gently increasing the power output of your car, would have gone a long way for newbies. Or maybe some indication as to how difficult the AI is when set to 50, as opposed to the 100 maximum.

That’s not to say I want my hand held and a pat on the back (although a gold star would be nice), but I fear a lot of players will go elsewhere quite rapidly after the 28th crash and stage finish one minute behind everyone else.

Criticism could also be levied at the career mode, which is involving but it’s really only about making minor changes, repairing your car and then off you go again. With some research and upgrade stuff on the side acting as a drip-fed incentive.

There are also only six locations to race at (ignoring the Rallycross circuits) and while distinctly different it’s easy to feel like Codemasters has been a bit cheap. The fact I seem to race the same stages over and over does little to help that issue.

But then the variety of the cars is impressive and they all handle differently, once again highlighting DiRT Rally 2.0‘s true focus. Rally driving thrills, pure and simple. Everything else is secondary.

Fortunately, though, extras such as online racing, daily and weekly challenges and the Historic Event – where you get to drive Group B classics – give you something else to do if you want a touch of variety. Plus there will be content packs going forward, the first of which has been announced.

Should I buy DiRT Rally 2.0, then?

Dirt Rally 2.0 review: Porsches can be rally cars, too

On the one hand, DiRT Rally 2.0 is a fiendishly difficult rally simulator that offers more depth than its predecessor. Good news for the pros and anyone with the patience and time to invest. But on the other, the sheer difficulty level will send some gamers packing. Particularly those who only have access to a controller.

You could also argue DiRT Rally 2.0 is not a radical enough departure over its predecessor, visually and mechanically. But then for replicating the brilliance of rally, it’s the way to go – and it feels very much as if Codemasters wanted that all along. If Colin McRae were still around, no doubt he would’ve approved.

DiRT Rally 2.0 review: The ultimate hardcore rally simulator?
Enjoyment
Graphics
Sound
Multiplayer
Longevity
The Good
  • Super-realistic
  • Highly rewarding
  • Sounds the part
The Bad
  • Low feeling of speed
  • Could be prettier
  • Some graphical issues
4.0The Score