Make no mistake about it: DiRT Rally 2.0 will put your driving skills to the ultimate test. After spending some time with more arcade-centric racers over the past few years, I thought I actually had a handle on the racing genre. Turns out, I’m still very much an amateur, and my inability to place anywhere near the top of the leaderboards during my journey through 2.0 proves I still have quite a bit to learn. Even after making extensive mental notes whenever I royally screwed up, I still struggled to keep up with the pack, which conjured feelings I hadn’t experienced since my time with Gran Turismo 4. In fact, to keep those dark feelings of personal turmoil under control, I had to develop an alter ego to take the fall for my inadequacies. Had I not, I doubt my poor PlayStation 4 controller would have survived the experience.
Instead of admitting my own shortcomings and suffering the emotional and psychological consequences, I will instead blame everything on my rookie driver, Mr. Rodd Bloodshot. A born hot-head who tends to lose his cool whenever he fails to adequately perform during a qualifying round (which happens more often than he’d like to admit), Bloodshot never lets these negative downturns hold him back, regardless of their severity. Instead, he pushes forward, speeding forever toward the finish line, even when his behavior on the racetrack prompts investigations from the stewards (Bloodshot has a tendency to cut corners, though not necessarily on purpose). The guy never called it quits. Ever.
Chances are, you will spend most of your time with DiRT Rally 2.0 playing through the game’s My Career mode, which allows you embark on, well, a career through the Rally and Rallycross circuits. You can also test your mettle against daily challenges between the AI and other real-world drivers from across the entire planet. By completing championships, you’ll receive credits, which allow you to upgrade your ride, purchase new vehicles for your garage, and upgrade your crew. Additionally, the more you race, the more research goes into your car, which gives you greater access to things like improved engines and suspension. In other words, the more you put into it, the better options you’ll have to adapt to various conditions. You can also spend a lot of time tuning your car to improve its performance, but I know nothing about cars or how they operate, so all of my experiments only made things worse. Much, much worse.
Fortunately, you don’t need to possess the skills of a world-class rally driver or the chops of a well-greased mechanic to earn credits in DiRT Rally 2.0. Take poor Rodd Bloodshot, for instance; the poor guy never placed higher than 10th in any race and still had the funds to improve his garage staff, repair his cars, and purchase new automobiles — which he would then use in an upcoming race, only to run them off the side of the road more times than I will ever admit in writing. Sure, you receive more credits if you place higher on the leaderboards, but your personal skill level won’t prohibit you from making progress in the game. Otherwise, Mr. Bloodshot’s career — not to mention my patience and level-headedness — would have crashed and burned long before I had an opportunity to explore the game in earnest. And when I say patience, I mean the patience of a saint, because DiRT Rally 2.0 will not cut you any breaks whatsoever.
I found this out the hard way. While speeding down a narrow gravel road in the dead of night during a heavy rainstorm, I hit the brakes to address an upcoming turn I had failed to notice (always pay attention to your co-driver). As soon as I did, I realized my mistake, but I had no time to correct this glaring error. Over the side of the road and into the trees Rodd Bloodshot traveled, my knuckles white as I gripped the controller and braced for impact. In other racing games, I could have recovered from this move before doing severe damage to my car; however, in DiRT Rally 2.0, Rodd paid the consequences for driving like an idiot. If your mind drifts off the road ahead of you for even a split second, you could watch your standing plummet with zero chance of recovery. At first, it bugged me, but then I grew to like it.
Fortunately for those of us who only dabble in the world of hardcore racing simulators, DiRT Rally 2.0 allows you to mess around with the settings a bit to find a level of difficulty to suits your skills. For the sake of this review, I kept driving assists turned off and my challengers’ driving abilities a notch above “easy,” though that slight decrease to the AI’s abilities did little to help me win any races. It did, however, force to me learn the game’s system and mechanics to step up my game; learning how my cars reacted to different terrain, navigating narrow roads in the dead of night, and knowing how rain affected traction slowly helped me improve. And as Rodd Bloodshot gradually moved up the leaderboards, I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment — until Rodd flipped the car once again.
Of course, my patience for Rodd’s numerous crashes, spills, and screw-ups during crucial moments of each and every race would have cracked like so many windshields were it not for DiRT Rally 2.0’s impeccable presentation. On a spiffy 4K HDR television and powered by the PlayStation Pro, the game looks absolutely marvelous: headlights cut through inky black darkness, the glare of the sun obscures turns, dust clouds from your competitors make it difficult to see two feet in front of you — it’s the closest many of us will probably get to the world of rally racing, and it’s downright glorious. My advice: turn off the HUD completely, rely only on your co-driver’s instructions (professional co-driver Phil Mills will calmly guide you, regardless of how poorly you’ve handled everything), and stick to the first-person perspective. You might spill a few expletives and pop a few tires only the way, but joys of burning down the near-photo-realistic straightaways make it all worthwhile.
Unfortunately, DiRT Rally 2.0 stumbles a bit in the content department. Although you have access to a handful of multi-stage races under My Career (as well as several daily challenges), a number of historic races, and the FIA World Rallycross Championship, when compared to other racing games on the market, you can’t help but feel as though something’s missing. Character customization lacks any kind of depth (you essentially select from a handful of pre-made models), the number of cars at your disposal feels limited, and the career mode can feel like an endless, thankless grind after you’ve finished the races two or three times. Some might say that improving your times and mastering the different cars will provide all the satisfaction one could ever crave — and I will agree with that to a certain extent — I can’t help but feel that the overall package, while attractively glossy and highly enjoyable, comes across a bit thin at times.
My alter-ego Rodd Bloodshot never won a race during his time through DiRT Rally 2.0, but he had an absolute blast trying to work his way up the leaderboards. He will probably never win a championship, and he’ll most likely spend money more on car repairs than he will ever win during his career, but bless his heart, he has spirit, perseverance, and determination, all of which any racer — experienced or otherwise — will need if they hope to enjoy their time with Codemasters’ gorgeous racer. This game will not hold your hand, regardless of how much you beg your co-driver to give you an on-screen map, but the satisfaction you’ll feel when you complete a race without veering off-road or flipping your automobile will wash away all those hours of frustration. Even if your skills match those of serial car flipper Rodd Bloodshot, you can still appreciate everything this brutal racer has to offer. Turn off the HUD, grab some headphones, and let Phil Mills guide you toward victory.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A review copy was provided by Codemasters.
Although it feels a little short on content at times, DiRT Rally 2.0 provides a gorgeous, rewarding, and punishing hardcore experience for dedicated racing enthusiasts with the skills and patience to handle the pressure.