It’s been two years since we saw Dirt Rally, and while I can’t quite figure out why we’re only now getting DiRT 4, 6 years after Dirt 3, It’s safe to say Codemasters have plenty of experience when it comes to rally titles.
Two years is a pretty long time, and more and more titles drop in to a two year cycle, some give us entire new experiences, while others feel more of an upgrade, but how exactly will DiRT 4 line up.
DiRT 4 manages to check both of those boxes at the same time, graphically it just doesn’t feel like a full fledged release, with some foliage and tree’s having a very artificial feeling to them. While particle effects mean dust, fog and lighting has certainly been improved there’s a real showcase when hurtling down the track on a foggy evening, but racing through the forest on a warm summers day is somewhat less enjoyable.
Thankfully though there have been some major improvements, and these mostly sit where it counts, presentation has been refined, menu’s simplified and everything just feels so much more accessible.
From the main menu you’ll find you’re primary options… Events, My Team and Vehicles join the mailbox for in-game notifications and finally options and extra.
The options hold your usual adjustments with the main choice being between the ‘Gamer’ or ‘Simulation’ driving styles, while it feels a little thin on ‘extras’ and the mailbox is better accessed via the view button, especially when sponsors and contract expiry emails come through. I would have liked to see a little more emphasis on this as I’ve lost count how many times I’ve missed a message only to read it the next time I’ve booted up the game.
Next up is Vehicles, you can view your current garage, see what’s on offer at the dealership, or check classified listings for bargains on car’s which are usually short of a few upgrades but considerably cheaper than paying a dealers premium.
Next is my team, and you’ll want to spend a little time here, after setting up your team name, colours, car decal style and such, you’ll also find options to get some staff which better help your progression as well as sponsors who prove a healthy income generator with event goals and challenges to help build up the cash.
Facilities and Staff can all be upgraded, allowing more sponsors, more cars in your garage as well as additions such as a VIP lounge to improve potential new recruits, or a workshop which brings down the cost of repairs.
There’s not too much emphasis on these features, but you’ll want to keep checking back and adding a few options, as increasing the chance of finding rare cars in the classifieds, or accommodating more engineers will certainly help out further down the line.
All of these upgrades, staff and vehicles are acquired using in game credits (Cr), rewarded for just about every event, there’s plenty of options for what matters most, the racing…
Under Events, you’ll find Career, packed with events covering various disciplines, Rally and Historic Rally are pretty similar, and likewise the circuit track based Land-rush and Rally cross modes offer a similar head-to-head option.
With all of the disciplines housing a number of events, the differences between each selection of events comes down to what vehicles you’ll use, thankfully there’s a wide selection from ten different classes, ranging from Kart’s, Buggies and trucks to a range of cars from Ford, Opel, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Peugeot, Hyundai, Renault, Volkswagen, Citroen, Mini and Seat.
As you start to complete events you’ll open up more options and build up the cash to buy cars for entering these newly unlocked events, it’s not as story driven as some titles, but there’s a satisfying feeling of accomplishment every time you cross the finishing line and with a few fireworks, you’re left to move to the next event or purchase.
Aside from the Career mode, Competitive lists Daily, Weekly and Monthly events for you to compete against other players, it’s a system we’ve seen before but it’s a welcome way of extending the challenge far beyond the career mode.
Freeplay gives you the chance to create your own championship, with a new endless selection of automatically generated routes dependent on your chosen location, length and difficulty, these options mean that the thrill of racing keeps consistent, there’s no losing to a guy who knows a course like the back of his hand, when the course was only created five minutes ago.
With DiRT academy giving plenty of options and challenges for mastering your car control, and Joyride lightening the mood with time attack, smash attack and free roam modes, there’s more than enough to keep you going and that’s before you explore the multiplayer sessions which can be set or joined dependent on whether you want a specific handling style, discipline, location or assist restrictions.
The most important thing about a rally game is obviously how it plays, and DiRT 4 is easily one of the most enjoyable racing experiences I’ve had.
Car’s feel weighty and sturdy, but equally vulnerable if you clip the edge, your co-driver will do a fantastic job of relaying instructions and listening to these mean you can concentrate more on your current movement rather than how far away that hairpin turn is, After a brief practice session I was soon winning events with fast, accurate racing which I’d often struggle to achieve, whether it’s the perfectly accessible gamer handling, or the more precise simulation, you feel in full control of the car, and even across different vehicles and disciplines, once you’ve got to grips with the big chunk of metal your sat inside, you’ll find yourself hitting green on even the toughest sections.
Lighting also plays a big part in your racing, and broad daylight might not provide the best scenery, it will allow you the chance to spot any small hazards, but cut the wrong corner, hit a jump wrong or clip those logs and you’re likely to find yourself pushing yourself even harder to finish quickly, that’s if your car’s still upright.
Crashes don’t happen too often, especially with careful handling, but just as you’d expect they do happen, even to other people… Through my offline career, I was warned of an accident on the track before starting one event, and during a land-rush event I almost lost on the final corner thank to a car that had flipped the lap before.
It all adds up to a very impressive driving experience, while Forza can happily claim the track racing crown, there’s simply no better feeling of Rally racing than DiRT 4.
As mentioned earlier, it’s not perfect, the graphics are mostly great, but there’s a few times when you’ll notice the scenery and things just look a little artificial, head out in the same track at night, and it’s a real showcase of how realistic it can look, but seeing some of your surroundings in broad daylight just doesn’t have the same effect.
Thankfully (especially later in the game) you’ll find far more events in the rain, fog, mist or outside of the bright daylight and there’s very little to complain about.
Audio is mostly superb quality, though I’m not a fan of over bearing engine sounds, so they where toned down a little after the first few races.
With some superb co-driver instructions which can also be configured to be heard closer or further from the turn/obstacle, a well placed and impressive soundtrack featuring artists such as Alex Clare, Bastille and while the menu music might not be amazing, the tunes you’ll hear accompanying the fantastic replays will mean you’ll want to watch them after most of your races.
For some DiRT 4 might feel like more of an upgrade than a completely new game, but the refined controls, presentation and gameplay set the bar to a new height. There’s plenty of core racing, but multiplayer and regular new competitive events mean you’ll never be short of a challenge.
DiRT 4 just seems to do everything right, the way you access the game, the way the cars feel and the achievement when you hurl down a long winding road taking turns faster than you’d imagine possible, DiRT 4 isn’t just a great rally game, it’s the best I’ve played in many many years.