Dirt 4 PC Review

Codemasters’ Dirt series was a sign that the British developer was looking to crack the world market by broadening the appeal of off-road racing. This was done by dropping the focus on rally and mixing in other off-road disciplines, such as trucks, buggies and gymkhana, an event that Ken Block has popularised and was a key part of Dirt 3. While the series has brought great racing with a polished presentation, fans of the Colin McRae Rally games, the series that Dirt replaced, were a little annoyed at Codemasters seemingly reducing the concentration on rally, the one event that fans loved the series for. Dirt Rally was created due to the fans desire for a pure rally game, and it turned out to be visceral and challenging monster of a game that is easily in the list for best rally game released.

Dirt 4 is a return to the mainline series and the more user friendly car handling that was absent from Dirt Rally, which the latter was more of a realistic driving experience that some found a little too hard for comfort. It also brings more off-road events, as returning from Dirt Rally are the Rally and Rallycross events, while adding Landrush, an event that features buggies, crosskarts and trucks on short lap-based dirt tracks, and Historic Rally, which is the same as Rally but limiting vehicles to the classics of the motorsports. Unlike the older Dirt games, Dirt 4 doesn’t seem to give off a vibe that it is ignoring its main draw, rally, and it seems to be fully embracing the motorsport by having it be the main focus of this game.

But being the next numbered sequence in the Dirt series, the developers have seen it fit to make sure they don’t alienate the casual rally drivers or ignore the hardcore fans who came back for Dirt Rally. To make both sides happy, Dirt 4 comes with two handling models – Gamer and Simulation, which aren’t just based on the handling’s assists, but actually make the game play differently for those two target audiences. Gamer makes keeping on the road easier, due to the way the car exaggerates everything, such as more grip, more resistance to spin out and weather having less impact on the car.

Simulation setting steers the game towards the Dirt Rally fans, and while not quite as demanding as that game (unless I’ve just become accustom to it and that made Dirt 4‘s simulation model easier to grasp?) the game will still require quick thinking and reactions, as car weight and track positioning become a key factor, making sure you accelerate and brake accordingly to stop the car sliding off the track, or worse, spinning out of control and into a tree. Between the two handling models, players can still customise the difficulty, AI and assists, which translate into additional bonus cash for driving with harder settings applied.

Career mode is the main single player content here, presented in a straight-forward way with simple menu squares that can drill into the events that make up each racing type, which is unlike past Dirt titles that displayed loud, fancy menu designs. Career begins with Rally, but quickly unlocks the three other event types I mentioned earlier (Landrush, Rallycross, Historic Rally). Landrush and Rallycross are circuit based events, with the former being set on uneven dirt grounds that make it easy to oversteer the corners and spin out. The AI doesn’t help matters in that regard either, since they love to get down and dirty, colliding with vehicles that can cause issues with staying on the track.

The included Rallycross is actually counted as the official game for the FIA World Rallycross Championship, but unlike a game that would centre itself on that sport, the tracks available are short in selection, with a couple of varieties on offer from a very small selection of locations. Rallycross, mechanically, comes from Dirt Rally fully intact, so if you enjoyed it in that game, the same can be said here. It’s a fast-paced event that can create tension when the times are so close together in the tight, technical tracks, and is simply a better experience than the chaos that is Landrush.

Rally is the main draw to the career, coming with the most events to finish. The biggest change to rally in Dirt 4 is that this mode has no bespoke tracks created by the designers. The developers have put trust in their new feature, dubbed Your Stage, that randomly generates a track on the fly. This adds elements of surprise to the career, since drivers can no longer become used to driving around the same track and learning its characteristics to shave seconds on repeated returns. This is one of the downfalls of Your Stage, as highlights of famous locations are often missing from the tracks created, leaving just the generic theme of the country as the backdrop. Learning a track in Dirt Rally was a thrilling time, trying to shave seconds by nipping corners dangerous close to the edge or knowing that you could go flat out on another, which is something you cannot do in Dirt 4‘s career mode.

But, and I’m surprised by this, those are really the only negatives with having the track generator featured in the game, because it generally does a great job at crafting engrossing course layouts. I mentioned the lack of learning a stage in career mode due to procedural generated tracks, but a good feature is the ability to save any of the tracks, which means you can then return to them in the free play mode, even share and challenge said course with some of your friends to see who is the best. Your Stage shines when applied in the free play section of Dirt 4, as it gives players the power to use two sliders to adjust the length and complexity, while tuning the time of day and weather to how players see fit- the improved fog patches are a nightmare to drive through, seriously limiting the view to something fitting for a Silent Hill game. Of course, if you just want the game to do it all, then a simple button press with randomise all the options, and if you like the track, you can save and rate it to let everyone else know as well.

The success of Your Stage is an incredibly achievement in itself, and one I can see staying with the series for future iterations. Maybe they can combine the feature with some bespoke tracks as well to offer the best of both worlds in the sequel. That said, the way Your Stage has impacted Dirt 4 is huge, as it has essentially turned this mud racer into a game that can constantly keep a supply of variety in its tracks, and while some combinations might resurface after many hours of play, it’s unlikely to fail in keeping the player engrossed in the unknown of what random calculations can bring to an experienced Dirt player.

Add the mix of Your Stage to the daily, weekly and monthly challenges downloaded from the servers for all players to take part on these fresh tracks allows the game to keep content coming in the simplest of ways. Perform well in challenges helps put digital cash in the pocket of players to purchase more cars, new staff and facility upgrades through the My Team area, a feature that felt shoehorned into Dirt Rally, appears more fleshed out here as a way to feel involved in more than just the racing. Improving the team can lead to finding rare classic cars in the second hand market, better engineers for faster repairs between stages, improvements to car parts, and increase space in the garage to own more cars.

I did find My Team to be little too based around boring menus to be all that exciting in the long run, but at least the sponsors offer a sort of challenge in how to play the game. Dressing up the car with decals brings in the cash if you can successfully pull off what the sponsor demands – come a certain place, have a clean drive, don’t use a recovery. Players will soon find My Team a drag, so people looking for more will no doubt jump into the time limited challenges as a way to step up to the plate to prove they are the best at adapting to the unknown either through the challenges or the online modes. Online is improved over Dirt Rally, as not only is Rallycross available, but all modes are, meaning everyone can do a rally at the same time (hurrah!). The netcode seems solid, too, having not experienced lag in the events that feature multiple cars at once. Rally is something that is unaffected by this, due to the single car on the track limitation. A small mark on the distance bar to the side of the screen informs players were the other drivers are currently at.

It’s not all positive for Dirt 4, because there is a sense that there could be more here in terms of locations and modes. The five locations for Rally are Michigan (United States), Tarragona (Spain), Fitzroy (Australia), Powys (Wales), and Värmland in Sweden. What happened to Monte Carlo, Greece. Germany and Finland from Dirt Rally? And the absent of the Hillclimb event is a strange one, because Your Stage could have crafted some seriously challenging courses for it.

After the brilliant Dirt Rally, I was a little wary with Dirt 4 and the return to the broader spectrum of off-road motorsports that I thought it might bring back the issues fans originally had with the series. Thankfully, the team hasn’t lost the focus on rally, keeping it the main attraction in this package. While I’m not happy with the limited locations available, I can’t deny that with the constant refreshment of new tracks on command, thanks to Your Stage, Dirt 4 offers many hours of surprises in a thrilling racing game packaged with features that allow the hardcore, intermediate and casual racing fans all able to play the game without feeling left out. The mainline Dirt series might no longer be as flamboyant as it once was, but its lack of flare has translated into a more meaningful rally experience that cannot be match this generation by anything other than its hardcore off-shoot, Dirt Rally.

8 out of 10