Let’s talk about DiRT Rally 2.0

The Original DiRT Rally

When DiRT Rally was a beta release on Steam, I picked it up out of curiosity. I didn’t know much about rallying beyond the spectacular crashes. DiRT Rally is a brutally hardcore game that doesn’t even have a tutorial on how to drive on dirt. I fell in love with it instantly and it remains one of my favorite driving games. I became so excited about rally that I went as far as building my Yaris to rally rules. I haven’t competing in rallies yet, but I still think about it. I absolutely love driving on dirt, be it virtual or real.

DiRT 4 Disaster

When Codemasters announced their next title, DiRT 4, I was pretty excited. It had this cool procedurally generated track technology that allows it to randomly generate stages. Great idea but it didn’t actually create much variation as there were too few building blocks. Worse, the car physics were horrible. Not only have I uninstalled it, I completely removed it from my account so I never have to see that POS again.

DiRT Rally 2.0 Initial Release

When DiRT Rally 2.0 was announced I was both excited and nervous. Would it be the much anticipated sequel to DiRT Rally or another disappointment like DiRT 4? It was terrible. I couldn’t get my controllers mapped properly because the interface didn’t show controller values. But the reason I asked for a refund was the asphalt physics in Spain. Absolutely no feedback. It felt like I was driving a 1980s arcade game. I cried myself to sleep that night.

DiRT Rally 2.0 Redux

The next time I purchased DiRT Rally 2.0, I got it during a sale, and paid half the price. And to my surprise and delight, it is much improved. It now has one of the best interfaces for controller input. It’s intuitive and highly customizable. Also, the asphalt physics in Spain are better. Somehow they are not the same as Germany, which feels more like the original. I don’t know why different locations should have such different physics, but they do.

Career Mode

I don’t normally play career mode in simulators but I did in DiRT Rally. I did the entire career and won every championship, even to the top level. I thought I would do the same thing in DR2. The first season went just fine and I was having a great time. Then I hit Argentina and couldn’t progress further. It’s so freaking bumpy that I just hated it. Even with the softest suspension I was jumping all over. Doing 6 stages felt like such a chore. And the next level it would probably be 8. Not even remotely fun. Some locations are brilliant though. My favorites in the original were Greece and Germany. In DR2, these are also great, but despite graphic differences (possibly improvements), they aren’t any better than the original.

Next, I switched to rally cross, and the career mode there is good fun. There’s a lot of contact allowed though, so it easily becomes a demolition derby. While I preferred stage rally to rally cross in the original, it’s the opposite in DR2. Not all of that is because of Argentina and Spain. Rally cross is much improved in DR2 also.

Summary

I’m currently making my way through the rally cross career mode and having a pretty good time. Unfortunately, DiRT Rally 2.0 is not better than the original. It’ less fun, doesn’t have hill climb, locks you into online play, and has various monetary schemes that will see you paying for extra content. Save your money and skip 2.0. During sales, you can pick up the OG DiRT Rally for as little as $5.99. It was even available for free briefly. Like Project CARS, the original was better than the sequel.

Untitled #1

I had a lot of competing titles for this post. Ultimately, I couldn’t choose.

  • ABA testing
  • Logitech vs Thrustmaster round 2
  • Assetto Corsa and Logitech don’t play well together
  • Silky smooth vs. the ragged edge
  • Hardware matters
  • Software matters

When I first started sim racing, I went through several iterations of Logitech gear including Momo, G25, G27, and DFGT. I did a lot of iRacing with a G25 rig. I quickly upgraded the brake pedal to a PerfectPedal hydraulic unit, and I maintain that at $300, it was worth every penny (they now cost $250). I went from G25 to G27 to DFGT steering wheels, each one being a slight upgrade (believe it or not, the DFGT is on par with the G27 and has some nicer buttons). Much of my DiRT Rally time was with the DFGT. I spent a lot of time using Logitech products. They never broke, and I was really happy with them.

For some reason, which I don’t recall exactly, I decided to plunk down $500 for a Thrustmaster TS-PC Racer. I went back and re-read my review at the time and here were the 3 important take-aways:

  1. Logitech is a great place to start
  2. TS-PC Racer offers more feel
  3. I was immediately a little faster with the TS-PC Racer

This week, I hooked up my old DFGT to a set of G25 pedals with an AP Electrix load cell brake pedal. The AP isn’t sold anymore. It’s not as good as the PerfectPedal, having much less range of motion and precision, but it’s better than a spring on a potentiometer. The whole setup is pretty similar to what I used a couple years ago, and I was feeling a little nostalgic to give the old rig a whirl.

So I loaded up Assetto Corsa and here’s the shocking thing I found: I can’t drive it for shit. I can’t sense or catch oversteer at all. I can drive a few fast laps by driving from memory, but I can’t feel the track, and I end up spinning. I hardly ever spin with the TS-PC Racer. I’ve looked at online guides and messed around with various force feedback (FFB) settings, but I can’t get it to feel good. I want to turn up the FFB gain, but that causes clipping, and a total loss of feel.

I thought maybe it’s a problem with Assetto Corsa, so I loaded up rFactor 2 and DiRT Rally. The DFGT works a little better in rFactor 2. I can definitely feel slides better, but it’s like I’m driving with welding gloves on. The same is true of DiRT Rally. I kept asking myself how I drove like this. The Thrustmaster TS-PC Racer isn’t a small upgrade, it’s a huge one. A Logitech wheel will teach you how to be smooth. In fact, it will punish you badly if you aren’t smooth. But it doesn’t let you drive the ragged edge the way the Thrustmaster does. Give me 100 laps with the Logitech and I’ll be able to put one of those within 0.1 sec of the Thrustmaster top lap. But those 100 laps will feature a lot of frustration and spinning. Furthermore, I’ll be driving more by wrote rather than feel, and ultimately, that’s not what training is for.

Update #1: ORP Experiment

YSAR reader Eric asked me to try the Skip Barber at Oregon Raceway Park. I don’t know ORP very well, and hadn’t driven it in some time, so it took a few familiarization laps to get reacquainted. After 12 laps I had posted a 2:03.6 on my Thrustmaster rig. No crashes, no spins. Then I switched to the Logitech rig. I had to be really careful with the throttle pedal because it’s hard to catch oversteer with the Logitech, but knowing that, I changed my driving style. After 15 laps, the best I did was 2:04.4. My last lap was a real burner, and I was a half second ahead when I crashed out. I would guess that I went off course on about half of the laps, and most of those were the early ones.

Eric also asked me to post my difficultly/assist settings. That’s easy because everything is always off. The only time I use any assist is when the car came with ABS from the factory. But my favorite sim cars are all pre-ABS models, so it’s rare that I tick the ABS box.

BTW, ORP is only available in rFactor 2, so this was all conducted there. rFactor 2 plays much better with Logitech than Assetto Corsa.

Update #2: Tiernan Experiment

Let’s see what Tiernan has to say. I think Tiernan’s claim to fame may be that he’s driven more exotic cars than almost anyone on the planet. All at parking lots speeds however. You see, he is hired annually as the official car mover by some famous auction or other. Of course, none of that matters here. What’s important is that (a) he’s a sim racing noob (2) he generally knows cars.

I first set Tiernan up with Assetto Corsa at Laguna Seca in the Chevy Monza in the Thrustmaster rig. After running enough laps to run out of fuel, he switched over to the DFGT rig. At which point he threw up his hands and declared that it was total shit. No feel at all. He did get within a couple seconds of his Thrustmaster time, but he was crashing all over the place. He was pretty frustrated and not enjoying it.

Then I switched the software to rFactor 2 and he perked up an said “this is totally fine”. While he didn’t try rFactor 2 on the Thrustmaster rig, I’m sure he would have liked that even better. But the main point is that Logitech FFB is basically broken on Assetto Corsa.

We’re in the process of building him a sim rig, and the question is this: buy a Thrustmaster T300 RS GT ($300) and play anything or inherit the DFGT (free) and avoid Assetto Corsa? Only he can answer that question.

Conclusions

I still think Logitech products are an excellent place to start with sim racing, but if you’re serious about training, you will be better served with a higher-end steering wheel. I have used Fanatec and direct drive wheels, and they don’t feel much different from Thrustmaster. But who knows, maybe if I used a direct drive for a couple years I could never go back to a belt drive like the TS-PC. I really love my TS-PC and while $500 seems like a lot for a steering wheel, it’s cheaper than real racing stuff.

What about iRacing?

If you noticed above, I didn’t report on iRacing. I had an iRacing subscription for several years, but I recently let it expire. Before I say why, let me say a few good things about iRacing.

  • Everyone should try iRacing for a few months minimum. There are some experiences there that are hard to get elsewhere.
  • iRacing has incredibly useful forums. Whether you want advice on software, hardware, or driving, there is a huge community of helpful people. Unlike most forums, there isn’t much flaming. Possibly this is because iRacing requires you to sign up with your real name. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This community is really great.
  • The Rookie ranks are worth the price of admission. Whether it’s a 10 car pileup in Turn 1 or getting crashed out by a backmarker on the final lap, the Rookie experience is a no holds barred crash-fest. How can this possibly be a good thing? Because you learn to recognize idiotic drivers and dangerous situations. I think one of the reasons I’ve never had a black flag in a Lemons/Chump/Lucky race is partly because of the iRacing Rookie experience.
  • Lots of iRacers use the iSpeed application to record their fast times and compare telemetry traces. While the application isn’t as full featured as MoTec i2 or AiM RSA, for example, it’s good enough. And the real gold is having access to everyone else’s traces. Oddly, this may be the single best reason to use iRacing, and if you’re an iRacer who isn’t using iSpeed, well you suck at training.
  • In addition to the official race series, you can also find custom races or private leagues. Both Lucky Dog Racing League and ChampCar Endurance Series run private leagues. Some leagues require membership, but I think the LD and CC leagues let anyone race at any time. It’s a lot easier to run a league from iRacing than setting up a private Assetto Corsa server.
  • iRacing has a great collection of high quality tracks and cars you won’t find elsewhere.

So if I’m such an iRacing fanboy, why did I let my membership expire?

  • I wasn’t using it very often. It doesn’t make sense to pay $10 or whatever per month for software I’m not actually using.
  • I don’t really like wheel to wheel racing very much. I like perfecting my craft more than beating the other guy. That said, iRacing does have a time trial system. But it’s not a big enough selling point to keep me subscribed.
  • The cars aren’t crappy or vintage enough. Where are the NA Miatas, E30s, and Civics?
  • The FWD selection is tiny and uninteresting.
  • The force feedback isn’t on par with rFactor 2 or Assetto Corsa (with a Thrustmaster wheel, Logitech may be about the same).

If you’re having a great time in iRacing, keep on doing it. There are lots of reasons why it’s the most popular racing sim. But if you get curious, have a look at Assetto Corsa, Automobilista, DiRT Rally, Project CARS, RaceRoom Racing Experience, and rFactor 2. Each has something interesting to offer.

Simulator roundup 2017

At the start of 2017, there are around 10 platforms that call themselves realistic driving simulators. If you’ve never tried sim racing, I highly recommend it. In my mind, it’s 90% as good as the real thing and so much less expensive. But which software is best? There’s no simple answer to that. It depends on what you want to get out of it. Regardless of the software, you will need a force feedback steering wheel and a set of pedals. Logitech, Thrustmaster, and Fanatec make good gear. You’ll also need a Windows computer. Some of the platforms work on Mac or Linux, and some on Playstation 4 or Xbox One. But performance and stability are generally best on Windows.

The simulators below are listed in historical order in which they appeared on the PC market. Because I’m focusing on PC software, the very popular Gran Turismo and Forza titles are not listed. Although the current price is given for each, it’s the last thing that should concern you. Simracing software is the least expensive part of racing, virtual or real.

My computer has quad 2.67 GHz Intel processors, an nVidia GTX 650ti video card, and a 1920×1080 display. The video card has a 2662 rating on the PassMark benchmark. Keep this in mind when looking at the FPS (frames per second) numbers below. Once FPS gets below 50, it can negatively impact your simulation experience. Purchasing a video card with a higher rating will net you more FPS, but there is generally some software tuning you can do also.

A Word on Modding

There is a long history of hobbyists modifying simulation software to add more cars and tracks to the official distribution. Some of these mods are of the highest quality but others are downright awful. Mods are typically not licensed reproductions (and therefore copyright infringements) and can have major errors. On the other hand, a mod may be the only way to drive a specific car or track of interest. Modding is a mixed bag. Some simulators openly embrace the modding community while others shut them out. Even among the open ones, software updates to the main engine can be incompatible with older mods, which can cause great frustration if you favorite car/track no longer works. I personally have a couple mods I really like, but I find most of them more trouble than they’re worth.

Evaluation

When putting a simulator through its paces, I like to use Brands Hatch (Indy configuration). Brands Hatch is one of the most common tracks and despite its simplicity, the turns have a great deal of variety. Another track I like to employ is Laguna Seca. This is also quite popular and has the added benefit that I’ve raced there in real life. For cars, I like using a Miata and a junior/vintage Formula car. I race a Miata in real life, so I know the properties of a Miata reasonably well. The reason for the junior/vintage Formula cars is that they have a decent power:weight ratio and not much grip. This means they tend to slide around quite a bit, and without any driving aids, this gives one a good feeling of how the sim models vehicle dynamics.

rFactor

Image Space Incorporated and rFactor play a particularly important part of simracing history. Their isiMotor2 engine is the foundation of not only rFactor and rFactor2, but also Automobilista, RaceRoom Racing Experience, Simraceway, and several older titles. rFactor costs a flat $25 with no fees for additional downloadable content or online fees. It has a HUGE number of free mods, and my personal installation has hundreds of cars and tracks. Quality ranges from good to terrible. Despite its age, rFactor is still popular, and I found about 150 people racing on a Saturday at 1 PM. System requirements are very low. My rig managed 150-170 FPS with all graphics settings on maximum. If you have an older computer, rFactor is the best game sim in town. Next to the other titles below, it does feel decidedly old.

rf1-173

iRacing

iRacing is known for having a large online racing community. It is unique in that all drivers must use their actual identity. There is no hiding behind an anonymous avatar while calling people fucktards. I think that’s a good thing. But on the other hand, using your real name online is always a risk. iRacing also has both a safety rating and performance rating. This means you can’t get into a race against the really good racers unless you yourself are a really safe and fast racer. iRacing has no AI (artificial intelligence), so everyone you race against is a real person. iRacing costs $6-12 per month depending on when you renew (so always renew during a sale). The base install comes with several cars and tracks, but you’ll want more, and they run ~$12 each. The combination of fees makes iRacing the most expensive simulator. I found about 4,100 racers online (not necessarily racing) on a Saturday at 1 PM. System requirements are fairly low. I got a solid 85 FPS.

ir-85

rFactor 2 (rF2)

Studio 397 recently took over development of rF2 from ISI. This is good news because rF2 development was pretty quiet for a while. The main distribution doesn’t have many cars or tracks, but they are all excellent. Like the original, there are mods and the quality varies. Some are carry-overs from rFactor 1 but some are modern laser scanned jobs. rF2 costs $32 and is free to play online (it originally had online fees, but those are now gone). I found about 600 racers online and about half that number actually racing on a Saturday at 1 PM. System requirements are high. The default graphics settings were unplayable but I got 58 FPS by turning off anti-aliasing. It’s not very smooth or gorgeous at 58 FPS though. On the plus side, it feels darn realistic.

rf2-58

RaceRoom Racing Experience (R3E)

While it is advertised as free to play, that only gets you a couple cars and tracks. It’s more like a demo. But the are lots more you can purchase with their in-game currency (which you buy with real money). Once you get a couple car and track packs, you may find yourself $20-100 lighter. It’s a little annoying that they charge you for every little thing, like liveries, but it’s not that expensive and doesn’t affect the driving. I found about 150 racing online on a Saturday at 1 PM. System requirements are modest. I got 60 FPS on medium settings, which look fine. But when switched to high, I got 37 FPS and it was not very playable.

r3e-60

Assetto Corsa (AC)

AC has a decidedly European flavor. There are a nice selection of European cars and tracks, but not so much from elsewhere. Surely that will change in the future. New downloadable content arrives regularly. The $30 base cost gets you quite a few cars and tracks. Additional cars and tracks can be purchased in bundles. AC is very popular. I found about 2,800 racers online and several hundred racing on a Saturday at 1 PM. There are no online fees. System requirements are modest. I got 65 FPS.

ac-65

Project CARS (pCARS)

Unusually, this title was partly funded through crowd-sourcing. Lots of people contributed and lots of people play. I found about 2,300 racers online and 300 actually racing on a Saturday at 1 PM. Cost is $30 plus extra for more cars and tracks. No online fees. System requirements are on the high side, but the graphics are jaw-dropping. I got 49 FPS, but it plays very well at that frame rate.

pcars-49

DiRT Rally (DR)

Rally simulators are a rare breed. Most rally software is decidedly on the arcade side. The main exception to this is Richard Burns Rally, which is so old that it doesn’t have multi-player support. You can’t even buy it anymore. If you want RBR now, you’ll have to pirate it (I found a download link without too much trouble). However, there’s a better choice.. DiRT Rally is the first modern rally simulator, and it’s awesome. I found 700 people online. Rally is more of a solo thing, but there is multiplayer racing in rally cross. DiRT Rally is $60 and there are no additional fees and no downloadable content.

dirt

Automobilista Motorsports Simulator (AMS)

Reiza Studios is from Brazil, and their base simulator features Brazilian racing series and tracks (which are very cool). But they also have downloadable content should you wish to get the typical cars and tracks you find elsewhere. I found about 150 racing online on a Saturday at 1 PM. System requirements are amazingly low. I got 116 FPS and the quality of the graphics was pretty good.

ams-116

Initial Conclusions

All of these simulators are worth owning. Each simulator has its own character and you may prefer one to another. If your computer is 10 years old, get a new one if possible. If not, rFactor will work but AMS may as well, and it is far superior. If you have a really fast computer, try pCARS and rF2. pCARS may have the best visuals and rF2 feels pretty authentic. If you want to drop into well-organized multiplayer races at any time of the day, iRacing is best. But if your internet is spotty, you’ll be racing against AI, so you don’t want iRacing. If you like driving on dirt then DiRT Rally. Want to try something for free? R3E costs nothing at the outset. If all of this boggles the mind and you just want to start with something good at everything, you can’t go wrong with AC. But if you’re like me, you’ll find something useful in each sim and you’ll get more than one.