With all due respect to Turn 10, Polyphony and any other studio that regularly creates racing games, Codemasters are the kings of the genre. From F1 to Dirt and GRID (which I’d love to see make a comeback), the Codemasters racing titles are the best. On February 26, the newest Codemasters entry, Dirt Rally 2.0 releases for PS4, PC and Xbox One.
With some time in on the latter version, here are my thoughts on the game.
The rally environments provide a backdrop for immersive racing, and Codemasters is all over it. With water and mud flying everywhere, the scenes on your monitor are often a glorious and virtual mess. Rarely, if ever have I played a racing game that utilized weather and terrain to create a more visually impressive experience. I’ve never been to a live rally event but based on what I’ve seen on television and YouTube, this looks a lot like every high-quality contest and stream.
Aside from the weather and terrain, the use of light and darkness is equally noteworthy. I had a number of calm moments of appreciation for subtle lighting effects on the mud, water, and vehicles. Quite honestly, there isn’t much I’d changed about the way this game looks.
Engines are loud and realistic, but the guide’s voice in the rally events gets old pretty quick. I’m still longing for the racing title that finds a way to incorporate human voice in an edu-taining manner. Usually, games go too far and attempt to add too much personality, or it takes the ultra-bland approach and all of the voices sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher after a while. Unfortunately, Dirt Rally 2.0 is guilty of the latter.
It’s not as if the game is bringing up the rear when it comes to audio. For the most part, the vehicle effects sound great. However, there has to be a way to add more personality–especially in a career mode–but more on that in a bit.
I raved about the visuals, but the driving is really the best aspect of Dirt Rally 2.0. Let me caution you, it’s not easy. This was especially the case when using a steering wheel and foot pedals. I traditionally play racing games with a controller, but I wanted to get the full experience with this one.
I alternated back and forth between an Xbox One controller and the Thrustmaster TX Racing Wheel. I recommend everyone give this game and all racers a spin with a real driving wheel, but I will readily admit, I am horrible without the controller. I gave it a good effort, but if I wanted to provide a fair assessment of the entertainment value from a gameplay perspective, I had to ditch the wheel.
More experienced virtual drivers probably won’t need to make that adjustment, and they will likely garner even more appreciation for Dirt Rally 2.0’s realism.
If there is a partially significant fault with Dirt Rally 2.0, it’s in the game’s average career mode. Much like the audio component, it lacks some personality. The driver you choose is really inconsequential, and I’m always wary of options in a game that have no impact on the experience.
That said, there are some positives. As you move through the rally and rallycross qualifiers and races, you have to manage the damage that your vehicle incurs. The damage carries over to the next stages of events, which puts a premium on driving carefully. This is yet another layer of realism.
Also on the plus side, there is a healthy amount of vehicles available, and each has distinct handling. I did have an easier time with some vehicles, even using the wheel, and I could appreciate the varied feedback in the controller and wheel. Also, the locations were different enough in appearance to offer even more diversity. However, having more than six would have been ideal. If you put in the hours necessary to master this game, you can quickly grow tired of the same six environments.
I’m a sucker for real-life racing organizations in games. Thus I spent some of my most enjoyable moments in the FIA World Rallycross Championship. As is the case with the career mode, this piece could use a coat of paint to bring it to life, but it’s still a strong aspect of the game.
My biggest beef with Dirt Rally 2.0 is its multiplayer options. There aren’t enough available in the way of online racing features. The online multiplayer draw lies in daily and weekly challenges, and one-off races that don’t offer enough structure. Those options would be nice in addition to leagues, and something more formal, but alone this is perhaps the only part of the game that feels underdeveloped.
Visually, Dirt Rally 2.0 is stunning in most areas. The cars have excellent weight and feel, and while the feature set isn’t stacked, including a limited online multiplayer suite, the cupboard isn’t bare. Dirt Rally 2.0 is for hardcore fans of rally racing who demand the most authentic experience from a video game that dares to emulate their sport. That might sound like a hefty endorsement, and it is mostly, but any fan looking for a more casual experience might elect to pull over and exit the vehicle.