I’ve played plenty of traditional driving games like Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, and more arcade stuff like Forza Horizon. But never a game designed solely around rallying. I’ve always been interested, but no rally game ever caught my eye—until I saw the first gameplay trailers for Dirt Rally 2.0.
Dirt Rally 2.0 is the 13th game in the Colin McRae Rally series, which first hit stores in 1998. Like its predecessor, Dirt Rally, its aim is to be a dedicated simulator rather than something anyone can just flip on and play for 30 minutes. The physics are surprisingly realistic, as are the cars and the sounds. There’s a handful of different modes, a seemingly endless amount of stages, and plenty of awesome cars to choose from. In addition to the stage rally, there’s rallycross, which lets you race against other players. It’s everything you’d expect a hardcore rally game to be, more.
Though I usually gravitate towards multiplayer when it comes to racing games, I spent most of my time in the single-player stage mode, grinding through different championships using various classes of car. Players can choose from a wide array of different rally-prepped vehicles, from old Ford Escorts, to 911 GT3s, to Aston Martin Vantages, to the latest WRC hatchbacks. The game has pretty much every cool car you’ve watched on YouTube flying through the stages. There’s also a couple of cars in the game that don’t exist in real life, like rally versions of the Camaro GT4 and Mustang GT4 factory race cars.
The best part is that it’s not easy. The first time I tried to go down a stage, I thought something was wrong with my controller. But it turns out, I was just being sloppy with my inputs. This game is extremely sensitive to your controls. It requires you to get used to how your decisions affect what will happen down the road. You can’t huck a car into a corner and pull off the perfect drift of your fantasies just because it’s a video game. Unlike race tracks, stage rally doesn’t have any runoff for when you mess up (more on that later). Thankfully, in addition to being read aloud by WRC championship-winning co-driver Phil Mills, stage notes are displayed on the screen over the windshield, so you’re never really left in the dark.
Inputs aren’t the only realistic thing about this game. Because it’s rally, the surface changes depending on where you are, meaning you might be able to carry a certain speed through one corner, but not the next. It challenges you to look ahead and predict what your car will do, and adjust accordingly. As I’ve learned playing this game, there isn’t just one type of gravel surface—there’s hard, packed gravel, soft, loose gravel, and a bunch of other surfaces in between. If you’re more into tarmac stages, Dirt has those too. Even snow stages will be available as part of the game's "season one" downloadable content package.
Crashing is a big part of Dirt—it’s just something you’re going to have to get used to. It took me awhile to tone down my driving to stop flying off the road into a tree every few minutes. You’re also going to have to get used to repairing your car. Just like in real stage rally, the championship events in 2.0 have service interval periods peppered between stages, giving you the chance to fix things like body damage, suspension geometry, lighting, powertrain damage, and other things. Do enough damage without repairing anything, and your car will suffer. Headlights stop to work, acceleration falters, and steering becomes compromised. Clipping a ditch or slapping a tree won’t do too much damage, but it certainly won’t help your times. Fly into something at high speed, and you’re looking at some significant down time, and possibly a penalty if you can’t get it fixed in time. Sometimes, you might even get a flat tire on stage. The game gives the option of repairing it on the spot (and sacrificing time), or driving on it. The flat will get worse over time, eventually making the car borderline undrivable. It’s up to you to decide whether to stop and fix it or limp your way to the end of the stage. If you want realism in your rally game, this is the one to get.
As intimidating as all of this stuff sounds, when you do get everything right, the driving itself is extremely satisfying. Once you get used to the car and how it reacts to your inputs, it’s only a matter of time before your linking drifts, nailing apexes, and topping charts. Though the graphics aren’t on the same levels of Forza or Gran Turismo, they’re not bad, and don’t detract from the overall experience. There’s been some serious thought put into the physics—no two cars drive exactly the same, even when they’re in the same category. Depending on your driving style, you may prefer the Citroen C3 over the Fiesta RS. And the 911 even drives like a 911. I’d rather have realistic-feeling cars and passable graphics than great graphics and spongy, computer-esqe physics any day. Dirt Rally 2.0 did it the right way.
A game from the Dirt series will always hold a more niche position in the gaming market, but really, it provides just as much fun as the bigger titles. Not because it has killer graphics or a massive multiplayer mode, but because it provides something you can’t really get anywhere else. If you’re tired of going around the same race tracks in the same cars over and over again, Dirt Rally 2.0 a welcome alternative that actually challenges your car control skills in a way that Forza never could. Sure, it might have a bit of a learning curve, but often times, the best games do. If you’re willing to put the time in, you might get as addicted as I did.