Dirt Rally 2.0

Dirt Rally 2.0

Written by Dave Gamble on 2/18/2019 for PC  
More On: Dirt Rally 2.0

Rally racing, while not my absolute favorite form of auto racing, has always been something of an interest to me. That said, it has never been a form of PC racing that I was ever very good at, at least in its traditional form. The relatively new Rallycross, on the other hand, is much more like the “normal” racing that I enjoy in my normal sim racing. If you’re new to the concept of rally racing itself, or don’t understand the difference between ‘Rally’ and ‘Rallycross’, just think of any type of rally race as racing on mixed-surface (asphalt, dirt, gravel, etc.) tracks, in all kinds of weather. The difference between the two forms of rally are very simple as well: Rally racing is, in gamer terms, Player-vs-Environment (PvE) while Rallycross is Player-vs-Player (PvP).

Traditional Rally racing is the PvE style. The races are run on the most brutal roads imaginable - generally the type of roads that you would curse your GPS for choosing for your route. The “roads” are usually very narrow and more often than not have more turns than straightaways. These are the types of roads that have Jeff Bezos looking for ways to deliver Amazon packages via drones. The racers drive the tracks individually and well-spaced apart. The lowest time wins. It is not necessarily a fast trip, nor is it typically a long drive. Stages can be as short as a mile or so, or as long as 10+ miles. Speeds will range from a brisk walking speed to stupidly fast. There are multiple stages to each rally, and for the most part every section if road used will be different from the last. In fact, the tracks are unique enough that there is need for a second person in the car to provide directions to the driver.

Rallycross is significantly different, although the same types of cars are used. In Rallycross, a handful of cars race laps around a permanent track. These tracks, typically offshoots of an established “normal” racetrack, are also comprised of various surfaces, although they mostly seem to be made of mud. A Rallycross event is also made up of individual races, mostly due to the smaller size of the tracks, which are usually short than one mile. While there may be dozens of entries, only a relatively small group can fit on the track. The field gets winnowed down with a series of qualifier races to arrive at a final race for the trophy.

Not surprisingly, there are a number of Rally racing simulator/games that allow mere pedestrians like myself to experience the thrills and spills of this unique type of auto sport for ourselves, the most recent of which is Codemasters DiRT Rally 2.0 which is, as you probably suspect, an updated version of DiRT Rally. It’s been a few years since versions, and I do not think that the original included the Rallycross type of racing. It did, however, include the infamous Pikes Peak hill climb. To be honest, I think that to be a reasonable trade-off.

I need to address another important  topic right up front, and that is the thorny question of VR. While I am not entirely of the “No VR, no buy” school of thought, it does factor highly in my decision making. The difference for me is generally whether I buy at full price, or wait for a 50% off sale. I’m looking at you, F1 2018. I was initially surprised to not find VR support mentioned in the early releases of data about Rally 2.0, especially when considering that VR had been added to the original DiRT Rally. VR wasn’t in that version at first, of course, but it was obviously possible for it to be added later, and I got to wondering if it would happen again with Rally 2.0.

The good news on that front is that Codemasters has already announced that VR will be added to DiRT Rally 2.0 sometime in the summer of 2019. The not-so-good news is that it will be exclusive to the Oculus Rift. I have a Rift, so YAY! for me, but I do have to say that I abhor VR exclusives even when I am on the winning side. So there it is, VR folks. You’ll just have to wait for it if you have a Rift, or set the visor down if you don’t.

I decided to start with Rallycross, what with it being a brand new aspect of DiRT Rally, and I was curious to see how it compared to the Rallycross in Project Cars 2. I can share the result of that comparison right up front because it will surprise no one: DiRT Rally does it better. This is not a slap at Project Cars. The fact that Rallycross exists at all in such a compendium style of racing sim is surprising, considering the additional time and effort required to built multi-surface physics and relatively unique types of cars. While the driving/racing is passable, Project Cars does not provide the complexity/practices of the rules that make Rally racing what it is.

As an example, consider car damage. In both Rally and Rallycross, you can expect to incur some level of damage in each stage. In Rally, the damage typically comes from hitting immovable objects (mostly trees) as you race down the roads, while in Rallycross it is far more common to damage your car by hitting other cars. The salient point here is that damage to the car is expected, and that is taken into account in the way the time between heats is spent, which is repairing your car. What you can fix, though, is dependent on time and money. In Rallycross, you are alloted 30 minutes for repairs. If you have been careful, that might be enough time. If it isn’t, you have to make strategic decisions as to what to fix, and what to defer. This can make or break your next stage - at one point, I decided that headlights just weren’t that important. That turned out to be a poor choice as the next stage found me barrelling down a very dark road in New Zealand with just one headlight. It didn’t end well.

I chose to do the Rallycross races using my steering wheel and pedals, both to get a feel for the force feedback and because Rallycross is very similar to my road racing. I found the force feedback to be extant, but not all that great. To be fair, I must mention that I have recently been spending a lot of time in rFactor 2, which has a well-deserved reputation for exemplary road feel in its force feedback. It could be the case that I’m simply spoiled, but DiRT just didn’t convey the feeling of a rough, rutted surface that I had hoped for. Other than that, though, the racing is great! The improved visuals over the older version are readily apparent and actually have an effect on the racing, if you aren’t at the front of the pack. If you end up following a car or two, the dust thrown up by the cars in front of you severely restrict the view of the track in front of you.

When I moved to Rally, I went with a game controller. I normally resist using a game controller for racing because I find them to be intolerably twitchy, but it is a very different story on dirt. On dirt, it is actually beneficial to be able to make rapid (and large) steering inputs because the car slides around so much more than it does on asphalt and the slippery tracks require a lot of opposite lock to hold a good drift. Rally also has for more hairpin turns than Rallycross, and large, quick inputs for those are often required, as is the handbrake.

The handbrake is one of the unique aspects to be found in rally cars; because it stops only the rear wheels, it is an excellent way to induce a spin. Why would you ever intentionally spin a race car? Well, you wouldn’t, but if you do it just right, you only achieve half a spin, which is just another way of saying make an abrupt U-turn which itself is pretty much the defining character of a U-turn. Without the handbrake, you have to slow to a crawl to make those kinds of turns. Note that with a controller, the handbrake is more than likely not going to be mapped to an analog control, but it doesn’t take long to adapt to using a measured stab or two at the button to get the desired effect.

Both Rally and Rallycross races are run in all types of weather and light conditions, although I have yet to see a nighttime Rallycross. These varying conditions are rendered beautifully in DiRT Rally 2.0 and the behavior of the cars in the differing conditions is apparent. The quality of the look and feel play a major role in the immersion factor to the degree that I swore out loud when I had to start a ten mile stage at 2:00 am, in heavy rain. Ten miles doesn’t sound like much, but Rally driving is one of those things that can make a minute feel like an hour. While there isn’t a lot of time for sightseeing, the movement of the shadows and the way that light filters through the trees imbues the drive with a feeling of exhilaration combined with abject terror. Well, in the case of “terror,” the lack of guardrails or any other type of retaining wall on tight turns with a steep cliff on the outer radius brings on some very strong feelings too. In short, it’s a beautiful drive, but you won’t get to see much of it.

As previously mentioned, Rally racing is most commonly done on unfamiliar roads. It is the polar opposite of racing on a permanent circuit where drivers have the benefit of being able to drive dozens of practice laps. Because of this, Rally racing includes a co-driver whose single job is to read pace notes to the driver. Pace notes are simply detailed turn-by-turn directions. The details are salient facts such as the direction and severity of each turn and any other obstacles for track features, such as jumps, deep puddles, barriers, etc. An example would be “four left long over crest, opens” which translates to “the next turn is to the left, it is a relatively light turn of about 45 degrees that will require only a little braking, has a crest to surmount, and its radius decreases towards the end.” It’s complicated at first, especially if you are still trying to get a handle on the car itself, but after awhile you get so used to it that you don’t even notice it.

Pace notes are, of course, implemented in DiRT Rally. In fact, they are well implemented. As an example, the player is able to configure the lead time the co-driver uses to read the notes to the driver. Personally, I’m of an age where short-term memory is becoming an issue, so my co-driver is set to give me directions for the next turn we will arrive at. Other drivers may choose to have directions three or four turns ahead to allow for a fuller picture of what comes next. I also opted to have the directions displayed on screen as a backup in case I missed (or forgot) something important.

All of this was expected, given previous experience with Rally racing. What wasn’t expected was coming around a turn only to see a previous entrant stuck at the side of the road with a smoking engine. While it caught me by surprise, it made me laugh with glee at the understated reality of it all. It even goes beyond that, though. In the same way circuit-racers such as iRacing and Project Cars 2 have added life to the track surface with rubber build-ups and rain, DiRT Rally 2.0 has added track aging. Because the cars go down the track one at a time, not every driver is going to encounter the same track conditions. For example, I recently watched a rally race on TV where later drivers, whose pace notes obviously said that it was safe to cut to the inside of a tight corner, were running into difficulty because the previous cars had utterly destroyed the apex of the turn, forcing later drivers to either stay further out on the track or risk suspension damage by hitting the deep pit left there by earlier drivers.

All of the realistic, detailed, and fun tactical racing is surrounded by strategic aspects such as car upgrades, hiring team members to perform tuning and repairs, and saving up funds to buy better/different cars, of which there are many to choose from, both classic and contemporaneous. The latter requirement to “purchase” cars that I already paid for used to be a pet peeve of mine, but DiRT provides a satisfying middle ground between providing goals to work towards versus having cars I will never get around to owning by allowing test drives of every car. The test drive involves driving the car alone rather than with competitors, but given that you drive your car alone in Rally races anyway, it seems a fair deal.

While the learning curve could be fairly steep for neophytes, DiRT Rally 2.0 is worth the effort. There is little to no hand-holding and early races can be extraordinarily frustrating, but the excellent physics and predictable car behavior quickly reward practice. Rally racing is a perfect example of the old canard “go slower to go faster” in that you can place fairly high up in the event rankings simply by finishing without hitting a tree or making a wrong turn. Or, I suppose, driving off a cliff. When the worst case is that you got to drive through a fabulously rendered scenic forest or rolling countryside in a built-to-purpose car, what have you got to lose?

DiRT Rally 2.0 is a worthy successor to DiRT Rally. The driving/car physics, which feel as sophisticated as anything else out there, are only slightly hindered by mediocre force feedback. The tracks and surrounding countryside are gorgeous in their own right; the environmental lighting and shadows serve to make them stunning at times. The addition of Rallycross serves to make DiRT Rally 2.0 two great simulations in one package.

Rating: 8.8 Class Leading

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.

My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.

While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.

My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.
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