DiRT has always been a more serious racer than most, focusing on rally driving, particularly prominent in 2015’s DiRT Rally. It was incredibly difficult almost to a fault, with precision driving required and relatively unforgiving with its strict time trials. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that, but it alienated an audience that is much used to a more arcade style that’s been presented in other franchises. DiRT 4 bridges the gap between simulation and arcade in a far more successful manner, making it one of the more thrilling and intense racers on the market today.
At the very outset, you’re given the option to choose between “Gamer” and “Simulation” as a driver style. By creating a more pick-up-and-play friendly experience for the more casual driving fans, it instantly allows you to settle in and get on the track without requiring a lot of thought. It can still be pretty tough, don’t get me wrong, but there’s less mechanics to worry about for those that are less car-savvy, and a large range of tutorials to assist with basic and more advanced techniques.
Rather than a racing line to follow on the road like you might be used to from other racers, DiRT 4 has somebody giving you clear instructions on the severity of each turn, when there’s a dip in the road and what conditions to expect. This requires a lot more focus than usual, but makes for a more realistic and natural experience as you adjust your speeds based on what you are being told, along with small visual indicators as required.
The challenge is ramped up with courses that are so foggy or dark late at night that you can barely see the road in front of you, meaning you can’t even look ahead to get an idea of what the road is about to become. It makes things all the more satisfying when you successfully smash a time, though it certainly creates a learning curve for amateurs.
When you get a tyre puncture or other damage to your vehicle during a race, it instantly impacts your ability to drive the car, which makes things even more intense. Having to truly adjust how you manoeuvre your vehicle while still listening to the range of commands being barked at you, especially during an important championship, is some of the most challenging and rewarding racing experiences I’ve had, especially if you can pull it off.
Getting into a race is thankfully very easy, thanks to a slick and simple menu setup, allowing you to jump into events, gain experience and purchase cars, along with hiring team members such as engineers to be on standby for repairs. The range of options here is actually a bit ridiculous, with plenty of different cars to choose from that you can modify and upgrade as you progress.
“…dirt and mud flicks off the road onto your car and a splash of water smacks the camera.”
Oh, and DiRT 4 looks gorgeous. The lighting effects are fantastic as the sun beams through the silhouettes of trees, dirt and mud flicks off the road onto your car and a splash of water smacks the camera. Rain and other weather effects are realistic and truly change your strategy when tackling race courses, which are mostly procedurally generated, making sure there are always new tracks and a completely even playing field when it comes to online multiplayer.
Career is where you’ll spend the majority of your time, with race types including rally, Landrush or Motocross events. The traditional rally is definitely my favourite; made simple with its commands and clear structure, it quickly became addictive as I attempted harder events and earned more experience and credits.
Landrush, ehhhhh, not so much. This mode features trucks, buggies and Crosskarts in more traditional races against opponents, but even though I appreciated the change of pace and vehicle type, the races here are mostly boring and repetitive, lacking the finesse of the rest of the package. Rallycross pits you against competitors on officially licensed FIA World Rallycross tracks, which is more enjoyable, but for me, these modes served more as an appetiser to the main course more than anything else.
Daily, weekly and monthly community challenges will also keep you coming back for more action, with decent rewards for placing well in each. There’s competitive online racing and more, which makes for a package that is jam-packed with content and things to do.
The best implemented new game mode in DiRT 4 and one that racing game developers should pay attention to is Your Stage, which procedurally generates fresh tracks for you with just a couple of button presses and adjusting a couple of sliders. What makes this so impressive is despite the ridiculous ease in creating these environments out of nowhere, that they feel alive and nuanced as if each one is crafted by one of the developers themselves.
The randomness of the generation makes sure you’re always on the edge of your seat and never comfortable, forcing you to rely entirely on your co-drivers voice as they, very accurately, put you through your paces. Your Stage creates an infinite number of rally scenario possibilities, and that ensures there is never that stale or repetitive feeling that other racers are prone to with repeat play-throughs.
The Bottom Line
While still one of the more serious racers available, that shouldn’t put off simulation pros and casual gamers alike from the slick and solid package that is DiRT 4. With literally an infinite amount of possibilities, stunning audio and visuals along with a core mechanic that has been refined and tweaked into a fine art, the precision driving featured here is as unyielding as it is exhilarating. This is a truly fantastic choice for all racing fans.