The release of DiRT Rally last year symbolised a return to form for Codemasters’ once highly-respected off-road racing franchise. In a time where the series began to move away from its Colin McRae roots, it adopted the personality of Ken Block instead, a decision that arguably represented a dark period in DiRT’s history.
DiRT 4 was announced just recently, bringing forward a number of questions. As DiRT Rally was more a crowd-funded affair, would the return to DiRT franchise-proper see Codemasters continue down Americanised-themes of the previous titles, or would it pick up on the new track that DiRT Rally carved for itself? There was no denying that DiRT Rally was a no-holds bar rally simulator, one which punished you for the wrong input and did away with the accessibility that the previous instalments offered. So where would DiRT 4 sit on this scale?
Fortunately, after just a bit of time with the racer last week, it’s with great delight that I can confirm that this game continues down the same purist rally theme of the game which proceeded it, but this time a lot more accommodating for casual racers.
Off the line, DiRT 4 feels and plays in a manner reminiscent of the original Colin McRae DiRT, although with more weight in the physics than I remember over a decade ago. Using medium difficulty settings the game offers both an accessible yet satisfying racing experience – one that doesn’t chastise you as badly for a wrong move like DiRT Rally, but still gives you a sense of accomplishment for a run well-done. I had the choice between a 2016 Subaru WRX STi and a Lancer Evo VI, and while the WRX felt heavier and more stable, the Evolution more nimble, lighter and that much riskier.
In typical Codies fashion DiRT 4 looks as great in the menus as it does in the races themselves. Menus are crisp and simple, and races look fantastic. Cars are detailed well and environments are top-notch. We had the opportunity to race in Fitzroy, Australia (that’s right – the homeland makes its return to DiRT) and it was beautiful ripping through the red desert at 100km/h.
Gameplay-wise, DiRT 4 also continues to deliver on the staples of a rally racer – tyres will blowout randomly, weather can change between dry, light rain and heavy rain, and lighting varies from early morning to sunset. Each brings its own challenges (particularly with visibility) however I will mention that I didn’t notice too different a difficulty spike between dry and wet weather.
Of course, DiRT 4 brings new additions to the fray too. Keeping with weather condition changes, the weather may differ between competitors on the same stage, meaning one driver can have their run in the dry, while another a few hours later will need to content with the wet.
Perhaps the greatest addition however comes with the track listing. DiRT 4 is set across five locations – Australia, Spain, Sweden, USA and Wales — but it’s the tracks themselves that really impress. It is often said, “you race the same corner 1000 times in circuit racing, but with rally racing you tackle 1000 corners once.” Historically rally games haven’t stayed true to this adage, as a set track list means gamers are able to learn the courses and the best lines. That isn’t the case this time around. In DiRT 4, there are no set tracks. Instead, you determine the complexity and length using sliders and then the game generates a random (and unique) track for you. For the first time a rally game represents the true random nature of the real-life motorsport. It truly is a game-changer.
With a little while until release, DiRT 4 is already shaping up to be a great contender for a fantastic racing experience. DiRT Rally was my favourite racing title of 2016, and while it’s still early to call, I feel we’re onto a winner with this one too. It heads to Windows PC, Xbox One and PS4 from 9 June.