Dirt 4 is the fourth game in Codemasters’ overly ‘bro,’ but great fun, arcade come sim rally racing franchise.
Dirt 4 has you driving a plethora of racing vehicles on tracks from around the world. From the traditional point-to-point rally cars of your sliding around the mud of Wales to the brutal 18 wheeler trucks melting ice under tire on the lakes of Sweden.
There is a car for all here tastes and all experience levels. But whatever racing discipline you choose, one thing is for certain: They are all ready to churn some mud and burn rubber, as you slide their back ends out screeching around corners.
Never has there been more cars or tracks in a Dirt game. Speaking of the tracks, well now they number in the millions – yes you read that right – as there’s the induction of a new procedurally generated track system. For the first time, you’ll have to actually listen to your co-driver instead of just repeating the same track over and over to learn its corners.
Yes, some of you may already be thinking, why hasn’t he mentioned the Dirt rally game that came out last year. Well, there is a reason for that. You see, Dirt Rally is a full on simulation game and it’s as hardcore as camping Star Wars fans on Episode 7 release night. Suffice to say, it’s one for the steering wheel polishers out there.
Dirt 4 is a game for people who want to have fun. Who want to jump in and feel like the legendary Colin Mcrae or the much loved Richard Burns. They want to flick a car around the track like a champ from the off. And who can blame them! After all, games are about fun right?
So let’s take a look at what makes Dirt 4 tick, let’s see if we are on to a winner or have we returned to the bro fest of Dirt 3. Let’s hope not ay!
Tone It Down Bro
First of all, I wanted to talk about how the overly bro tones of the previous dirt game have thankfully, mercifully been tossed out the window of our 300HP car come beast and has been replaced with a more manageable, more normal tone.
The original Dirt 3 suffered from what I liked to call over Americanisation. What is this? I tend to think it’s people who spend too much time tanning themselves, calling me dude and bro all the time as if they are heigh on drugs or something. I’m sure you agree, it needed to die. And die it has. Thank God.
Without a doubt, it was the worst twisting of a franchise I had ever seen. A quintessentially European sporting excursion that is rallying, warped to suit the new bigger market of the loud small minority in the US of A.
Unfortunately, sales dropped off a cliff quicker than a locked up ford focus flying off an alpine hairpin.
Thankfully, Codemasters have been slapped around by these poor sales numbers and taken steps to rectify the situation. The game now feels like it’s actually trying to take itself a little more seriously.
And it’s efforts to introduce a little more realism to the franchise has paid off. It’s found a moreish sweet spot that makes me what to eat it up.
Okay, this isn’t Dirt Rally. But it was never supposed to be. An Anal pursuit of realistic simulation perfection was its goal. And thank goodness it wasn’t. I want to play a game. Enjoy it. Jump into it for five minutes and feel like a bad-ass. I don’t want to play a racer on my console where I have blown $500 racing setup just to come close to competing. Games like IRacing, though immensely fun, can sometimes feel like a day job grind.
If you’re the type who prides themselves on your racing setup, dotes on your $200 racing wheel. I have news for you. Dirt 4 ain’t your game. But Dirt
Rally is. So turn around, walk away slowly. There no uber simulation clotting and clogging up Dirt 4’s fun-pump here.
On first loading a stage, I jumped into a car and was immediately struck by the beauty of the wet Welsh track before me. Mud flowed away into the distance merging with overcast greens of the land. I took a second to take the site in, and what a treat for the eyes Dirt 4 is. Yes, we are living in a time where all games look gorgeous and have more graphical wiz bangs than your average gadget shop. But Codemasters know how to craft graphical marvel.
As I stood there on the starting line, I clicked through the different views to see what was available to me. Two good chase cameras, an immaculate in-car view with working dials and more details than a lawyer’s divorce letter greeted me. This in helmet view will make purists purr with delight. And with one more click, I arrived at my personal favourite: the bonnet view. Whatever your camera of choice, Codemasters has provided.
Looking out past the light bending dribbles of water on my TV screen I could see the rain-sodden Welsh hills hold every green hue the eye can see. To the side, a glacier-cut valley surrounded by rocky outcroppings walled a flat valley floor where dry stone walls crisscrossed. The site grasped my breath and tour it away from me. This is my home. This is rally heaven.
With the engine revving, my car ready to pounce forward, the rain beat down as if the gods sensed a monumental rally was about to take place. It always rains in Wales, but this was something else. The thunder clouds dusted the road of mud with droplets of dirt pulverising water, turning the once pleasant track into a churning battlefield of brown. This is where racers are forged. Not in fire and flame. But in mud, wet, and rain.
The valleys of my homeland looked as intimidating as ever. And now I was about to blast down roads, at 60mph, that were as wide as a bike track. I think there was more chance of trash compacting into a tree than getting to the end. The slurry filled road snaked ahead vanishing into the undergrowth, and I wound soon be following it. The intimidation that every rally driver faces when charging down a welsh road recreated perfectly in the game. I half expected a Welsh male voice choir to erupt in chorus around me. Land of my fathers indeed.
The game, dragged me into the stages, more so than any racer I have played in recent years. And I’m not just saying that because I got to drive around in the land of song. That’s Wales to everybody else. The environment, the lighting, everything came togeather in perfect harmony that makes Dirt 4’s stages seem so organic, so out in the wilds.
Rallying is all about racing on the edge of your vehicle’s possibilities. Driving fast over terrain that would shake lesser cars apart in minutes, is what it’s all about. Dirt 4 captures that and packages it up as an accessible tasty fast food racer.
And I can happily confirm that the game not only looks the part, its performance is just as dramatic attractive too. The game slides along at a perfect 60fps at all times. Nothing I did could shake that magic number from Dirt’s grasp. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a game run at the silky smooth number.
Suffice it to say, Codemasters have raised the bar with Dirt 4. Stunning graphics are a given, but 60 fps, in this day and age of ‘graphics sell, frame rates don’t’ is sadly not so it’s wonderful to see it in the game. For the publisher to deliver both is a welcome pleasure that helps drive the game forward from the ordinary to the sublime. Something that is a must play.
Oh. And don’t get me started about driving, blind through the night in milk thick fog. That’s some volumetric fogging effects that have to be driven through to be believed.
Special mention has to be said of the new damage modelling system employed throughout Dirt 4. It’s easily one of the most dynamic and accurate representations of the troubles and issues rally drivers face when out on course. When you’re flying down a dirt track, tree trunks blurring past within a foot of you’re wing mirror, the odd crash is to be expected. A rolled car here, a heavy landing there quickly lead to mechanical issues.
Dive over a jump, overshoot and fall headlong into a valley, and your going to be spending a lot of time hammering your car back into shape.
But it’s also the mechanical failures that add a great deal to the game. You might be in the middle of the perfect run and bang! A blown out tire destroys your time, and chances of victory. It’s harsh stuff, but it adds to the sense that this is a rough and ready sport.
The damage isn’t ultra realistic like Dirt 4’s simulator brother Dirt Rally where a miss placed wheel will mean a detached wheel. But it skirts the realms of realism enough to make it feel scary, immediate, and make you want to drive a little safer.
Perfect Off-Road Handling
As for gameplay, Dirt 4 seems to have found the holy grail of simulation arcade balance perfection. I haven’t played a game this much fun to vault and powerslide around in since Motorstorm on the PS3. It’s just pure rally, chuck it around the corner bliss. Every hairpin is a chance to snap the back end out, every small bump an opportunity to rocket the car in the air.
The handling is both tactile and communicative issuing warning notices for every change in camber, undulation, or surface changes. Turn any of the game’s massive roster into a corner and you’ll immediately feel the grip ebb away, the oversteer of 300 horses spin wheels on gravel that is reluctant to offer any sort of workable friction. Fall into a 90-degree corner, tap the hand break, and the cars trunk end readily springs out, arching around the corner.
And this continues onto the surfaces. Unlike traditional racing which takes place on boring old tarmac, rallying is multi-surfaced. You can start on ice cracked tarmac and then drive onto wet gravel, then back to tarmac. And the game does an accurate if slightly over exaggerated job of conveying these ever-changing surfaces. And it really is a joy. Powerslide into a mud strewn corner and you will loose traction and glide like a hockey player across a rink.
Then as soon as your wheel spins into contact with tarmac, mass grip is transmitted and the wheels bite hard into the bitumen. This feeling of control, of knowing what surface can do what empowers you. It made me feel on top of my game as if I could use the surfaces to my advantage instead of them being something to negotiate my way through.
For me, this is the pinnacle of digitised off road driving. Yes, you could argue the Dirt Rally produced a more realistic and subtle driving experience. But you needed a steering wheel to play the damn thing. Without one, your going to spend more time wrapped around trees, than having your hands wrapped around winner trophies.
Yes, you can stick Dirt 4 on a harder difficulty level and turn off some of the assists and you’ll be challenged. But it’s still fun. Not the, ‘I need a hydraulic racing seat just to have a chance of not finishing last,’ that Dirt Rally demands. This accessibility makes Dirt 4 a far better rally experience for the everyday gamer.
Dirt Rally School
Dirt 3 introduces us to a new game mode called the dirt academy. Taking you to the heart of the USA, the DirtFish rally school in Washington DC will teach you the skills you’ll need to compete. Whether you’re new to rallying or your an expert power slider, the rally school may just teach you a thing or two to take you’re driving up a notch.
To help you do this the school presents you with a number of challenges. Some at first can be tediously simple. Saying my Grandmother could do them would be an insult to the woman. First, you will be tasked with starting and stopping. Then turning right and left. Fortunately, it gets better.
Once you get past the baby stages, point-to-point challenges become available along with power sliding tutorials and cone challenges. And if that’s not enough to educate you on the fine points of rallying, there’s a curriculum of activities to test yourself and develop your driving.
Additionally, you can be schooled on different road surfaces and learn to cope with adverse weather effects and how they affect your car.
For example, the tutorials explain the differences between tarmac grip and racing lines and gravel grip levels. How wet weather will dramatically change the handling of the car. And why driving is fog is an absolute nightmare.
Though there have been many driving school com tutorials in driving games over the years, I felt the DirtFish driving school was a breath of fresh air. Each class introduces to new car dynamics with the whole structure of the tutorials well laid out so as not to overwhelm.
Learning all the nuances of the cars and how they react in any given situation empowered me when I was behind the wheel. I felt like I genuinely knew what I was doing. I could feel myself getting better with every tutorial. Each of which familiarised me with the mechanics of the car and encouraged me to exude more control and tame each car’s massive horsepower. Even if that control was momentary, I’m sure it saved me plunging into sheep filled crevasse many times.
If like me you’re in need of a dusting off of your skills, or you’re a complete beginner, this is the place to start your dirt experience.
I’m Rally Driver/Manager
As with any racer, the game would not be complete without a sprawling career mode to sink one’s teeth into. Praise to the Lord that Codemasters have included one hell of a rewarding experience that borders on a management sim.
In manager mode, it’s all about growing your reputation. Whether you decide to focus on one particular off-road niche or cast your skilled net wide and take in all vehicular disciplines, the choice is down to you. Manager mode will dump you, near penniless, in a world that isn’t just concerned with your racing, but also bringing a team together for success.
First up, to compete you’re going to need a car, and Dirt 4 has over 50 to pick from. Your funds will be limited early so your going to be rummaging around in the bargain bins looking to tease out the car that will set you on the road to stardom.
However, each car you buy is a run of the mill, road going version that is completely unbranded by the marketing men. Each must be tuned before they will handle like a racing car. The first time playing through, I chose to stick with traditional rallying, but you’re free to play however you want. Maybe your only interested in the buggy racing so manager mode lets you focus on it.
In addition to picking the right car, developing the right team is also vital if you wish to succeed both on and off the race track. As team manager, and star driver, you get to hire and fire employees to make the team better. You will have new mechanics and managers flying in and out faster than airports fly planes out.
You can hire mechanics who will increase the speed at which your car is repaired, or speed up the discovery of new technologies. Upgrades are a whole other area of the game where you can discover new parts to make help you race more competitively.
Or you may want to bring a marketing manager in to coax more money out of sponsorship deals. You need money to take every action in Dirt 4, whether it’s buying a new car, or fitting a new part, you need cash. And a better marketing manager means better income.
Managing my team felt refreshingly simple. In a world of ever more complicated game mechanics, Codemasters have opted to gamify the hell out of the management systems. Perhaps your goal is to make more money. To bring in more cash, you simply look at the marketing people available to hire and the menus will tell you exactly how much more money they will generate.
There is no vagueness to the data provided. The information is provided straight up in a, ‘if you do this then this will happen,’ manner. There are definite outcomes to your actions. I applaud this simplicity. Thank you, Codemasters. When are Devs going to realise, complicated is not better!
Away from buying cars, you can also get contracts to drive for other teams. This is a great way to make more money early on in the game and get experience on new tracks. Plus, in all likelihood, your first car will be utter crap and couldn’t win a race even if paired with blind snails.
Overall, I found the career mode to be fun and fulfilling experience which grew on me over time as more of it depth revealed itself to me. Yet Codemasters have seemingly found a way to keep this ever-growing depth simple. Never overwhelming or overtaxing me. I managed my team, got a little closer to my goals, suited up and raced. And it was bloody brilliant.
Build me a Track
There is a killer feature in this year’s Dirt 4 and it changes the very meaning of what it is to take my car out into the unknown, desperate to hang onto every word my co-driver screams out. This year, Dirt 4 introduces the track builder.
The track builder is essentially a random track generator that can take any environment in the game and start laying down pre-made blocks of road to generate a track. Think of having the world’s biggest selection of Scalextric track sections in your lounge and you will get the idea. There are literally thousands of different sections of track the game can use to bundle together a bruising car run out. On top of that, I could change the time of day, and I had the ultimate power over the weather like some rally stage God.
I found it worked splendidly. For the first time in a rally game, I had to actually pay attention to my co-driver. Because no two tracks are the same, I couldn’t simply learn the track through repetition. I had to constantly work my little brain and pay attention to the instructions spewed down my ear peace.
However, some repetition of track sections did creep in after I’d generated a number of tracks. I even had a spasming bout a deja vu when I rounded the exact same corner 4 times. They were mirrored, so I didn’t go around in circles. But I could easily tell they were the same corners.
You might think this as a problem, and in the short term it is, but in the long term this system has so much potential it’s insane. Codemasters could for example, just make a 500 new section of track and it would bump the number of possible track from 5 million to 500 million. The mode is very exciting for the future of rally games
Dirt 4 Introduces the next generation of Codemasters’ much celebrated online racing hub RaceNet bringing with it a garage full of race and tournament options to slide into.
Stepping into the Racenet hub, I found a number tournaments and challenges that would suit every player of any ability.
There is weekly point to point rally races for different car types and skill levels. There’s weekly and monthly challenges that set tasks to be completed or races to enter. There are knockout tournaments constantly running. In fact, there is more stuff to do in RaceNet than the rest of the game put togeather.
I found race nets offering extremely compelling. Whether I was racing against the clock to slowly climb up the public leaderboards or competing, bumper to bumper, in rally cross, every event was exhilarating.
The appeal of huge community growing around a great racing game thrills me. I have played loads of racing games and love to race in real life, but there was something Dirt 4’s online antics the resonated with me. It drew me in even more than a game like IRacing. Alright, IRacing is a super hardcore, PC only, your playing with a wheel or loose by default car extravaganza. But Dirt 4 was so easy to pick up and play, meaning you could jump into a game with a bunch of other people and get racing. It’s like battlefield for the racing world. And that’s no bad thing.
And thankfully, Dirt 4’s network performance can stand proud above the racing pack as it bounds along at a gorgeous 60fps and without a hint of latency. Having played a number of games I did not detect any dropped frames.
Even in hectic metal shredding, fender to fender, sparks erupting moments. Only in once race did I feel the dark side of internet induced latency grip the game, and effect the feedback of my controller. Thankfully, it lasted less than a second and I put it down to my own inept Internet connection. But overall, I came away impressed by the fluidity of the online experience.
Overall, RaceNet offers so much to Dirt 4 that I could easily be playing it for years to come.
I have to say I have been blown away by how fun Dirt 4 is. It’s handling is wonderful, the perfect mix of realism and sim. The graphics are melt in your mouth morish. The general presentation shrieks of triple-A.
Yes, the lack of simulation pedigree may put a few of you off. The handling, no matter how I try to look at it, isn’t as tight as Dirt Rally. It’s not as communicative or subtle in telling you what the car is doing. But I don’t care. The handling in Dirt 4 is still better because it’s accessible. It’s more immediate and fun. I don’t have to set up my massive driving sim rig with seat, wheel, plastic octopus of wires. Dirt rally just wants me to pick up a controller and start having fun. And that’s what it should be all about right?
And as for the procedurally generated track maker, it’s a game changer. Simple as that. I’m saying here and now, for everybody to read, every racing game needs this in some form or another. It offers so much choice and replay value it’s unreal.
It makes your co-driver, for the very first time, really important because you can’t learn these tracks. You just have to dive into them, listen to the co-driver and hope for the best. It makes Dirt 4 wonderfully compelling because no other rally sim makes you feel like a rally driver. Yet, here you plunged into the dark foggy back roads of Wales and told to navigate out at 60MPH plus. It’s thrilling stuff.
As a fun an accessible rally game I can’t recommend Dirt 4 enough. It’s fun, fast and a great looker. The career mode is a sprawling management effort that will eat hours. The online is… Look, if you’re a fan of racing games, you need to get up off your arse, and go buy this game.
-Toned down ‘bro-ness’
-Handling improved across the board
-Handling more arcade-like
-Loads of tracks, events and tournaments
-Deep career mode
-Tonnes of vehicle types
-Great online multiplayer
-Procedurally generated tracks game changer for rally games.
-best ever co-drivers
-Not as good looking as Dirt Rally.
-Might upset simulation purists
If you looking for a fun rally game this is a must buy.
However, if you’re looking for a simulation game, this might rub you up the wrong way.