Dirt Rally 2.0 is the latest offering from Codemasters and is split into two very different game modes. Well there are also options such as Time Trials and Historic Rally, but the core modes are Rally and Rallycross. The Rally portion is a brutal, unforgiving, and intense experience, requiring complete concentration and unswerving attention to co-driver callouts throughout the entirety of each stage. Driver error when misjudging the speed of a corner or cutting a little too much results in vehicle damage (repairable - after the second stage), and if you truly mess up and end up flying off the road or upside down, the time penalties are harsh. The exhilaration experienced after successfully negotiating a successful stage (or even a series of tough turns) though, is suitably rewarding and well worth the effort required.
The Rallycross events are a much more relaxed affair and for me, significantly more enjoyable. The same physics and vehicle mechanics as Rally still apply to these events, but as you're racing around a relatively small yet substantially wider track for four to six laps against visible AI opponents, the time pressure, imminent danger, and butt-clenched edge-of-the-couch with tongue-between-teeth tension is, thankfully absent. Perhaps I'm simply happier and more confident racing around a track than I am following explicit directions called out by an unseen and entirely emotionless robot whilst hurtling around an unknown and at times unseeable dirt track through a dense forest in the dark and stormy night. Even though that description makes it sound undeniably cool.
Completing an event in either mode rewards you with credits to spend on upgrades or new vehicles. Upgrades however, are locked behind milestones such as overall distance driven, and simply playing the game will unlock the majority of these. Codemasters have been in the racing game, err, game for so long now that it should come as no surprise that the progression is a well-oiled machine.
Like that realistic dark and stormy night mentioned earlier, as a whole Dirt Rally 2.0 offers some of the most incredible visuals seen in a rally game to date. The cars are not only highly detailed with damage exceptionally well modelled, the locations are gorgeous too. Without simply a wall of trees or rocks obscuring the vistas like the rally games of old, you’ll know from a single glance exactly where you're racing. For me though it's the track surfaces which truly stand out. Pools of standing water in ruts and puddles glinting from sunlight filtering through trees, the sheen on tarmac glistens, and dirt is, well, appropriately earthy.
There's a few small issues here but they can be overlooked thanks to the great visuals and outstanding vehicle handling. Both the weather and time of day are fixed for the duration of the stage. Day won't fade to dusk, nor will sunny skies turn grey. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by the Forza Horizon series. And while each location offers unique scenery and surface types, individual stages are repeated, and entire sections of track are occasionally mirrored - not necessarily a bad thing, but a little sloppy. Especially when you consider Dirt 4 had random track generation, which meant that while you might encounter the same corner a few times, the sections before and after were almost guaranteed to be something different.
Make no mistake Dirt Rally 2.0 is a hardcore rally simulator, and as such, may not appeal to all racing fans. Most racing games I usually drive without any assists (well, not the original Project Cars), but for some of the cars (looking at you Porsche) throughout their Rally events, I found it necessary to dial the stability and traction control to max in order to simply finish, never mind placing first. Thankfully the Rallycross events, while fairly long due to the extensive qualifying rounds, offer an almost separate game to those of us who prefer to fling their rally-spec cars around a tight track, lap after lap after lap.