Dirt Rally most certainly represents the pinnacle of rally video games, and so it was with great anticipation that we travelled to London for the unveiling of its sequel. Arriving a bit late due to delays we got there in time to witness rally star Jon Armstrong setting an impressive time through one of the stages, an almost completely flawless time. The room is packed with racing cockpits, and it's immediately clear that the studio lives and breathes racing and has been working hard on this highly awaited sequel. Dirt Rally 2.0 is created by rally fanatics for rally fanatics and builds on the same foundation of its predecessor with slightly altered tire physics and brand new technology that dictates how surfaces change and deteriorate.
"What we have done is that we took everything that was great in the first game, picked the game apart completely and then started to improve every single section of Dirt Rally," says chief games designer Ross Gowing. "Every single little piece of it. One good example of this is the rear wheel driven cars in Dirt Rally 2.0. We worked tirelessly with real rally stars like Jon Armstrong and Ryan Champion to make the tyres react even more realistically on the surface and the car's angle in skids depending on how much throttle you put in. We have also been working hard on the surface physics, cause in this game the stages and the ground in every single stage will change depending on how many cars have raced before you. We learned a great deal from the first game and have brought these lessons over to Dirt Rally 2.0."
The tyre physics and how the surface feels depending on how much of a beating it has taken during the rally was something that was spoken about a lot during the press event. We only had access to two different stages during our time with the game in London (one rally stage and one rallycross track) so it's difficult to say exactly how much this aspect really will affect the final product. However, we did notice that the section of each stage/track that had taken the most damage actually changed in terms of grip and feeling. If done correctly, this could very well change the racing genre forever.
The tyres should also be worn out realistically, and here too, the differences between the start and end of a race will feel significantly different depending on how the tyre temperature has affected the rubber and how you drive. Ross Gowing explains:
"Tyre wear is a whole new thing in Dirt Rally 2.0. If you start a race on a long stretch on soft tires, you will notice during the second half of the race that the rubber has been worn down and you will drive with very poor grip. Add to that the condition on the ground combined with bad weather and it makes it very difficult to operate your car. We have also worked a lot with the tyre friction on asphalt to create a greater difference between the friction on gravel and the friction on tarmac."
Dirt Rally 2.0 will ship with six different destinations; Argentina, New Zealand, Spain, Australia, USA, and Poland. The Rallycross section comes with 2018 season cars and eight official tracks where the idea is that more will be added after the game has been released. The structure itself reminiscent of Dirt Rally in terms of how the leagues work. The Rallycross career ladder is, of course, concluded with World Rally Cross, which you can work on by competing in lower tiers with different cars. Community challenges, which were very popular in the previous game, also come back with a couple of new features and new events. Even historical tournaments will be available where you can snuggle your body into a '60s car and compete as you did back in the day, advancing all the way through to more modern times.
Online there will be the option to create different rally and rallycross tournaments (mixed or separate). There are also plans to bring Dirt Rally 2.0 into the world of esports, but what those plans might involve was not something Codemasters wanted to share at this stage. We were promised that more info on this will come later in the year. However, after the success of the Dirt World Championships earlier this year, we can probably expect it to be magnificent. The esports part of the game, that is. In short, most of Dirt Rally is included in Dirt Rally 2.0 with the exception of the Hill Climb mode, which has been completely removed and replaced with rallycross.
We asked what makes Dirt Rally 2.0 a better game than the first to this year's world winner of the Dirt World Championships and real-world driver, Jon Armstrong, and he replied:
"We've really adjusted the driving feel and tyre physics, how the suspension affects the grip, and lots of small details. Everything is designed for a more robust and lifelike experience than before. We are very pleased with the result."
Dirt Rally 2.0 really looks set to deliver improvements to the already incredibly stable foundation that the predecessor laid down (and still offers, the Gamereactor racing crew still plays it regularly). All the focus is on recreating the detail that makes rally and rallycross exciting and by giving more life to the stages through the new systems that govern how they change over the course of an event. It feels like the right thing to focus on. However, we'll have to wait for next year - February 26 - before we get to dive into the finished game, which is heading to PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.