Keeping a franchise going through multiple console generations must be a mammoth task. Gaming franchises come and go according to the fickle whims of the public; it's not uncommon to see yesterday's critical and commercial darling consigned to the annals of history because a better game came along, or simply because demand for such a franchise shriveled and died through no fault of its creators.
There are, however, evergreen games, titles that will always be able to find an audience regardless of technological sophistication or the health of their competition. Sports games find themselves in a unique position in this regard, with FIFA, Madden and many others enjoying constant and unchanging commercial and critical success. Under this umbrella also falls the Colin McRae Rally franchise, which has been known simply as DiRT since 2011.
Developers Codemasters have been happily chugging along with the DiRT series since its inception way back in the mists of 1997. In that time, it's undergone quite a few graphical facelifts and mechanical tweaks, but it's remained largely the same and served the same fanbase. 2015’s DiRT Rally was a spin-off that exclusively served the rally and rallycross crowd, and it performed pretty well critically and commercially, hence DiRT Rally 2.0. Will it live up to the reputation of its predecessor?
DiRT Rally was an incredibly strong racing title. Its physics were (for the most part) impeccable, its visuals were breathtaking and its dedication to the craft of rally racing was cast-iron. As such, DiRT Rally 2.0 has a lot to live up to. There are two routes available for a sequel to a beloved game: change things up in an attempt to freshen the formula, or remain as close to what worked as possible so as not to alienate the fans your studio has accrued.
For the most part, DiRT Rally 2.0 opts for a hybrid approach which refines everything that made the first game great while adding a few new features of its own. The accurate, weighty and realistic racing is still very much the focus, with tarmac and off-road fully represented in the game’s tracks (which span six countries). Just like DiRT Rally, if you’re looking for a more arcadey experience you’re better off looking elsewhere, as DiRT Rally 2.0 is very much a racer for the rally and rallycross enthusiast, placing emphasis on verisimilitude rather than flat-out fun.
That’s not to say DiRT Rally 2.0 doesn’t make any concessions towards new players. There’s a surprisingly extensive tutorial system that covers the basics of driving and some of the game’s new features (more on which in a moment). Said tutorial also goes so far as to explain setup options and assist non-enthusiast players in tweaking and customising their vehicle, which is a feature often sorely lacking in racers like this. The non-racing fans among us found it extremely useful for the game to explain the difference between alternate suspension models and tyre grips, while the racing fans were able to comfortably ignore these tutorials and get stuck into the game.
So, what’s new in DiRT Rally 2.0? Chief among the new features in the game is a new realistic weather modelling system which sees weather conditions changing on the fly while racing. One minute you’re speeding through an American dirt road under glaring sunshine, the next the rain is lashing down around you and you’re struggling to maintain control of a suddenly slippery vehicle. Customisation options are more important than ever in DiRT Rally 2.0 as you’ll need to prepare for all weather eventualities; if you know it’s going to rain, you’ll need to bring the right tyre surfaces and car mechanisms to deal with that weather. It’s an exciting and constantly surprising system that brings danger and drama to even the most clean-cut races.
This truly is a racing game for the hardcore, despite the difficulty concessions Codemasters has made. Damage is persistent between events, and has not only an aesthetic effect but a mechanical one too, necessitating very careful and skilled driving if you want to keep your vehicle intact. Additionally, the My Team mode, which makes a return from DiRT Rally, has been expanded; players can now hire engineers to maintain their vehicles, and you’ll need to, because you will make mistakes (and there is of course no rewind feature to bail you out). Lower difficulties ease the load somewhat, but make no mistake: this is not a game for the squeamish or the faint of heart when it comes to racing.
All in all, DiRT Rally 2.0 is more than a worthy successor to the original DiRT Rally, and an excellent instalment in what has been an incredibly successful and consistently great franchise. With new physics, new on- and off-track modes and a slightly increased emphasis on newer and less experienced players (although perhaps not quite enough of an emphasis for our liking), DiRT Rally 2.0 should find its way to the shelves of every enthusiast rally and rallycross racing fan.