The latest racing game from Codemasters is DiRT 4. A major release number for the franchise sets big expectations and DiRT 4 delivers in spades. The game follows a long running legacy of Dirt titles, including Colin McRae: Dirt, Colin McRae: Dirt 2, Dirt 3, Dirt: Showdown, Dirt Rally and now DiRT 4. I think I’ve played every single one of those Dirt titles so there was a lot to live up to.
In this version of Dirt, you’ll have a wide variety of racing disciplines to choose from and that’s perhaps DiRT 4’s biggest asset, diversity. There’s more than 50 cars including the Ken Block’s RallyCross Ford Focus RS RX, as well as a slew of rally classics from Mitsubishi and Subaru. The lineup of vehicles certainly isn’t as deep as Forza, but does offer enough nameplates to keep you interested. The purchase price can seem high for some models, which forces you to brute force some races, just to buy the car you actually want. If you can’t wait, there’s always Freeplay.
In Rally, there’s 5 different locations to race at, including Australia (Fitzroy / Coffs Harbour region), as well as Spain, Michigan, Sweden and Wales. When you venture to the crazy world of Rallycross, there’s Montalegre, Loheac Bretagne, Hell, Holijes and Lydden Hill. The stages are hard, mainly elevated by the thin roads that leave almost no margin for error. As frustrating as it is to restart after a crash, it does make the victories sweeter.
Landrush offers racing across short-course dirt tracks in a range of vehicles including Pro buggies, Supertrucks and go-kart on drugs, Crosskarts. This racing takes place in California, Nevada and Mexico. Expect plenty of collisions in this style of racing, but that’s ok, the vehicles are made to take the hard hits. The RWD and AWD Supertrucks were particularly fun to race, as this category has been growing in popularity as it puts on amazing displays during Supercars events around the country. Being able to race these trucks is seriously satisfying, albeit challenging as they handle completely different than anything else in the game.
Then there’s Joyride, one of my favourites when you’ve got a few minutes spare for some fun. This is like the Gymkhana of old, with smash challenges that puts your collecting skills against your lap time skills. Hit the right collectables and you’ll minus time, hit the wrong ones and you’ll add to your time. Its a great challenge and of my favourite from the game. Its a challenge against the clock, but you can also send challenges to your friends.
A new section called DiRT Academy helps you learn if you’re new to rally and is located at DirtFish Rally School in Washington. Even if you’re a familiar racer, it is worthwhile heading back to school to make sure you leave behind any bad habbits you may have picked up over the years.
When you start your career, you’ll create a team. The game gives you the ability to hire different personnel to help with your career progression. You’ll definitely want some mechanics, but if you want vehicle upgrades, you’ll need to invest in an R&D department. The game tries to encourage you to upgrade the team facilities by trading off discounted upgrades, but its hard to justify when you just want to spend your winnings on new cars.
When you can upgrade your car, the R&D levels are locked to your driver ranking, which means even if you have the money, you frustratingly have to go race more races you don’t care about to elevate your car in races you do.
There’s also the ability to customise the appearance of not only a single vehicle’s livery, but the entire branding for your team. Sponsorships will come and go, but the branding of your team is done through a series of sliders. There’s actually a decent amount of areas, colours and types of vinyl you can add to your car, however there’s some very basic items missing here, like changing the colour of your rims, or your own racing suit or helmet. While not a strong point of the franchise, by the fourth full version number of the franchise, I did expect more.
When it comes to tweaking the performance of your car, you can head to the Tuning section pre-race. This lets you customise a crazy level of settings for your vehicle. Naturally you can save these and load different setups for different circuits. Using simulation handling, I definitely felt the impact of making changes to the camber and ride height.
This is one of those areas where casual gamers won’t spend much time, as the defaults are good enough, but the professional racers will spend hours. When it comes to rally, suspension setup matters even more so than tarmac racing. Its the events where you race across multiple surfaces that are the hardest to tune for. This is inevitably a game of compromises with diminishing returns, but get it right and it can feel like your at one with the car and nail that perfect lap or stage.
In Dirt 4, drivers get the choice between Gaming vs Simulation. Personally I spent a lot more time in simulation mode and if you have a steering wheel and pedals, I suggest you should too. The difference between the two modes is more subtle than I’d imagined, but its certainly easier to hold an extended drift in gaming mode. If you’re new or just in it for fun, then gaming mode is fine, but if you want to be challenged and feel more like you’re driving a real car, not a computer assisted one, then simulation is definitely the challenge you’re after.
I did find myself spending an extended period of time configuring the input options. Typically driving games are great once you select the preset for your wheel, mine is the Logitech G920. Even once selected, I found it still really difficult to achieve stability under brakes and the precise steering inputs for high-speed, tight corners during rally events. After spending the time, adjusting I was able to land on a setup I liked and from there the game became much more enjoyable as inputs and responses were predictable. Only then can you turn blindly into a level 2/3 corner and know you’ll come out the other side.
This game has moments of brilliance when it comes to graphics, most accurately demonstrated by the plooms of dust that fill your windscreen when in 3rd or 4th place of a Rallycross event. It basically wipes out your vision and although I’ve never been in that position in real life, its exactly what I imagine it to be.
Then there’s other times where the crowd and trees look fairly low poly and are certainly below the benchmark of Dirt Rally which came out almost a year ago. As we head towards the release of Xbox One X, developers are no doubt struggling to yield the last of any remaining horsepower from an aging console, but this game, perhaps more than any other recently is crying out for the next-generation of graphics capabilities.
I’ve read reports of issues of pop-in on the PC version of the game, but happily never experienced that on the Xbox edition.
One of the absolute triumphs of this game is the music. Of course the sound effects of the whistling turbos and accurate exhaust notes as you get on and off the power, but the music, oh the music. Its sensational when you’re powering through a RallyCross event to have your BPMs boosted by music that compliments the experience. There’s name brand artists here too, not just generic no-names.
Probably the example of music done right is the music in replays. Its almost as if the developers of DiRT 4 have been taking classes from https://animoto.com as the cuts in the visuals seem to perfectly match the audio changes. It may sound like a subtle thing, but when you see and hear it, its a harmony of design that’s rarely experienced and an amazingly welcome one.
Price and Availability
Codemaster’s DiRT 4 is available now and is on Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC (including via Steam), just download it from your favourite online store. You can grab the Day One Edition at retail from either EB Games or JB Hi-Fi, but JB is cheaper at $79.00, so go there. This edition comes with an exclusive Hyundai R5 rally car as well as a unique event (limited), livery and Founder Icon.
At the end of the day, this is another great racing game from Codemasters. Its challenging for professional racers, will being approachable and fun for newcomers. The diversity of racing categories here is really its biggest asset. While graphics aren’t mind blowing like a Forza Horizon 3, they come second to that fantastic sound track.
All said and done, DiRT 4 is a solid game and well worth the price of admission.