There’s beauty in the beast.

Title: DiRT Rally 2.0
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One
Developer: Codemasters
Publisher: Codemasters
Price: 
PS4: £55/$60
Xbox One: £55/$60
PC: £45/$50
Release date: February 22, 2019
TL;DR: It’s the essential racing game for 2019
Family Focus? Click here for more information

The first DiRT Rally, from way back in 2015, was a hard reset for the rally series from Codemasters, shedding all the glitz and glamour to bring fans a horribly reliable recreation of the sport, warts and all. Four years later and Codemasters is back with DiRT Rally 2.0, a game that’s unforgivingly challenging but one that rewards your time with a tight-knit set of courses, a generous roster of cars, and gameplay that taunts you into one more race every time.

It’s a big step up for the new instalment of DiRT Rally, and the game more than matches the challenge. While much of the core gameplay, extending to the career mode and free play races remain the same, it’s the nuances of the game that really sticks out when you play. At the top of this list is the game’s track degradation, a devious little feature that carves up tracks, working to make some turns an absolute nightmare. It’s something that means your starting place in a race has so much more importance compared to previous outings, with a starting position after ninth-place leaving a breadcrumb trail of tyre tracks throughout the course for you to follow. Of course, if you try to match that trail pace for pace, you’re going to run into a few nasty surprises, with sharp turn usually resulting in you having to slow down pretty dramatically to ride that muddy wave.

It’s a feature that works brilliantly in crafting that immersive nature of DiRT Rally 2.0 but it’s one that also places the game in a very specific spot, making it something that only those in the know will fully appreciate. If you’re not a rally fan, then the game feels like it’ll only serve to frustrate as you try to learn an unspoken set of rules. That’s not to say that the game is totally inaccessible for new players but it’ll be a steep learning curve, one that’s more dependant on your patience rather than the game holding your hand.

But track degradation isn’t the only thing you’ll have to deal with during races thanks to a revamped physics system that offers up the harsh lessons of gravity at every opportunity. It’s a small change that has a massive impact on the basic play of the game, with the car’s weight shifting from one side to another in a way that means you’ll be spending a lot of time during a race trying to keep the car steady. It’s something that adds a little extra to each race, affecting the car even through the straightest of roads.

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And speaking of the roads in the game, DiRT Rally 2.0 takes you on a globe-trotting tour of downright beautiful and bastard-hard courses to try out. The changeup of locations in the rally game has also seen Codemasters revert back to handmade courses rather than the procedurally generated tracks we got in DiRT 4. It means that courses have a bit more about them this time around and while we still only have a handful to race through, with track reversals, time of day, and weather conditions giving the illusion of more variety, the tracks are all steps towards mastery rather than something you’ll breeze through the first time. The game will take you to cliff sides in Argentina, New Zealand, Spain, and Australia, while the forestry of Poland and the US all offer up enough distracting vistas and lens flare that I happily went over a hill or drove into a tree because my eyes weren’t on the road.

There’s more to the game than the sprint courses and long-haul drives though. DiRT Rally 2.0’s Rally Cross game mode offers up a selection of cramped stages that blurs one terrain into another. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking these races were going to be a slice of crazed, arcadey fun. But an arcade racer is the last thing these races are, instead serving up a section that’s so technical at times that it feels unplayable or at least unenjoyable. Don’t get me wrong, I suspect those of you who know how to custom tune the car to suit these types of races will feel right at home here, with the races letting you play around with a roster of rally cross cars that pack quite a punch. But if you’re new to the sport, then much like the regular rally races, the Rally Cross feels alien, almost as if it’s constantly working against you. It’s a fine line that the game treads here and while the selection of cars offers up a wonderful mix of classic and modern beasts for you to cruise in, it feels like the Rally Cross races have a “you must be this high to ride,” sign hanging over it.

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The Career Mode follows the same premise we’ve seen before in the DiRT series, as you spend your time racing through different tournaments to earn more cash which you use to buy more cars. Essentially, the Career Mode is unchanged from the first DiRT Rally and the rest of the DiRT series. It’d be a far more alluring mode if the cars you bought weren’t available outside of the Career Mode but seeing that you can use the entire catalogue of cars from the get-go outside of the career, the whole mode feels more like a training ground rather than a typical career.

DiRT Rally 2.0 is certainly a step up from the first game and it’s most definitely a departure from the mainline DiRT games. It’s a return to an unforgiving yet fair game, one that might look to cater to a small audience on the surface but stay a while with the game and you’ll begin to pick up the idiosyncrasies of the game, balancing how they affect your race while you try – hard as you might – not to crash. It’s a return to Codemasters at its very best and while a few modes, namely the Career Mode, could have done with a similar revamp in my opinion, it does little to affect the challenge or fun of the game. Whether you’re a racing veteran or a wide-eyed amateur looking for a new racer, DiRT Rally 2.0 is an essential racing game of 2019.

The Good

  • A stunning set of courses
  • Challenging gameplay that rarely feels unfair
  • The roster of cars covers everything from the classics to the ultra-modern

The Bad

  • Rally Cross races are very much for top tier players
  • That same hardcore sim vibe will put a lot of players off
  • The Career Mode is fine but more of the same, seeing something wholly new would’ve been a treat

Family Focus

PEGI: 3 ESRB: E for Everyone

The only thing stopping kids from enjoying this is racing sim style of gameplay. Still, if your kids don’t mind a challenge and enjoy rally racing, then it’s a perfect game for them.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a copy of the game provided by PR for the purpose of this review.