Now this is hardcore. After the 2017 detour of Dirt 4, an accessible and noble experiment in procedural track generation that nevertheless felt like it had gone too far in blunting the edges of the sport it simulated, this is a return to deep, satisfying driving with serious bite. To call Dirt Rally 2.0 a return to form would be underselling it a little; Dirt Rally was arguably Codemasters’ first true sim, and in my mind the absolute pinnacle of the racing studio’s achievements. This refines and improves that formula in smart, notable ways, for a markedly better game.
That 2.0 might evoke the much-loved sequel to Codemasters’ Colin McRae Rally, but really it’s a game bearing the name of another sadly departed British great that this commands comparisons to. It’s been almost 14 years since Warthog Games’ Richard Burns Rally, but it still remains peerless in its simulation of off-road driving, and while Dirt Rally came close its sequel comes closer still. As ever, it’s down to a simple matter of taste whether Dirt Rally 2.0 manages to dethrone that all-time great, but for my money there’s now no finer off-road sim out there.
Take any given car to any given stage and you’ll soon understand what makes Dirt Rally 2.0 special. Take the forward wheel drive Lancia Fulvia around the rain-slicked tarmac of Spain’s stages, say, and you can feel the 115 horses under the stubby bonnet slip their way through those front tyres as they spin beyond the edge of adhesion. You can feel the weight shift back as you accelerate up a crest, then feel it pile back on again as the car squirrels under downhill braking, and it’s all so tangible, so pliable. The handling in this game, in short, is absolutely sublime.