Dirt Rally was a gamble from a studio that made a name for itself mixing arcade racing with some sort of semi-realism in the Colin McRae titles and onwards. Dirt Rally was, minus the slightly "floaty" asphalt physics, a truly challenging, hardcore rally simulator that catered to a very limited group of fanatics. But Dirt Rally became something more. The simulator subgenre has grown over the last five years and Codemasters released Dirt Rally at just the right time. The fans devoured it and it even managed to reach a casual audience. Something that rarely happens in this particular genre.
Then, Dirt 4 was released, which according to Codemasters themselves would be the bridge between Dirt and Dirt Rally. However, the focus puzzled many when the game, like most previous titles from the people behind the Colin McRae, the Toca, and the Grid franchises, did not seem to know what type of racing game it really wanted to be. Not arcade racing like Dirt 3. Not sim racing like Dirt Rally. Something weird, in between. Something that is also sometimes the case with Dirt Rally 2.0, unfortunately. But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Let's start from the beginning. And much like Loeb's driving during the past weekend's Swedish rally, this one starts pretty shaky and continues along in the same fashion.
Dirt Rally was relatively light in terms of pure content when it was first released in early 2015. Quite a few stages were included in the game and it was very clear that a smaller team than usual had been creating the game as more of a side project. The various stages and destinations, however, were well-made and everything was about mastering the cars and the realistic tire physics that the game offered, and it did not matter all that much that it felt a little empty. Not to us, at least. Not four long years ago. The United States, Poland, and New Zealand are the new countries that have been added to this sequel while, for example, Monte-Carlo, Greece, Finland, and Sweden (some of the most iconic rally locations) are missing. This has to do with Codemasters being smart by recycling some material from Dirt 4, which is noticeable. Most of the new stages are taken from Dirt 4 with somewhat redesigned graphics.
What bothers us most about the stages in the actual rally section of Dirt Rally 2.0 is that Codemasters has some problems with finding the same type of variation and flow compared to real-world stages in WRC, even thugh some of them in fact are based (just like in the first game) on real world stages, not just the WRC-ones. Compared to the stages in WRC 7 it's easy to tell the difference. Codemasters new content in Dirt Rally 2.0 is as good as the versions that Kylotonn Games so carefully re-created in their underappreciated gem of a game, even if there are some great ones here.
For example, we feel that the New Zealand and US stages in Dirt Rally 2.0 are too slow in terms of sense of speed, this due to the narrowness and the sheer amount of hard corners they feature. It just feels like we're driving with the handbrake fully activated in many of these stages, trying to navigate the car around bends made for a golf cart.
One of the talking points in the marketing of this game has been the weather and the fact that the routes change while driving on them, creating a more realistic type of racing. This is not really true. It sounds really good on paper, though. The weather effects are, as you'd expect, neatly designed from a graphical standpoint (although the rain-covered mud during the New Zealand stages looks more like liquid metal) but don't really add any more challenge thanks to the added "realism". It doesn't really mask the fact that there's not enough new content in this game.