The release of DiRT Rally in the tail-end of 2016 came as a revival for the once strong and respected DiRT franchise. Doing away with the ‘dude-bro’ themes that had become a staple for the series since DiRT 2, it was a true return to form – one which showcased the difficulties of off-road racing in all its pain and glory. Just over a year and a half later, Codemasters has returned with a follow up with the release of DiRT 4. If DiRT Rally was considered as a fan piece to gauge our interest for a return to true rally racing, then its latest game serves as the fully-fledged product.
In DiRT 4, players have the option to test their skills across four main disciplines: traditional & historic rally, landrush and rallycross. The first two consist of your standard rally stages – point-to-point timed runs across a variety of terrains while your co-driver reads pace notes for the corners and hazards ahead. The only difference between rally proper and historic rally is the vehicles you’ll use. Thankfully, age is by no means an indicator of speed nor challenge. Speaking of which, while I’ll touch on difficulty later on in this review, it’s worth noting that paying attention to these pacenotes is of utmost importance in DiRT 4. I found it considerably more difficult (and sometimes impossible) to be competitive against the harder ranking AI by trying to rely on my own vision of what lied ahead and listening to my own music.
Switching to landrush, here you’ll race in buggies and trucks across short dirt circuits with seven other racers on-track. Unlike the rally stages, the difficulty in landrush events comes from maintaining stability across the constant barrage of jumps throughout the circuit, coupled with the struggle of keeping the power down in your over-powered buggies. While I found rally very much a jump-in-and-race mode, it took a fair few practice sessions before I felt remotely competitive in the buggies. Throw in an aggressive AI model as well which aren’t adverse to making contact and landrush events tip-toe between difficult but satisfying, to difficult and overly frustrating. Truth be told, depending on your difficulty settings, this is a theme that resonates across DiRT 4.
The final discipline in DiRT 4 is rallycross, which combines the vehicles from rally with the tight courses of landrush. These are heat-based circuit events where the aim is to set the fasted time in the first four heats, then race to the finish in the final two. For those who found rallycross difficult in DiRT Rally, you’ll find yourself similarly challenged in DiRT 4.
One of the strengths of this game lies in its implementation of player choice, and this manifests itself well in the DiRT 4’s career mode. It is broken down into the four disciplines, which you can tackle in any order you prefer. Completing events and meeting sponsor targets will earn you experience, which unlock new player levels, vehicles and licenses. As you unlock licenses you’ll have access to new events throughout your career. How you participate in these events is also down to player choice – with the option to accept a team contract or use your own vehicle. Using an existing team allows you to essentially jump in and play, earning money and experience with the least amount of effort.
Alternatively, you can instead choose to use one of your own vehicles and enter your own racing team. Here, the depth of DiRT 4’s career really opens up. Once you’ve chosen a name for your team and picked your staff, you then need to manage not just their skills, but all the additional elements that comes with owning a racing team. Want to upgrade your vehicle? Invest in an R&D team. Have a full garage filled to capacity but need a new one for a particular event? Invest in a new warehouse to increase your capacity. DiRT 4 even goes as far as to allow you to improve your team’s catering and living quarters to boost morale and how effective they are as support staff. It’s here that the game allows you to truly go as in-depth or basic as you wish when it comes to racing. Using your own team will earn you greater credits and experience, but at the additional cost of managing those funds appropriately. Consider it like the combination of Football Manager and FIFA.
New to DiRT 4, and dare-I-say a game-changer, is the way stages are generated. In the past, gamers were limited to the tracks and locations that the developer designed. You’d have a handful of locations and a handful of course configurations, but unless DLC was released, that was it. There’s a saying, “in circuit racing you drive the same corner a thousand times, but in rally racing, you drive a thousand corners once.” This has never really been true in gaming until now. Reason being, while DiRT 4 may only feature four or so locations, the stage configurations within are endless. Depending on what you select for length and complexity, DiRT 4 will generate an infinite number of stage layouts to race on. Combining this with different lighting and weather effects, and each run can be as unique as you’d like it to be.
Now it goes without saying that DiRT 4 features the production quality that gamers have come to expect from a Codemasters’ title, and similarly the physics feel and handle great, but the stand out in this game is the difficulty. Traditionally, DiRT games were known to be somewhat tough but still beatable. This time around, and perhaps it’s just with the added challenge I’ve given myself, DiRT 4 is tough – real tough. Having decided to try my hand at racing without stability or traction control, cars feel nimbler and lighter, but at the same time absolutely brutal. Whether it’s landrush buggies or a 1980s Ford Escort, it isn’t just about getting around corners but staying straight too. While it might be accepted that DiRT 4 is somewhat easier than DiRT Rally, make no mistake, this is a punishing game that will well and truly test your limits (and patience). With no rewinds and limited restarts per rally (not individual stage), the temptation to drive gun-hoe is as strong as the temptation to drive like a grandmother and avoid ending up in a tree or worse, those bloody wire fences (quite literally, the greatest enemy a vehicle has ever seen). Of course, there’s always the option to tone down the difficulty, but there’s no satisfaction from playing on easy, is there?
DiRT 4 is arguably the most complete rally title on consoles to-date. The fundamentals are there – sights, sounds and visuals, but it’s the little nuances that really add to the experience. Manually holding the handbrake at the start of each event and timing the release just right, slowing down at the end of the event to meet the marshal or feathering the throttle/brake at every point to remain as composed as possible, everything comes together for both a satisfying (but at other times, frustrating) rally experience. The keys are well within the player’s hands in this one – both in how you play, what you play and how hard you decide to go at it. Codemasters is certainly back to doing what they do best.
DiRT 4 was reviewed using a promotional disc on Xbox One, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.