If in doubt…
The first Dirt Rally was an intense, hardcore racing sim for the nerdiest of off-road drivers. Is this sequel more accessible, or does it double down on providing super-accurate racing?
Certainly, when you dive into ‘My Team’, which acts as the career mode, you’ll immediately notice that there’s even less help for new drivers here than the first game. You’ll have to learn on the track. To be honest, My Team is the most lackluster part of the game, and feels a bit like it was added last-minute. Most cars and tracks are available immediately within the freeplay mode, and there’s no real achievement or obvious progress path. You do gain some useful unlocks, like reducing the time penalty for recovering your car, or the time taken to change to a spare wheel, but these feel like minor rewards for your efforts, and more structure would be appreciated in this mode.
People referred to the original game as the ‘Dark Souls’ of racing games, and that mantra still rings true. There’s no rewind, assists are limited, and the punishment for making a mistake is high. The AI is tough, and on the default level, you’ll have to be reasonably quick and make no real mistakes to be in with a shot of winning. Even toning the AI down to the most basic level (via a slider) won’t make things a walk-in-the-park. And, if you dare to turn on ‘hardcore’ damage, then not only is the graphical effect of the damage exceptional, but so is the gameplay effect, which will dramatically affect your performance. Crashing off and needing to recover your car will also lead to penalties of up to 15 seconds or so to your time. All of this probably sounds patently unfair. And it would be, if it wasn’t for the sublime handling model.
Codemasters spent much of the time before the game’s release talking about their new tyre model, which even as someone who plays huge numbers of racing games felt fairly dull and inconsequential. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. In pre-release, the career wasn’t available for the first few days, and so I started in my trusty Lancia Fulvia in the rallies of New Zealand and Spain. The latter rally has both dry and wet stages, and the change in grip levels was astounding. You could feel the tyres struggling around bends, aquaplaning across puddles, and struggling for traction at lower speeds. The general level of simulation is simply outstanding.
As well as the 6 rally location, the game also has the World Rallycross license, with all the official cars and drivers, along with 8 tracks for you to bomb around. It’s not the most generous game out there in terms of content, but there are a huge number of cars across a variety of different classes, including Group B monsters from the 80’s and the new addition of R-GT cars, in case you fancied taking a Porsche or Aston Martin off-road?!
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