Arguably there hasn’t been an authentic and true to its culture rally racing game since Colin McRae back in the day before the DiRT name was attached to it. One could argue that there’s just not enough competition to spur on the need for a full fledged rally racer, with WRC delivering a sub par performance and Gran Turismo not getting the true feel of rally in its rendition. This time it seems Codemasters have taken a look under the hood and yanked the lump that once drove the series and replaced it a fine tuned engine spluttering from backfire instead of misfire.
Hair pin bend 180°, dead ahead
Casual racers tend to have a hard time with full fledged racing simulators in that it’s too hard to master and not that much fun with all the effort to control the vehicle put into it. Rally racing games are even harder to get into purely because of complexity. Codemasters have found the key to unlock your rally racing potential with it’s DiRT Academy mode showing you how to best tackle any gravel patch. This gives you the freedom to try out any new manoeuvre you’ve learnt ’til you’re ready to take off the training wheels and get into your first amateur rally championship. Take note that all the lessons aren’t as easy to get to grips with, but you’ll definitely be left with the knowledge of the intricacies of rally racing. At the Academy you get to study the effects each different drivetrain has on various surfaces, handbrake cornering for all drive types and weighted momentum turning for when you need to knock off that extra split second in your sprint time.
Included in the game are a plethora of assists that helps to tailor the game to your specific driving style and offer an enjoyable driving experience. As you start your journey into the world of DiRT racing, you’re offered the choice of Simulation, the true grit and no funny business option for hardcore rally enthusiasts, and Gamer, the slightly relaxed and fun version of racing with less simulated damage and stability control thrown into the mix.
After you’ve gone through the tutorials for every DiRT 4 race types (Rally, Landrush, Rallycross and Historic Rally) you’re on your way to create your profile, enter your very first championship and vehicle purchase. The game has 50+ vehicles in various disciplines to choose from, each of them having customization features such as paint and sponsorship livery. Although the livery editor isn’t as precise as say the likes of Forza, it still allows you to generate graphics to set you apart from the competition. Sadly not by too much as there are only a few generic customisations.
Codemasters have found the key to unlock your rally racing potential with it’s DiRT Academy mode showing you how to best tackle any gravel patch.
Career mode received an upgrade since DiRT Rally, fleshing out the experience with team facilities and upgrades for your fleet of vehicles. Facilities and resources will determine how effective and useful your engineers and other staff are. With a bit of micromanagement involved you can easily tip the scales in your favour to end top of the leaderboards. In terms of race tracks, you can pick from a total of 13 locations across all disciplines with many brought across from DiRT Rally with some new additions as well.
Pop the clutch and make some dust
If you’re familiar with DiRT then you’ll know that after mastering high and low speed cornering, the controls and driving feels great. How they captured the different weight classes and their attributes has a real, authentic feel. Sure, it’s not easy doing sprints with all assists turned off, but once you record that best time without them, you might feel like you’re ready to go out and to the real thing. The Simulation physics mode does give you quite the challenge with environmental elements impacting your ride around literally every corner, whereas Gamer feels a bit more responsive, too responsive in some cases. Each course delivers astounding variations of weather impact such as fog, rainfall, snow and mud on the dirt stages with the addition of the same tracks, but in complete darkness which can get a bit hair raising if you haven’t committed the course to memory as yet.
The Career mode has you taking part in all disciplines as you climb up the racing ladder. One of them is Landrush where you’re pitted against other drivers from the start as opposed to Rally where you do solo time trials to determine the winner. Be warned, this game mode can get frustrating with the AI treating it as a destruction derby free-for-all at times, but this doesn’t take away from the immense fun you experience. It’s like a breath of fresh air after tackling so many individual races.
Another fun addition to DiRT 4 is the Joyride game mode. This can almost be a racing game on it’s own, with multiple themed sets of challenges where you have to do a time trial with a twist or a classic smash attack where you have to hit as many targets as possible within a certain time limit. The twist? You’ll have to go around the course and collect power-ups taking precious seconds off your time. You’ll also find some handicaps scattered around that will add seconds on your time if not strategically avoided. This takes place in an industrial yard with plenty of jumps, tight corners and adrenaline pumping stunts. The time trials aren’t linear with the circuits using multiple sub-routes which you’ll need to complete over the course of two or three laps in order to get gold. The power-ups are located within these separate routes which you will need in order to get faster times.
The only gripe I have with Dirt 4 is the exclusion of Gymkhana. I really enjoyed the game mode and it helped hone my driving skills. Let’s hope it makes a return with DLC in the future.
Nature meets Machine
The courses aren’t as detailed as most other racing games out there, but I can assure you that once you’ve put pedal to the metal and start concentrating, those details won’t matter anymore. With that said, the world of DiRT 4 does have a sense of originality with leafy countryside courses, snow-covered hill climbs and arena tracks which you’d find in the Landrush game mode with heat fog in the distance sweeping across the track. Subtle details, but effective nonetheless. The rally machines are quite detailed as you’d find it hard to point out anything that might seem out of place on these cars.
The damage physics are also on point with chassis twists and full body morph after a roll. Getting a puncture mid race can wreak havoc on your car which 9 times out of 10 gets you wrapped around a tree or careening towards barriers if you don’t compensate for it. Even the DiRT Fish cars in the Academy training mode seems like they’ve been punished. Not just a pretty car shaped shell with a circular turning crank and a extended metal gear nipple with 5 on it. No, these cars feel like you’ve lived in them.
No, these cars feel like you’ve lived in them.
Each car has a distinct sound as well, and it is glorious. Backfire splutter, mechanical gear changes, rally rubber rumble on gravel surfaces and suspension crushing thuds when going over jumps gives you an instinctive notion to not dare mess with the courses’ obstacles. The in-cabin sound is even more terrifyingly real with creeks and clanks of the body work echoing through the cockpit, making the experience just that tad more realistic.
And with this tool, I will create Off-road Eden
Codemasters has developed the easiest stage creating tool in a racing game with Your Stage. It consists of just two sliders – one for length and one for complexity. Done. Instant and easy, with time-of-day and weather adjustable for any stage you create. Stage lengths are capped at 12-or-so kilometers long (no, you can’t do a Dakar Rally thing here) and off-track respawn limits being removed so when you crash, you can’t just buff that right out.
The tool makes use of 5 countries, namely Australia, the United States, Wales, Sweden, and Spain – each offering a very different terrain which forces the driver to adapt accordingly. Australia as expected is gravel-based with a good mix of stretches with wider girth and tighter zones that twist through the bush. Spain is very different with it’s tarmac lined with curbs, rock walls, railings, barriers made of cow dung (not really) and high stone walls. It’s a lot more “grippy” than its Aussie counterpart, but you’d be hard pressed to blaze through these courses.
Each section is seamlessly joined together and you won’t notice a thing out of place. Even your co-pilot has the track nailed down like it was his backyard.
Although limited to set heights and not allowed to tweak some areas of the courses, the joy of having a unique stage created for every career event and career mode cannot be ignored, which you can also share with friends. Your Stage does not falter even in the track stitching department. Each section is seamlessly joined together and you won’t notice a thing out of place. Even your co-pilot has the track nailed down like it was his backyard.
I like’m DiRT-y
Codemasters has teleported me back to the good old days of Colin McRae with DiRT 4. With the well oiled physics machine delivering a compelling rally racing experience, to the battle scarred off-road conquerors that resembles a well toned female fitness model with a bit of smeared make up to me, DiRT 4 will sate any rally enthusiasts hunger for a true off-road racing game. I might miss Gymkhana, but I’m pretty satisfied with what Codemasters has packaged here.