DiRT 4 Review: Back to the Core of Driving

DiRT 4 is a game of two halves, literally. Each half is excellent, but I still feel something is missing.

DiRT 4 is the latest entry in the DiRT series, which started off with Colin McRae DiRT back in 2007. Evolving the formula from the Colin McRae Rally series -- and bringing in more off-road action such as Landrush, Trailblazers, and Rallycross -- DiRT 4 takes this evolution one step further. Though it does so at the cost of some content.

By bringing together the beloved simulation driving model of DiRT Rally and the more arcade driving of DiRT 3, Codemasters basically built two games. One game is for the controller toting, more casual fans of cars who play for fun and a slight challenge. The other game is for the die hard driving lovers who want to push themselves and their cars to the limit. So no matter what camp you're in, there's something in this game for you.

DiRT 4 hones the Rally-centric focus of DiRT Rally, while also adding in extra elements that make DiRT what it is at its core -- a fun and accessible off-road racer that pays homage to Colin McRae's love of all things wheeled.

The addition of the Hoonigan teams FocusRX is welcome.

DiRT 4 is Smaller, Yet More Focused

When I first booted up DiRT 4, the first thing I noticed was the reservation taken with the menus. They are not overly stylized like those in DiRT 2 and DiRT 3. DiRT 4's menus are functional, and pleasing without being too much.

The same is true for many of the audio effects in the game as well, which is a nice change. Gone are the days of some surfer dude yelling in your ear about being "crazy fast, man". Instead, straightforward commentary is provided by actual normal-sounding people -- be they American, English, or so on. If you want, Welsh legend Nicky Grist will tell you that "you did a good job". But if you want a Cali-bro telling you how sick your moves are, you aren't going to find it here. And that's a good thing.

Simple and functional are the name of the game here. DiRT 4 doesn't over-complicate anything. It's streamlined and focuses only on the most important aspects of any racer -- the driving.

The game's two handling modes, Gamer and Simulation, further lend to this simplicity. Do you want to have a bit of fun, and be a bit silly? Hop into Gamer mode. Want to drive the car around a corner to test your skill, speed, and luck? Simulation mode is for you.

Got to love the classy Swedish banks, with Classic Subaru blue and yellow.

Handling Modes Don't Cut Content

No matter what handling mode you use, you will not miss any content. The whole game can be played in either mode, but they do widely vary in feel -- that's why I consider DiRT 4 to be almost two games.

Gamer handling is the easiest to play with, and it isn't just a simulation with all assists on -- it's far more than that. You can play Gamer handling with all the assists off, and it'll still be both accessible, and a heap of fun on whether you're using a controller or racing wheel. With very clever tech working behind the scenes, Gamer mode handling feels like it's managing the weight shift for you, which includes managing the throttle, brakes and steering through a corner.

Yet all of this is accomplished without making you feel the game is holding your hand (which other racers like DiRT 3, Gran Turismo 6 or Forza 6 are guilty of). It's fun and satisfying, while still giving a challenge to those who are more casual with their racers.

Simulation handling is the opposite of Gamer. It builds off DiRT Rally's beloved simulation focus, but feel better in all aspects -- other than the historical Rally vehicles, which feel a little sticky and too much like modern cars. Sim handling gives you the challenge of barreling around a Rallycross track, Landrush course, or firing yourself down a Rally stage without any help.

Trophy Trucks are beasts to be tamed.

Fewer (But More Focused) Game Modes

DiRT 4 really only has 4 different games modes (a limited number compared to the 6 found in DiRT 3). But the smaller number of modes means that each one which is actually included in the game tends to be far more focused than what we've seen before. These modes include:

  • Landrush: Gives you four different types of vehicle to use, two buggy types and two Trophy Truck types (a RWD and 4WD version).
  • Rallycross: Gives you five different vehicle classes, with the FWD Super 1600s, Historic Group B, then RX2 and WorldRX cars, and crazy Crosskarts.
  • Joyride: Offers a nice break from competition, giving two cool challenge types to compete in.
  • Rally: The main mode which includes all forms of vehicles.

But the real centerpiece for DiRT 4 is Your Stage.

Your Stage Builds Stages with Personality

Your Stage was much touted in the run up to release. It's a tool which enables players to randomly generate a track, with a few variables like track length and complexity. Each and every time a stage is generated it will look and feel slightly different from any other you've played before -- and that's because it actually is.

Some might be a little more bland than others, but they all feel unique in some way. Personally, I found the Wales stages to be the only ones that were consistently underwhelming. Each Welsh stage had very similar landmarks -- with forested mid-right handers, into square rights that all had a road off to the left and an ambulance sitting there, and a faster open section. They weren't always in this order, but even so there seemed to be little variation in these particular stages. I could have just been unlucky, but I doubt it. It's really a shame, too, considering how much I loved the Welsh stages in DiRT Rally.

Other stages are a sharp contrast in how different they all felt. Spain boasted winding asphalt stages that were fast and fluid or winding through tight village streets. Michigan felt a little lifeless, but had a little bit of everything and still managed to seem variable enough that it was never the same race twice. And Sweden threw something new at me every time I raced there.

The DirtFish Rally School teaches you the basics, then let's you fly.

Open Your Career at the DirtFish Rally School

When you first start the game, you are shown the Rally ropes. Then you're transported into the DirtFish Rally School and given the option to take a few lessons. These are fully optional, and are not graded -- they have no fail states and will simply reset you if you stray too far.

This is a welcome addition which enables newer players to learn the ropes of Rally and Rallycross driving so that they can start gearing up for a career. It can even help experienced players to get to grips with the new handling model, and maybe learn a few things.

The career in this part of the game builds its difficulty with grace -- unlike DiRT Rally which just threw you in and hoped you could swim in the sim. The difficulty curve takes a very nice, steady pace with each new license level, allowing the player to grow naturally without having to brute force restarts or get too frustrated.

DiRT 4 Might Feel Lacking, But It's Perhaps the Best Rally Game

Content wise, DiRT 4 doesn't have the breadth of modes on show that other titles like DiRT 3 did. But there is a more pointed focus on getting the modes that are included to feel as rewarding as possible. Each one feels different than the last, and has something special to it. DiRT 4 trimmed the fat, got fit, then focused on getting everything right. If that was the aim Codemasters had, then they nailed it.

DiRT 4 is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. If you have just picked the game up, and need a little help getting started, check out our DiRT 4 guides to get ahead of the curve.

Note: A copy of DiRT 4 was provided by the developer for the purposes of this review.

Our Rating
9
DiRT 4 is a game of two halves, literally. Each half is excellent, but I still feel something is missing.
Reviewed On: PC
Published Jun. 14th 2017

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