Action Audit: Dirt Rally 2.0

Dirt Rally 2.0 is finally here. Three left, tightens, 200...

Welcome to Action Audit!  We wanted a feature of the site to be something quick and convenient to read.  Our goal with Action Audit is to give you something to consume in five minutes or less.  It will generally consist of game reviews but may occasionally spin off into other topics, such as industry news & analysis.  Reviews of this nature will end in some type of recommendation, but we do not give numerical scores.

I have to lead this Action Audit with a note: I consider myself a expert when it comes to Dirt Rally. I am writing this from the perspective of someone who takes rally simulation relatively seriously. If am harsh on certain aspects of the series, it is because I view it from the perspective of a more “hardcore” player. I completely understand some people may not agree with my perspective on different aspects of the Dirt series.

Dirt Rally 2.0 (DR2) was released on February 26th, 2019. Its predecessor, Dirt 4, was an odd mix of simulation & arcade mechanics, abandoning the more “hardcore” aspects of the original Dirt Rally. It seemed, at least for a while, that Codemasters had decided to forgo the sim-oriented Dirt Rally and instead were going to concentrate on the mainline Dirt series. Dirt 4 was well received by most games media critics, but that praise didn’t seem to stick when it got into the hands of the general public. Long story short, Dirt 4 was criticized by the general public (66% on Steam) for some odd design choices and what felt like an identity crisis. It wasn’t a great sim game and it wasn’t a great arcade game. When Dirt Rally 2.0 was announced on September 26th, 2018, rally sim fans exhaled a sigh of relief. It looked like Codemasters was going back to the formula that made Dirt Rally the best, and most rewarding, rally simulator on the market.

I’ve played Dirt Rally 2.0 for about 30 hours (at the time of writing). I have a handle on its physics engine. I understand the different modes and features. I made sure to test as many vehicles as I reasonably could. The only question that now remains is: Does Dirt Rally 2.0 properly succeed Dirt Rally, in being a proper, “hardcore”, rally simulation? The answer to that question is…yes…with some exceptions.

When in doubt, flat out…

The absolute, most important component in any simulation racing game is the physics model. After Dirt 4, many in the rally sim community were concerned that Codemasters abandoned the core components of Dirt Rally, favoring a simplified, but ultimately less flexible driving model. I’ve spent enough time in game, to say with confidence, that the physics model in DR2 is an upgraded version of the Dirt Rally model. It is, in a word, excellent. Those who played Dirt Rally know that the handling model was life-like, responsive, and yet flawed. DR2 builds on that flexible & responsive model but fixes many of the issues found in the original game:
– The vehicles are “heavier.” They don’t float over the surface and bounce off objects like rubber balls.
– Jumps are much more manageable and vehicles tend to nose down properly, mimicking real life.
– Tarmac grip is improved (but not perfect).
– Dirt & gravel feel deeper. Cars properly dig in when thrown into turns.
Overall, Dirt Rally 2.0’s physics are solid improvement over both Dirt Rally and Dirt 4. Let’s move on to content…

Dirt Rally 2.0 – Cars have more weight to them, act more like…cars.

The game has most of the options one would expect from a rally simulator (time trial, historical rally, custom). Since this Action Audit, I’m not going to spend a lot of time dissecting each portion of the game, but instead summarize the rest of the “good stuff” found in the package:

  • DR2 isn’t just a rally experience – it also comes with a full FIA license for World Rallycross. All the modern Rally-X cars are included, including regional favorites like the Subaru STI Rally-X version. DR2 is the most complete Rally-X simulator on the market. If you are a fan of Rally-X action, this is the only place to get it.
  • The car list is massive and includes nearly every iconic rally car from the past 60 years. There are several classes of vehicles, ranging from classic cars to the ridiculous GT spec class.
  • For those that enjoy live multiplayer, DR2 has a custom mode that allows people to join the same session and play at the same time. This includes rally and rally-x. (Oddly enough, league play was not included at launch.)
  • The rally experience now includes tire choice, road degradation, and additional track conditions (e.g. damp, light rain, heavy rain). The procedural stages from Dirt 4 are gone (thankfully) and replaced with handcrafted replications of real rally locations.
Dirt Rally 2.0 – The lighting is improved over DR1, but is also has some serious flaws.

I think we have a puncture…

It is unfortunate that I can’t just skip over this part and say, “It’s a great game, go buy it.” It is objectively true that Dirt Rally 2.0 contains significant structural improvements over the original game, but it also stumbles over itself in a few ways that I need to talk about.

  • DR2 isn’t playable without Racenet (Codemaster’s network). That isn’t an exaggeration. The game doesn’t work if Racenet is down. In case you are wondering, yes, that includes all the single player modes. Where DR1 allowed the player to play locally if Racenet was down, DR2 does not. I don’t have time to get into it here, but you can imagine the issues, both technical and philosophical, this creates.
  • The game engine has received significant upgrades and under most circumstances, this would be a good thing. While this “upgrade” has improved stage length and overall presentation (aka graphics), it has created a new issue: it is very difficult to discern objects in the distance. Whether by design, or an artifact of the engine, the game simply isn’t as sharp as DR1. Upcoming turns are often “washed out” in the background until your car is very close. Do the graphics look better than DR1? Yes, but clarity was lost in the transition.
  • I don’t know how Codemasters is generating the stage conditions for Dirt Rally (when participating in Career Mode). I’m not sure if it’s a randomized dice roll or some other process that picks from a list of options. Regardless, the “system” chooses night & rain conditions at a much higher rate than what occurs in real life. Generally speaking, rally is at its best in dry, daylight conditions, and DR2 is the same. Most rally racing should occur in those conditions. Codemasters needs to reduce the chance of career mode generating night/wet conditions.
  • There are a lot of complaints about Force Feedback and steering wheel configurations within the Steam user reviews (and forums such as Reddit). Steam reviews have been “bombed” by complaints about FF being broken and/or not working properly. I cannot comment on this directly, since I use a controller, but I trust that this many complaints means something isn’t right.
Dirt Rally 2.0 – Argentina is very technical. Very.

Our Recommendation

Buy

Dirt Rally 2.0 expands and improves on the best part of Dirt Rally, the driving experience. It also ditches many of the odd design choices found in Dirt 4, ensuring that DR2 is seen an authentic rally simulation. The inclusion of the full FIA license for Rallycross completes the package. It might seem strange to give a buy recommendation when there are some relatively glaring problems with the game, but that’s because the rally experience is so damn good, that the positives far outweigh the negatives. DR2 is also built with additional content in mind (“games as a service” is not a bad thing). The game should receive significant content updates over time.

DR2 is also a time considerate game. A person can sit down and complete several stages without dumping in hours upon hours of time. It is a very efficiently designed game, and for that, it will go on our recommended list.

Dirt Rally 2.0 is available on PC, Xbox, and Playstation. What do you think of Dirt Rally 2.0? Have you played it? Do you find it as exciting and rewarding we do? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!

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