When it comes to racing videogames my preference certainly veers towards the rally genre more than any other. While you don’t get that neck to neck adrenaline of racing side by side against other competitors, it’s the complexity of the tracks that wins me over. Rather than lovely flat tarmac which suits ultra-low hypercars, rally stages tend to be a mix of surfaces and environments which are simply awesome fun to drive/slide through. So when Codemasters confirmed this month that upcoming title DiRT Rally 2.0 would be getting virtual reality (VR) support I was more than a little happy.
So much so that I decided that DiRT Rally VR was worth another play as it had been awhile. And as luck would have it the studio granted VRFocus access to the review build of the sequel – the standard version – so it only seemed right to have a little comparison between the 2016 VR version and the 2019 non-VR version. Why you may ask, simply because.
Let’s start by saying this isn’t going to be a review of DiRT Rally 2.0 that will come later in the year with the official VR version which is slated for release on Oculus Rift during the summer. What I will say is if you enjoyed the original, and Codemasters manages to perfectly optimise the sequel for VR then Oculus Rift users are in for a treat.
DiRT Rally 2.0 is every bit the improved sequel, plenty of cups, time trials and other challenges, better-looking visuals, yet keeping the series authenticity. The cars have just the right amount of twitch, teasing you to throw them ever faster around corners, yet one small brazen mistake with the throttle and you’re into a tree, off a cliff or both.
It was after several races on DiRT Rally 2.0 looking at the screen that the VR yearning kicked in. I may love rally style racing experiences but I’m not particularly good at them – average at best – finding that my preferred viewpoint is inside the car, at the wheel. So it was time to jump into DiRT Rally VR – both played using an Xbox One controller by the way – to see the difference. Obviously, the sequel looked better, and thankfully Codemasters has improved the menu system so it’s not quite as daunting for new players. But that wasn’t what interested me, instead, I was looking for that racing immersion, that greater sense of driving the cars and the perils of what can happen if things go wrong.
Instantly, the VR version felt right, being able to look around the vehicle, in the rear view mirror and at my co-driver. As someone who drives in real life, spatially aware of the size of my car and the world around me, VR allows me to employ those same senses far more accurately than a standard ‘flat’ videogame. As such, racing in VR becomes far more instinctual – a proper racing setup would probably add to this – so I’m not crashing as much achieving better times over each stage and therefore placing higher.
Then it was time to switch back to DiRT Rally 2.0, and what a difference. The six rally locations – Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Poland, US and Argentina – all look glorious, with different times of day and changing weather effects, yet they were missing a spark. And that’s the ability to put me directly behind the wheel of a car which is insanely fun to drive.
I’ll admit I’m biased towards VR – I wouldn’t be here otherwise – and I’ve always said certain genres of videogame have particular synergy with the technology, horror being one, racing is another. Codemasters has played with VR once so hopefully, the next time will be even better. As long as DiRT Rally 2.0 can be ported in its entirety without needing a super ridiculous GPU to run it, then you’ll know where to find me this summer, wearing out the handbrake on my VW Polo GTI R5 in Australia.