DiRT 4 Review – The Undisputed (Code)Masters of Rally

Get mud in your tires with DiRT 4

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Back in the days of Sony’s first PlayStation, rally games were ten-a-penny. Everybody and their dog thought that they could just sign up some big-name driver and emulate the success of Codemasters’ genre-defining Colin McRae series. Those days thankfully came and went and now just a handful of contenders are left standing. Nobody has come close to rivaling Codies’ best though and with last year’s outstanding DiRT Rally, they proved that they were still masters of the sport.

Now, with DiRT 4, the development team are trying to mix the full simulation feel of DiRT Rally with previous titles in the series that tended to have more of an “arcade simulation” air about them. It’s an experiment that seems to have been largely successful.

The key to satisfying both types of player is the ability to switch between two very distinctly different handling models. “Simulation” is – as you’d imagine – for those who know that they must fight against spins and that drifts aren’t something that just happen when you slam the wheel to the left and pull the handbrake. “Gamer” is the opposite, adding ABS and an over-exaggerated traction control system which gives players the ability to pretty much stop on a dime. More granular alterations can be made outside of these overarching styles, so you can really tailor the game to play in a way that you’re comfortable with. Also, those who opt for the less-punishing setting can still make DiRT 4 into an incredibly challenging experience, just by ratcheting up the opposition difficulty.

What this means is that the game really does cater for all types of player. Those who have never played a rally game before can dive in and hammer around stages set in Wales, Australia, the USA, Spain, and Sweden, while more seasoned ralliers can get an incredibly detailed simulation that will truly test their mettle. The customization extends to the off-track portions of play, too. Creating your own team from scratch is at the core of DiRT 4’s career mode, with upgrades to your facilities allowing you to attract more sponsors, improve the mood of your staff, hire better engineers, and so on. New vehicles can be purchased either direct from the dealership or from risky classified ads while unlocking a more competent R&D department provides access to better upgrades for the vehicles that you already own. The menu system for managing these various facets of your business is an absolute breeze to use, so there’s never any confusion about what you’re doing and when.

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“… you can really tailor the game to play in a way that you’re comfortable with.”

Before you even get to take part in your first rally, you must head off to DirtFish, which houses the DiRT Academy. Here, you can watch and take part in a stack of incredibly detailed lessons which teach everything from the basics of acceleration, all the way through to weight distribution, how to get the best start on each type of surface (if you’re using manual starts and manual clutch) and, of course, how to master the Scandinavian Flick. Even if they do insist on referring to it as the much more boring “Pendulum Turn.” You can take as little or as much advice as you’d like here, before jumping into a couple of entertaining mini-games. Smash Attack sets you the task of destroying a set number of signs, taking whichever lines you’d like before the time runs out. Time Attack has you zipping around a few more traditionally planned laps against the clock, collecting time pickups and avoiding penalties. As well as being enjoyable, these are challenging enough to keep you coming back for just one more attempt to snag that gold medal.

Once you do make it out into the big wide world, it doesn’t take many standard rally stages before you’ve unlocked the Landrush and Rally Cross disciplines. The latter is as you would expect and is much the same as was found in DiRT Rally, with four racers battling it out around a short course for supremacy over a couple of races. Each driver must take a “joker” (which is a slight diversion from the standard course layout) once per race and the game has trouble keeping up with this. Too many times I was told that my joker lap didn’t count because I’d missed the entrance to the joker section – even though there’s only one way to take the route – only to be questioned by the engineer as to why I was taking the joker again on the next lap. It’s a bug that can be patched out, but right now, it’s often the difference between winning and losing.

DiRT 4 Top Screen

Landrush returns from DiRT 3 and features open-wheel insanity around stadium-based dirt courses in California, Nevada, and Mexico. It may not be for everyone, but those who decide to take on the Landrush events are in for an incredibly tough time if using the simulation handling mode. The stadium trucks and buggies seem to have a mind of their own here – drifting harshly at every slight input change – unless you have absolute mastery of how to prevent it. Some will bounce off this mode pretty hard (as I did) but given its fleeting nature, that’s no big loss.

The main course that DiRT 4 serves up is the more traditional rally racing. It may not have the official WRC license in tow, but whether you’re driving through a snowstorm in Sweden in a 2007 Ford Focus or just trying to see the road ahead through the thick fog of Powys in a Mini Cooper, it’s real edge of the seat stuff from start to finish. Codemasters have pulled rally drivers Kris Meeke and Petter Solberg in to help make the handling model more true-to-life and no matter which class of rally you’re taking on – from historic racers through to modern day powerhouses – it really shows.

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“If you like your racing fast, filthy, and challenging, there’s no doubt that DiRT 4 ticks all of the boxes.”

In simulation mode, the slightest mistake can be enough to see you understeer and getting caught on a muddy bank or drift out of control and over the edge of a cliff, tumbling down the leaderboard at the same time. In gamer mode, you’ll make similar mistakes, but for different reasons. If you’re playing on the simpler setting, you won’t crash out because you’ve tried to drive out of a drift the wrong way. Instead, you’ll probably just have pushed the speed a little too far and lost control that way. When something serious of that nature happens, the option to quickly recover your vehicle and get back on track is held up for a seemingly random amount of time. You can fly off the track, land on your roof, and be sitting there for five seconds before the quick reset option becomes available to you. It’s an annoyance, but you can always head into the pause menu and select to reset your car from there at any time as a workaround.

Nicky Grist serves as your co-driver and gives more varied and natural sounding instruction than in previous titles, while a couple of new features designed to further increase the realism of each event have been thrown in. Manual starts – as mentioned previously – are optional, but are really required when you get up to the higher difficulty levels and need to shave precious seconds off your time. Less impressive is the addition of marshal inspections. When you’ve just powered across the finish line, hoping upon hope that you made up enough time to get to the top of the leaderboard, it’s nothing but annoying to have to slowly carry on driving until you reach the marshal. It’s no more detailed than that, but sometimes you’re looking at ten to fifteen seconds of slow driving that just isn’t needed.

DiRT 4 Screen 1

To fault the game too harshly for that would be unkind, though, since there’s enough action here to last rally fans for a good long time. Outside of the standard career, you have the option of generating entire custom stages using the new “Your Stage” feature. You just have to decide upon the location, length, and complexity of the stage, and DiRT 4 will put together something entirely new for you to drive. It means that you’ll never run out of new challenges and is a welcome addition that is incredibly easy to use while producing great results. Online play works nicely, with straight-up rallies for up to eight players being available, complete with a FIFA-like league division system featuring promotion and relegation in order to determine the best of the best. If that’s not your bag, daily, weekly, and monthly leaderboard challenges are also in play. At the time of writing, the monthly challenge is a 12-stage behemoth that contains almost an hour of racing time and that will see serious players putting in multiple attempts to improve their times. In short, fans will find that there’s always a reason to come back and play.

DiRT 4 is a highly-polished and well-thought-out title that could truly succeed in pulling more players towards the genre. It looks great and with the new optional arcade-style handling model, the barrier for entry is low. Even with that in mind, hardcore players are served better than ever before with increased options at the top end. If you like your racing fast, filthy, and challenging, there’s no doubt that this ticks all of the boxes.

*** PS4 code provided by the publisher ***

The Good

  • Handling model provides lots of options without being overwhelming
  • Great learning curve
  • Convincing weather
  • Different driving surfaces truly feel different
  • Plenty of events and challenges to take on
  • Career mode has more depth than before
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The Bad

  • Only five rally locations
  • Landrush mode still feels like an afterthought
  • eternaldragonx

    I still see Forza Horizon 3 as the pinnacle of racers. But I’d be all over a Rallisport Challenge if they made another one.