It has been a long time since the release of the first Colin McRae game back in 1998.
Rally games have changed a lot since then, not only because of technological improvements but also the rapid rise of Sim Racing and professional ‘esports’ drivers are now leading racing games into the future.
Racing games are now ‘hyper-realistic’ providing players with the opportunity to race, compete and become champions without the danger or cost.
We recently got the opportunity to head over to Wales and play the 13th instalment in the Colin McRae series and the seventh in the Dirt franchise – Dirt Rally 2.0.
While in Wales we were also able to drive a real rally car around a course, giving ample opportunity to compare the game to the real thing.
Speaking with Ross Gowing, chief developer at Codemasters, Dirt Rally 2.0 was very much about creating a ‘racing simulator’ as opposed to a game for the casual player.
Gowing said: “The studio’s last project was Dirt 4, which was more of an accessible rally game.
“For Dirt Rally 2.0 our community were very very vocal about wanting as authentic experience as possible.
“So the way the cars behave in the game align with how they do in real life – this was always our key focus.”
Working closely with professional drivers and the car manufacturers themselves was a top priority for Gowing and his team in getting the mechanics perfect.
“We worked really closely with Jon Armstrong (World Rally esports Champion 2018), who we have in the studio on the team, every day.
“Then also Ryan Champion and a couple of other drivers as well to make sure that we have got the way the cars handle as spot on as we possibly could.”
When it comes to getting the look of the cars in-game right, Gowing said that they are lucky that Codemasters have a great relationship with the car manufacturers, explaining: “They provide us with a reference for all the vehicles and sometimes with computer data, sometimes we have laser data, sometimes it’s photographic evidence, that allows our team to create beautiful models of the car for in-game.
“You look at the detail they managed to get, there are some really really stunning pieces in there.”
The upscaled quality of the cars and general graphics really came across when playing the game on the PlayStation 4 Pro.
However, when playing Dirt Rally 2.0 in a racing chair, you can fully appreciate the time and effort put into not only the look of the cars, especially the insides, but also the handling.
Having limited experience rally racing, an old-school Mini was the perfect vehicle choice to get to grips with the ‘grip’ (or lack of) when drifting around corners.
Throughout the process of developing Dirt Rally 2.0, Gowing said his team had been in constant communication with not only the ‘professionals’ but the general members of the Dirt community to get this feeling exactly right.
“The first Dirt Rally obviously that went through early access and we found there were some key individuals in the community whose feedback was invaluable to us.”
Although Codemasters haven’t taken the traditional route this year, the community members who helped last time round have played a much bigger role fixing things in Dirt Rally 2.0, explained Gowing.
He said: “Our ‘community VIPs’ have had a closed alpha and a closed beta, where they have had certain key builds.
“We have a private forum for them, so they are able to get in touch directly with me and Jon and other people around the studio and be very specific. We appreciate their honesty.
“It’s a great relationship we have with them and we couldn’t have made this game what it is without them.”
With the news earlier this month that sim racer Enzo Bonito had beaten former F1-driver Lucas Di Grassi in a real life race, Gowing sees Dirt Rally 2.0, and racing sims in general, as a way for young kids to reach the top in both esports and real racing.
“When Jon Armstrong was a child, he was playing our Colin McRae games and taught himself rallying in those, then when he was about 13 he moved into junior championship rallying in real life.
“Now he’s gone back over into esports and transferred what he has learnt in real life into the game.
“You know you can’t ignore how massive esports is and Jon’s an esports world champion, we want to provide that opportunity in the game as well. We have more to announce on that front post-launch, but we want to give the top players a route to be world number one.
“Hopefully, one day we will have another British world champion that has cut his teeth on Dirt rally 2.0”
Dirt Rally 2.0 is a fun yet full-on experience. If you have no previous experience with racing sims it may take a while to get used to it, however, once you get to grips with the mechanics, it’s quite exhilarating zipping round tracks – even more so when playing with a wheel and pedals.
Dirt Rally 2.0 is out 26th February for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.