DiRT Rally 2.0 doesn't suffer fools lightly, and rightly so. Within minutes of starting DiRT Rally 2.0's career mode, players will be hurling a Lancia down a tight narrow path in the middle of the night, with nothing but headlights and the soothing voice of a co-driver for company. Blind turns, slippery pathways, and brutal drops mark the way, so why should it be a cakewalk?
Codemasters gained some well-deserved notoriety when it came to DiRT Rally. The 2015 release was a hard-as-nails recreation of rally driving, forgoing the more relaxed arcade style that had often come with the territory for the niche motorsport. DiRT Rally 2.0 follows suit, taking on all comers and offering up a seriously tough learning curve.
Because of this, fair weather racing fans may find DiRT Rally 2.0 a little on the intimidating side. It deliberately removes some of the generic trappings that racing games usually find themselves in, traditional map included, and includes no comfortable safety net to keep players feeling cosy. Instead, it expects racers to be patient as they learn the basics, and those that persevere will find a fantastic rallying sim.
The primary gameplay mode in DiRT Rally 2.0 is the career mode, and it's here that the game truly shines. With the option of a traditional rally or the more pick-up-and-play rallycross - where it's generally a straight-up race against other drivers - there's a lot to run with. Starting with a less powerful car, nonetheless the courses can be especially vicious, even from the get go.
That ignores the fact that this is some of the most thrilling racing gameplay that's available on the current generation of consoles. Yes, racing directly against others is always a lot of fun, and seen with another impressive Codemasters sim F1 2018, but hurtling around country lanes with no-one but the vital co-driver for company is an unbelievable adrenaline rush. It's an entirely different skill set to the typical racing game, and rewards those that know when to push and know when to play it cautious.
The aforementioned co-driver mechanic is one of the areas that truly shows Codemasters' understanding of rallying as a whole, and it's something that previous rally games have often struggled with. Rather than just sitting pretty as a gimmick, understanding and paying attention to the instructions of the co-driver makes the difference between success and catastrophic failure, giving brief preparation for the turns and hazards that lie ahead.
The rally mode is what makes DiRT Rally 2.0 stand out from the crowd, due to its understanding of what makes rallying a great form of motorsport and different from its peers. It hammers home, time and time again, the importance of having a single shot at making a good run, and at times delivers an unbelievably dangerous journey for players. DiRT Rally 2.0 shows a valiant level of respect for the sport as a whole, and although those unfamiliar with rallying may be scratching their heads at the slippery tracks and unforgiving approach to straying from the course, long-term racing nuts will be keen to get involved.
Part of the allure of DiRT Rally 2.0 is the attention to detail over the courses as well, with a quality miles ahead of the likes of The Grand Tour. At times, the game is absolutely gorgeous, with a special shoutout to those races that take place at dawn or dusk as the sun shines over the track, ever-so-slightly blinding the driver in the prettiest way possible. It's never enough to cause a loss of concentration, but plenty to put a sheen on the environment, whether an arid plain or a deep forest.
From a purely graphical perspective, nothing beats the night races though. Always a litmus test for whether a game's design truly works, DiRT Rally 2.0 is at its peak during these midnight races, as the player's headlights give a brief snapshot of the chaos ahead amidst the dark. Meanwhile, the odd set of lights from rural towns or a flare held by a steward adds a dose of color - it's truly something to behold.
DiRT Rally 2.0 isn't successful all the way through - at least not to the same extent as the straight-up rallying mode. The rallycross is still a lot of fun, but it doesn't quite have the same diligent nature of its counterpart. It's still good of Codemasters to include a mode that focuses on rallycross as well, and it does maintain a level of authenticity that will be appreciated, but it lacks that tense atmosphere that comes with the rallying.
In part this comes down to a tonal shift from the individual nature of rallying versus the direct competition of a race against other drivers. It's always difficult to balance extremely contrasting game modes, and DiRT Rally 2.0 doesn't quite pull it off. That said, the rallycross is still an enjoyable game mode, and can be a nice change of pace when the intensity of the ralling becomes a little much.
As an overall package, DiRT Rally 2.0 is a great racing game. Rewarding racers who stick with the difficulty, it's a title that gives players back as much as they put in - and the end result is a stunning rallying sim at best and a more than solid racer at worst. Casual gamers might find it too extreme to be really enjoyable, but hardcore motorsport fans should definitely check it out.
DiRT Rally 2.0 releases February 26, 2019 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Screen Rant was provided with a PS4 download code for the purposes of this review.