When it comes to motorsport icons I count myself lucky. As a kid born in the eighties I’ve been fortunate enough to say I’ve seen some of the titans of motorsport duel it out. Even now, listing the names of the rally drivers I watched as a kid gives me chills: Richard Burns, Carlos Sainz Sr, Juha Kankkunen, Tommi M?kinen and of course Colin McRae. Don’t get me wrong, I have every respect for drivers in the current WRC Championship and for sheer success no-one gets close to the likes of Sébastien Loeb — yet Colin McRae and his rally game brought forth my first real taste of what rallying was like and I doubt I am alone in that respect.
It goes without saying that in reality, the best rallying experience up until recently for full-on realism belonged to Richard Burns’ Rally. Whilst it strove for realism, the McRae titles slowly but surely tilted towards arcade mayhem. This isn’t to say they were bad games but it left those who enjoyed playing sims with a game that would slowly but surely show its age when it came to not only graphics but compatibility. It was with shock and sheer delight then that in 2015 Codemasters released, originally in Steam’s early access, DiRT Rally. Steeped in simulation, it was precisely what sim rally fans had been after. Updated visuals aside, it was the deftness in the handling and the feel, especially if you had a wheel setup, that really set it apart. Each surface could be differentiated through the force feedback helping you navigate the stage alongside your co-driver’s pace notes.
McRae’s Subaru and a rally game, simply iconic
DiRT 4 followed two years later, more a sequel to Dirt: Showdown than DiRT Rally and with it a new handling model. It felt a little lacklustre when compared to its simulation stablemate but then, given DiRT 4’s more arcade leanings, this could be forgiven. However it seems to have made its way into DiRT Rally 2.0 and it’s pretty disappointing. Every surface feels pretty much the same and it’s much harder to judge where the grip is. Given wheel support varies between hardware it may just be that our Thrustmaster TX wheel isn’t as well supported as others. That being said, moving to a model that causes such a drastic change regardless is an odd choice given how good things already were. One positive out of this change however, is that it’s? easier to play on a controller which makes it far more accessible than DiRT Rally ever was. It’s still not a walk in the park and learning to play on a controller will take time and practice but it is possible and very, very rewarding.
As is typical of Game of the Year editions, this release includes all the cars and tracks that were locked behind DiRT Rally 2.0’s Year 1 pass. This includes locations such as Finland, Germany, Sweden, Scotland, Wales, Greece and Monte Carlo to join the original six rally locations of the USA, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Poland and Spain. That’s a whopping thirteen rally locations and more stages than a manned mission to Mars. If Rallycross is more your thing, there’s another thirteen circuits including official courses from the FIA World Rallycross Championship. Content is something DiRT Rally 2.0 Game of the Year Edition is not short of. Gone, however, is the iconic Pikes Peak hill climb and despite the plethora of locations to get your rally driving fix from, DiRT 2.0 is a little worse off with its omission.
Nothing like a good long shot, the scenery is stunning at times
The key hook of this Game of the Year Edition, to many fans, will be the inclusion of the Colin McRae: FLAT OUT Pack. It’s the first time the McRae name has officially been involved with the series since 2009’s Dirt 2 and it’s a welcome return. It feels familiar and by introducing forty challenges it’s a homage from the series that never really got the chance to say goodbye following the world champion’s untimely death in 2007. The challenges are a fun and engaging way to chart a course through McRae’s three-decade long career. From humble beginnings in a Sierra Cosworth to the more recognisable Subaru era and the iconic S4 Impreza in which he won his one and only world title before delving into his twilight years in which he dabbled in pretty much anything with four wheels. Split into four sections there is a mixture of trying to beat a set time or rival to completing stages with damage or at least not accruing any more. One thing is for sure, it stays true to Colin’s “if in doubt, flat out” approach to rallying.
They are certainly not easy and thanks to the first bunch of challenges I’ve grown a severe disliking towards the Sierra Cosworth. Almost all of the challenges centre around the new area of Perth & Kinross in sunny Scotland with a few jaunts over to Finland. They all beckon you to keep your virtual right foot planted since some of the times set are difficult to obtain unless you put caution to the wind. The thrill is palpable as you watch trees and log piles whisk by at obscene speeds all the while you’re on the delicate edge between control and a barrel roll that would make Starfox proud.
We have lift-off!
Outside of just trying to go as fast as you can in time trials and such there is, in fact, a career mode of sorts for both rallying and rallycross. Each season is split into events and depending on where you finish you get points, and if you get enough you’re promoted to the next level. It’s pretty generic and straightforward but by competing you get money and experience allowing you to improve your cars and your team. Your team directly affects things such as repair times and cost to how quickly your co-driver can change a tyre. The benefits aren’t huge but they are worth doing even though, overall, they don’t make things easier — just faster and more durable.
For most players, it’s the daily and weekly challenges that are the main draws in single-player, and with such a varied number of tracks and cars to choose from it’s a gift that keeps on giving. Each one has an online leaderboard to compare your times with the rest of the world and if you keep on taking part, much like the career segment, experience and money is awarded depending on your finishing place. It’s also a one-shot event so if you crash or mess up a turn there’s no reset, no retry until a new challenge appears in its place. This semi-brutal nature makes sure you put everything you got into your run and often helps the uninitiated learn that sometimes to be fast you need to be cautious.
Let’s not forget Richard Burns either
Whilst the force-feedback when using a wheel is the biggest letdown of DiRT 2.0 the handling overall is top-notch. Every car has a weight to it which, if you want to be fast, you’ll need to learn how to manipulate in order to quickly navigate the more technical sections of stages. Rear-wheel drive cars are easily spun but can be controlled like a delicate ballet dancer with some clever throttle control. Their front-wheeled driven brethren understeer like a pig if you throttle-on too early but are easier to drive if you’re new. From there you’ve got your all-wheel drive cars that most fans will recognise which are just a hoot to drive, especially the insane Group-B monsters such as the Lancia Delta S4. If you really want to get to know your history, there’s even a historic rally championship you can compete in that takes you through each major era.
Overall DiRT Rally 2.0 is a fantastic game and easily among the best rally simulations ever committed to polygons but it’s curtailed by a strange decision in a key area. It builds on the success of DiRT Rally and in its Game of the Year configuration it may be worth the upgrade. However, it can’t be stated enough just how much of a disappointment the force-feedback model is when using a wheel. Codemasters no doubt have a good reason for the change but improvements must be made for it to match its forebear. That said we only tested on our rig so mileage may vary depending on which wheel you actually own. Either way, thanks to the FLAT OUT pack it’s great to see the Colin McRae name attached to something very much worthy of his name.