The Game of the Year Edition of the already sublime rally simulator is bigger and better than ever.
- Developer: Codemasters
- Publisher: Codemasters
- Release date: 20th March 2020
- Genre: Racing, Off-Road/Rally
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
- Reviewed on: Xbox One X
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
We have already reviewed Dirt Rally 2.0, with our reviewer awarding the game an 8 out of 10, praising the excellent graphics and the RX mode, but struggling with the difficulty and learning curve needed to master the rally stages.
My experience has been a bit different, though. I have a lot of experience with rally games, and where I have seen mentioned a few times that there is a difficult learning curve, this wasn’t my experience at all. From scrabbly, understeering, front-wheel drive RX cars, to the insanely grippy all-wheel drive Rally cars, and the heavy, loose-reared Rally GT cars, the handling feels natural, and it’s a brilliant representation of how you would expect these cars to handle. If you have a good awareness of weight transfer and advanced driving techniques like power-oversteer, clutch-kicks and Scandinavian flicks, then you will instantly feel confident throwing these cars around the extensive range of tracks on offer.
This being the Game of the Year Edition means that there are a lot of tracks on offer, too. Since release, Dirt Rally 2.0 has had four seasons of staggered content releases since launch, and the GOTY edition has all of these, as well as the Colin McRae Flatout DLC, and a tonne of additional cars. With all of the additional locations, this brings the totals up to thirteen countries worth of stages for the rally championships, while Rallycross also has thirteen circuits for you to go bumper-to-bumper with your opponents on. Thanks to the huge amount of disciplines available and the stunning variety of modern and classic machines to choose from, Dirt Rally 2.0 GOTY is one of the most comprehensive rally games ever made, and it’s certainly one of the best, too.
Let us address the officially licensed elephant in the room. WRC 8 may have the official teams, drivers and liveries, but when you compare it to the enormous variety of cars, tracks, daily and weekly events, and the fully licensed Rallycross mode included with Dirt Rally 2.0 GOTY, WRC 8 actually feels a little lacking in content. Career mode in WRC 8 is arguably better, and they made a huge step forward that has proved immensely popular with fans, but Dirt Rally 2.0 has far more variety and this gives the game longevity that WRC 8 just can’t match.
Dirt Rally 2.0 GOTY has an Events category that houses Career Races and Challenges. The challenges are a constantly refreshing selection of daily and weekly special events, community events and AI challenges. The special and community challenges are competed against human opponents, and they are still very popular with the community. Pick your car, sort out your setup and off you go, but beware, a lot of these are one-shot events comprising multiple stages where if you crash out, you don’t get a restart. It ramps up the pressure significantly, and only the best drivers will be hitting the top of these leaderboards.
The career mode guides you through structured championships that increase in difficulty each time you complete a season of Career Rally or Rallycross. You are free to tackle these in whichever category of cars you choose, though, so if you want to jump straight into Rallycross is in an RX Supercar, then fill your boots. At first, Career does feel a bit under-developed. It would possibly have been preferable if it took you on a journey through the different classes of vehicle, working up from Classic cars through the ages, up to pure-bred rally monsters, all accessed under the banner of Career mode.
Instead, Dirt Rally 2.0 has separated the career and added championships to Freeplay mode. It’s here where you will find the Historic championships, which take you from ‘60s classics like the Mini, through ‘80s Group B rockets, to modern classics. It’s basically an extension of career, and while it seems weird to have it labelled as Freeplay, it fleshes out the game modes a lot. Freeplay also includes the FIA World Rallycross Championship, which again should surely have been a part of the career, but there’s no point dwelling on that anymore. Featuring real-world drivers, liveries and tracks, Dirt Rally 2.0 GOTY is worth getting for the RX mode alone. The close, intense racing is superb, and you can have some exhilarating races once you adjust the difficulty to match your ability.
Rounding out the Freeplay options we have Custom events, which allow you to create your own online (up to eight players) or offline championships, in any mixture of disciplines, with full control over difficulty restrictions. Time Trial has full leaderboards for every category of car, on every circuit. Ghost cars are a welcome addition, and an added bonus is the ability to filter the leaderboard to include the global best times across all platforms or restrict it to just your own platform (Xbox in this case). Free Roam has the DirtFish compound, which you may be familiar with from its appearance in Dirt 4, albeit without all of the technical challenges from that game. If you didn’t play Dirt 4, the DirtFish compound is an extensive rally driving playground that wouldn’t look out of place in a Ken Block Gymkhana video.
The last addition to this already sizeable portion of content is the Colin McRae Flat Out DLC, celebrating the storied career of one of the greatest rally drivers of all time. Long-time players of the series will no doubt be aware that the Dirt games evolved from the original Colin McRae Rally games from the turn of the century, so it is fitting that they have given fans this DLC add-on. The Colin McRae DLC is comprised of a series of scenarios based on Colin’s most memorable moments from his storied career, such as finishing a stage with a damaged engine mount or overcoming a significant time deficit, and the DLC has also added some legendary cars featuring his famous liveries too. It would be a worthwhile purchase as a standalone DLC, so to have it in addition to all of the other content is a definite boon.
Handling, as we touched upon earlier, is highly authentic, and it takes a fair amount of skill and control if you are to set a fast time, but this makes it so much more satisfying when you do nail the perfect section or stage. Whilst there are numerous assists such as TCS and ABS, it’s so much more authentic when you switch them all off. Dirt Rally 2.0 is at its best when you are fully able to appreciate the level of simulation they have achieved, and with all assists off you can learn and perfect advanced driving techniques. If it’s proving too hard at first, you can start in the lower-powered and easier to handle classes, and progress to the more challenging cars as your skills develop.
Not only do individual disciplines have unique handling characteristics, but it also extends to the different vehicles within these disciplines. We don’t have access to a steering wheel setup at the moment, so have been playing on a controller, and it’s very playable even with default settings. It requires a deft touch though, especially at higher speeds, so if you are struggling with the handling it’s worth going through the advanced settings. Don’t fret if it looks too complicated, as there are loads of setup guides available online to help you find settings that work for you.
No doubt many will have a favourite car or two that they want to run, but with such a vast array of different vehicles to try out it’s really worth experimenting with more cars. A personal favourite for me is the Rally GT category: Manhandling supercars from manufacturers like Porsche and Aston Martin across surfaces that are about as far from their natural habitat as you can imagine is brilliant. They are extremely powerful and a real handful around the twisty bends, but this makes it that much more rewarding when you get it right.
I’m about forty hours into Dirt Rally 2.0 GOTY, and it still feels like I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the content on offer. I make a point of changing car classes after each championship, and I have yet to find a car I don’t enjoy driving, or that just feels like a reskinned version of something else. Some are obviously harder to drive than others, yet I have not found a single vehicle or car class that feels like a chore. This may not seem like a big deal, but when in other games I frequently come across cars that are slow and unengaging, the fact I have enjoyed every car so far is a great achievement.
There are a few very nice touches that you may not even be aware of depending on the difficulty settings you choose. Surface degradation results in ruts and potholes appearing on the road depending how far down the starting order you are, likewise with muddy ground being churned up by drivers ahead of you. “Unexpected moments” can also occur if you enable them in the options – at one point I had marshals in the road flagging me down, and around the next corner, I came across a car broken down in the road, while others have also reported having deer run out in front of them – It’s little details like this that heighten the sense of immersion, and show a level of care and attention to providing a truly authentic experience that other developers rarely come close to.
Dirt Rally 2.0 GOTY nails the most important parts of a game; gameplay and content. You’ll be glad to know it’s no slouch when it comes to pushing those pixels on to your display, too. On the Xbox One X, gameplay runs at a smooth 4k60, with stunning HDR enabled, too. WRC 8 is a beautiful looking game, arguably better looking than Dirt Rally 2.0, but it only manages 30fps. The smooth 60fps framerate on Dirt Rally makes a huge difference when you are constantly monitoring traction, weight shift, blind corners and other visual cues. Dirt Rally 2.0 still looks incredible though, it’s highly detailed and a visual feast. The super-smooth framerate is just the icing on the delicious graphical cake.
Sound quality is very good throughout the whole game. Engine sounds are authentic, carrying the raspy exhaust rattle and high-revving engine notes fans are sure to appreciate. Ambient effects, such as rain pattering around you accompanied by the swish-swoosh of your wipers and gravel flicking up around you all serve to heighten the immersion. When you are in the service area, there is the sound of mechanical clunking and electric drivers whirring, too. The developers have really filled the game with ambience. Another important audio aspect, the pace notes, are delivered clearly, and even when you are thundering along a gravelly road, you can still distinguish them over the din. They can be difficult to follow if you aren’t paying full attention, as they are delivered several at a time in quick succession, so rally stages don’t really lend themselves to casual pick-up-and-play gameplay. Rallycross fills this niche nicely, with the short laps enabling you to quickly learn the route around the track and focus on improving your sector times.
When it comes to rally games, you have two very good choices now. WRC 8 benefits from the official WRC license, and if you absolutely have to have the official drivers and teams, then that’s the game you want, and you will no doubt be very happy with it. If, however, you are looking for a more hardcore rally simulator, then Dirt Rally 2.0 is definitely the superior choice. Smoother graphics, frequent community-led events, a larger variety of car classes, the excellent Rallycross mode and overall longevity makes Dirt Rally 2.0 the best choice for rally purists. Personally, I love them both, and I will still flit between them, especially for some of the excellent stage design in WRC 8, but if I had to choose just one to play, then when it comes to variety of content and realism in the handling, Dirt Rally 2.0 GOTY is my recommendation.
Dirt Rally 2.0 GOTY Edition is a must-buy for any rally fans. Accurate and rewarding simulation, sumptuous visuals, excellent audio and unparalleled variety in its content. This game is ideal for any racing fan, period. It’s definitely challenging, and it takes a certain skill set to become adept, but if you have the skills or patience to master it, it’s one of the best and most complete rally games ever made.