Over the years, Codemasters having given us a plethora of excellent racing fare, with various Formula 1 games, GRID and even the original Colin McRae blazing the way for the virtual car enthusiast in all of us. For me, the Dirt series has always been the badass punk cousin of the Colin McRae series, with Codemasters adding lashings of style on to what was an already solid base. If Dirt Rally was Colin McRae turning it up to 11, Dirt 4 is the series finally coming to terms with itself, buying a lovely pair of comfy slippers and watching an episode of Emmerdale.
If Dirt 3 seemed a little bare bones to you, then this entry should more than make up for any of those previous shortcomings. There is a fully fleshed-out career mode with 4 separate competitions to compete in, each with their own rules, formats and types of vehicles. There are two types of rally, and two types of group racing. The competitive racing element is defined by which type of car you can use, with everything from little buggies to supercars on offer.
The rally stages are the bread a butter of the whole series, and it’s where the pedigree of the developer really shines through. The two different physics modes (a regular and a realistic) do affect the way the cars handle and just how much effort you have to put in to learning how car handles, and how the different terrain and weather can work against you. I personally opted for the regular style of play; not being an avid racing gamer I figured this the best option. The controls were responsive and incredibly satisfying when executed well. I’d imagine this is amplified more so when using the realistic scheme, as it really is down to the player as to what happens on the track.
The career mode takes a turn for the repetitive when it comes to the the actual racing events however. It’s strange that all of the drama gets taken away when are other competitors involved, but there’s just no soul to the people you race against. I figured that it was the easier control scheme that caused this, so I did attempt the ‘hard’ difficulty, but the learning curve was steep enough that it took whatever fun I was having away almost immediately. I’m convinced that other, more talented player, will find their place with these races, but it’s something that never really clicked with me. The rally cross sections offered the most entertainment, with regular rally cars being put to the test on regular racetracks.
The main take-away from the career mode were the stories that developed during the rally championships. You’re mid way though your rally championship, hurtling though a peaceful autumnal wood, gracefully drifting around corners and gliding over water hazards. Everything’s going great until on of your tires pop, sparks fill the screen and your control of the car becomes nearly zero. You decide to go out on your shield, limping to the finish line, just about placing in the top 5 and saving your overall rank. You have an angry welsh man (Nicky Grist) yelling in your ear the whole time, but you made it! Time to (attempt to) patch the car up and go again.
I enjoyed the team building part of the career, adding actual people to your roster each with a particular set of skills that might aid you on your journey to world domination. It’s a shame that there isn’t really a visual element to this, it’s just another menu on the pile, it would have been nice to see my motoring empire grow as my accolades did.
A stroke of genius is the option to procedurally generate your own tracks and circuits. One of my main complaints with any racing simulation is that once you’ve completed a certain track a few times it begins to get a little boring, with only the desire for complete mastery to keep you going. Codemasters have created a system that lets the player create their own courses at will, using a couple of sliders that control track length and complexity. It’s enough to create a plethora of different slaloms that could, in theory, be endless.
Visually, the cars looks impeccable, with interiors detailed and the exterior chassis changing with each bump (or crash) you may (definitely) experience. Especially during a multi-race event, the car will deteriorate unless tended to by your staff, with the caked-on mud and dirt a lovely touch. The track itself also looks great, with grooves being worn where your tires have been and debris exploding behind you when travelling at high speed. The same, sadly, can’t really be said of the surrounding environs, with low-res foliage popping in at close range. It doesn’t take too much away from the experience I’ll admit, as it flies by at high speed most of the time, but if you take a tumble the whole thing starts to look a little shabby.
Also worth a mention is the sound design. Not the soundtrack that seems to have come from 2013, but the actual grunt of the vehicles you inhabit. The machine gun growl of your car exhaust punctuates the calm surrounds, coupled with the various co-drivers barking orders down your ear and it turns in to quite the immersive experience. It all clicks and becomes quite the immersive experience at times. I found myself getting ‘in the zone’ during rallies, and it’s the sound that ultimately sells it.
At the end of the day, if you’re already a fan of the series you’re going to love this. Even me, not really a car person found a lot of things to enjoy here. It’s a shame that the single payer seems to lack a little personality, but the solid gameplay more than makes up for it. With the addition of the custom track creator, it’s something that could keep you going for a long time.
Dirt 4 hits shelves June 6th and is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC.