It is said that you only get one chance to make a first impression. Capturing an audience in the first scene of a film, the reader in the opening sentences of a book. For a reviewer — and gamer in general — that first play session with a new title is often as important. It can be indicative of the direction of the review. Headlines are written, taglines are formed, and general thoughts are gathered. At the end of my first session with DiRT 4, there was only one thought, "They are going to love this." Over 20 hours later, ears having been battered again by a cacophony of engine noise, rattles and stone chips assaulting the car and the odd pine tree seemingly jumping out from nowhere. Despite a recently healed broken wrist feeling all but broken again, that thought remains unchanged — "they are really going to love this" — because with Dirt 4, Codemasters has created a rally game for all players, inexperienced gamer or sim racer. No one is left out.
Right from the start, it's clear there is a lot packed into the title. For beginners there are hands-on lessons in the Dirt academy, learning the various techniques and the differences in handling between different cars. Along with the expected career mode, there is free play mode, multiplayer, and competitive leaderboard challenges. Veteran fans will be pleased to see a new form of Gymkhana in the game bringing a touch more fun, having players hurtle around the academy courses, smashing blocks as they go. It's clear that this title is returning to roots that made the franchise famous. It even includes a great soundtrack featuring such artists as Queens of the Stone Age, and it fits in with the whole vibe of the game.
There is a high tempo, high adrenaline feel to the game, and alongside the rally events, and world rally cross, there is now a new series of events, Landrush, that has been added. Whilst this may seem a little out of place — it's like Motocross only on four wheels with high-powered buggies — it is a great addition with its highly addictive racing, jumping over moguls and bumps on a dirt track. It's fantastic fun especially in multiplayer but it has come at the cost of Hillclimb which has disappeared from the title.
New Landrush Buggies in DiRT 4
However, most will start in the career mode which has the player racing through different events and gradually earning licenses as they attempt to reach the pinnacles of the sport. Game progression opens up more events and event types and a whole world of new possibilities. The player can now create his or her own team, hiring and firing personnel trying to get the best engineers on the team. It might not seem so important at first, but these are the same people that will be keeping your car running and keeping it in the competition. Ensuring that they have the right tools and facilities also becomes important, and whilst increasing your buildings, research centers and PR areas might seem like a distraction, it all contributes to getting better results, attracting better sponsors and ultimately earning more money. For those feeling a little more creative and artistic, there is a livery editor for the cars, although it does fall quite a bit short of the Forza editor, it's still a nice touch. There is a great sense of progression in the title too. Races will earn the player credits, reputation points, and experience, all of which accumulate throughout the course of the career and any individual events that the player decides to create in the Event mode. One hand really washes the other. Each focal point feeds into the many other aspects of chasing a championship-caliber career.
Despite there being a lot of content, it still leaves you wanting a little bit more. There are only five countries in the rally events, three in Landrush, five for WRX (from 12 in real life) and five for Historic Rally, and you may wish there was a little more included because what they have included is so good.
Graphically, the game runs smoothly at a steady framerate, even when forests are rushing past you in a blur, although it does look like the graphics have taken a minor step back. The sound of the engines is impressive as always, whether you're chasing checkpoints from an inside or outside perspective.
Of course, any racing title will be judged not so much on its content but on its driving, and it's here that Codemasters continues to excel, more so in Dirt 4 than ever before. I once wrote that it was not possible to turn physics on and off at the press of the button, but the racing-focused studio has done just that. Right at the start of the game, you are asked to select between two game modes. In Gamer mode, the title is more forgiving and generous towards the player. The car becomes more controllable and the game plays more — although not totally — like an arcade racer. Put the game in Simulation and you're back to the perilous heights of realism presented in Dirt Rally. Codemasters has put two models into the game giving the player the opportunity to race however they want. There are further options to customize the experience further, tweaking AI settings, and automatic gears. Unlike a lot of titles that simply toggle between settings, it's possible to select varying amounts of traction control and stability control. In fact, all told, there are so many possible combinations of physics and game settings that the player can completely configure the game to play exactly how they want it. With everything turned right down, the game becomes incredibly easy to play, possibly a little too easy but at least everyone should be able to race and compete now.
For those challenging themselves a little more, the essence of rallying is again superbly captured here. The cars bounce, skitter and slide across the varying surfaces. Various weather conditions like rain, fog, and snow, contribute to make events more hair-raising, and nighttime racing is nervewracking. Codemasters' expertise and experience continues to shine here. Co-driver Nicky Grist, making a welcome return to the series, calls out the route notes throughout the course and as always, you become increasingly dependent on those calls. Ignore them and you'll be hitting trees, sign posts — a personal favourite — or catching wheels in ditches, costing precious seconds or wrecking parts of your car. Depending on the settings, you may well be able to restart the stage, but for the pros, those mistakes will be the difference between the top and the bottom of the tables. Over repeated plays, you will become familiar with each track and each stage, but as always, they will take time to perfect.
Those playing with force feedback wheels will be in for a severe shoulder and arms workout as the wheel vigorously twists and turns in your grip. There are multiple configurations available and Codemasters has even included settings for separate gear sticks. Players who want to practice their 'clutch kick' technique to generate oversteer can do so easily. I confess that I'm nowhere near that level yet. Those playing with controllers will find the title equally accommodating, although they won't finish the session in sweat-soaked T-shirts with arms and shoulders aching. Regardless of how you want to play, Codemasters has kept the title brilliantly accessible.
To extend the life of the title Codemasters has introduced a brand new feature called 'Your Stage' which enables players to create procedurally generated rally stages. The player can select the location, time of day and the weather, and then by using sliders, select the length and complexity of the stage. The shortest seems to be around 1.5 miles and the longest will stretch to over nine miles. It's just a shame that the player can't control such things as elevation change or tweak some of the corners but it's a nice feature that works well, and it's a great feeling to race on a completely unique stage.
As might be expected, multiplayer can turn into a bit of crash-fest online with both Rallycross and Landrush allowing the player to race directly against other players. It's not just the crashing that can be frustrating. In one race, I found myself pushed off the track and spinning out and cutting a corner in the process. Not only did I lose my position in the race, I was also given a 10-second penalty adding further insult to injury.
Opponents can be tough in WRX
Online rally events have the players racing simultaneously although in a virtual form, with the players positions shown as arrows on the progress bar on the left of the screen. At least in this mode, there is no interference from other players and you'll be able to run your own race. Additionally, times are sent to leaderboards which are separated into Gamer and Simulation classes, so players can see exactly how they are doing against the rest of the racing fraternity.
For achievement hunters, it's a bit of a mixed bag. Most are easy to unlock with progression through the career and obtaining the various licenses awarded after completing event milestones in the various classes and formats. There are a few miscellaneous ones such as completing a stage at night or completing three stages with a flat tire. However, completionists be warned, there are some that require reaching a specific tier in online community-based events. Here you will be judged against your peers and it might be difficult to reach the required level to unlock the achievements.
SummaryInevitably, comparisons will be drawn with Dirt Rally, which is something I've deliberately avoided to this point. When stacking one against the other, it feels like Dirt Rally is the elder, more scholastic, and slightly serious sibling. Dirt 4 on the other hand, is the younger, outgoing sibling who, whilst not exactly bouncing off the walls, still knows how to have a little fun. It allows for an awesome and technical approach if you find yourself among those who crave the purest racing simulation worthy of Codemasters' reputation, but Dirt 4 now invites others less experienced to the table with alternate driving modes. They have listened to the critiques of their previous games and created a rally game that truly is for everyone.
- Accessible to players of all levels
- Many options for changing the difficulty
- Procedurally generated stages can be created
- Joyride games and challenges make a return
- Rewarding progression throughout the course of the game
- Limited number of countries available in WRX and Landrush
- A little too easy at times
- Hillclimb has been removed
EthicsThe reviewer spent around 20 hours hurtling through the forests of Powys, the snowbound roads of Sweden, and further whilst doing his best to listen to his co-driver. 23 of 48 achievements were unlocked whilst trying not to break his wrist again during the occasional disagreement between car and driver.
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