Perhaps no type of game in the sports/racing genre has as wide a spectrum of quality for games as the racing genre itself. For every Forza or Forza Horizon, you get The Crew or the 2015 Need For Speed. Within the Racing genre, rally racing has been often underrepresented, at least in terms of quality games. While it appeared that Codemasters had begun to tap into something special with 2015’s Dirt Rally, the developer has now finally delivered the flagship rally game fans of the genre deserve with Dirt 4.
As is the case in many sports or racing games, there isn’t much of a story to flesh out here. You begin your career as an unknown driver, racing for credits and earning contracts that allow you to finally purchase cars and assemble your own team. As you progress and level up, it becomes easier to purchase better vehicles and, just as importantly, better members of your crew. This allows you more options when customizing and more efficiency when repairing, both of which can provide a huge advantage on the track.
Career modes in racing games often suffer because of the sheer amount of repetition involved. After all, there are only so many tracks in a game and having you race tracks in reverse just feels like a cheap way of saying you offer more tracks. This, however, is where Codemasters makes Dirt 4 shine by overcoming this obstacle in an incredible way. Dirt 4 introduces the Your Stage feature to the series, eliminating the redundancy of racing the same tracks over and over. You can create your own events in whichever location you choose, then simply adjust two sliders – one for the length of the track and one for difficulty – and the engine will generate a track for you. No two tracks are the same, as when I left the sliders and location the same, I still got a different track every time.
Your Stage not only breathes a ton of replay life into Dirt 4, it also helps you craft unique and immensely challenging events to compete in. Using Your Stage, I was able to craft easy stages that helped me master driving techniques on different surfaces, while also generating stages that were easily among the most difficult racing tracks I’ve ever seen in a video game. By using this feature, players can also overcome another pitfall in racing games – the fact that after a while you learn the tracks and easily finish first every time. Your Stage will leave players feeling challenged long after they have purchased Dirt 4. Equally impressive with the Your Stage feature is the accuracy of the pace notes on these generated courses. I never once was given the wrong direction by the person providing pace notes.
The gameplay in Dirt 4 is consistent and solid. While not necessarily breaking any new ground in the racing genre, players will feel that their vehicle is responsive and that it reacts well based on the class of vehicle, weight, handling ability etc. Turning, as in most racing games, if of huge importance in Dirt 4, and players will need to execute different types of turns effectively to be competitive. Dirt 4 is less forgiving than most for not slowing into a turn, or not using the handbrake correctly. A mistake here can have you off the side of the road into the trees very quickly. The key is to slow into the turn, especially the hairpin turns, then accelerate out of it.
A fantastic tool that Dirt 4 offers, allows players to learn the skills needed to compete is the Dirt Academy. Essentially a skill training mode, Dirt Academy is set in the UK and allows drivers to select exactly which type of skill they would like to work on. The game then takes you through a video tutorial of what good execution of the skill looks like, and leaves it to you to practice it as many times as you want until you feel comfortable with it. While I wasn’t completely new to the Dirt series, I wasn’t a veteran of it either, and the Dirt Academy feature proved to be incredibly valuable as I learned the skills to compete.
While in Dirt Academy, you can drive around in free play, practicing a wide variety of skills, or select individual lessons to view and practice. I spent quite a bit of time in Dirt Academy, and I recommend taking a handful of lessons to get to the skill level you’re happy with, then spend some time driving around the course in free play to try to put them all together. While that approach worked best for me, the freedom this part of the game gives you allows you to use it in whatever way you want.
Once you’re happy with your skills as a rally driver and you’re ready to jump into career mode, you’ll be challenged by a wide variety of tracks and surfaces designed to conquer you just as much as you want to conquer them. You’ll find yourself racing in Michigan, USA, at the very beginning of your career, building relationships with sponsors and establishing yourself as a credible contender in the world of rally racing. As you compete in and win the first few races you take part in, new events will be unlocked, both in Michigan and internationally. Once you earn enough credits, you’ll also be prompted to purchase your first vehicle, giving you your own team to name and give identity to.
Each location around the world offers different surfaces to race on, which provides the player with an entirely different experience no matter what you are. My confidence was high when racing the dirt tracks of Michigan, being able to fairly easily handle every turn, dip, and puddle. I figured I was more than ready to take on the asphalt roads of Spain and was met with more frustration than I ever wanted. Each surface in the game provides very different challenges and your approach to turns, acceleration, and angles must be taken very differently to have any chance at success. Between Sweden’s snow, Australia’s gravel, Spain’s asphalt, and Michigan’s dirt back roads, you will feel challenged just to keep your car on the track as you switch driving surfaces from event to event.
There are two difficulty settings in the game: Gamer and Simulation. As the name would suggest, simulation is an unforgiving experience where anything less than mastery of the vehicle will find you flying off the road into a tree. AI opponents are also much more competent in simulation, demanding a significantly better performance from the player if they wish to win stages and events. If that doesn’t sound like a fun and relaxing time to you, there’s always gamer mode, which features much more forgiving handling of the cars and AI that is not nearly as skilled. For newer players, I would definitely recommend beginning with the gamer setting and working your way up to simulation through time spent in Dirt Academy.
The number of cars in Dirt 4 is healthy, yet nowhere near what we’ve come to expect in other AAA racers like Forza Motorsport of Forza Horizon. Yet, the over 50 cars in the game give players a chance to have variety in what they use to race through the different events. Some classes have fewer than others, with the N/R4 class standing out in this regard. Finally, there is a good mix of cars from 20-30 years ago with more modern vehicles, allowing players the benefits of each era.
Visually, Dirt 4 won’t compare to the standard set by Forza Horizon 3 in HDR, but there are subtle features that make the game perform very well visually. Things like the dirt kicking up off your tires, water splashing as you drive through it and the way snow reacts as you slide through it make Dirt 4 stand apart from previous iterations in the series. As you drive through the back roads of Michigan, you’ll see the leaves fly through the air as you speed past them. These subtle visuals further immerse players in the experience and make you feel as if you’re actually there.
In terms of sound, Dirt 4 really shines. Every reaction with different surfaces and objects has a distinct sound, and playing Dirt 4 with a good headset is an incredibly immersive experience. Sliding through snow, splashing through puddles in Michigan, turning in the rain, or driving through a gate in Australia all have very distinct sounds and add to the feel of the game in a way that the visuals don’t quite accomplish.
While Dirt 4 is a definite improvement on Dirt: Rally and the Your Stage feature offers a unique new feature that could help the racing genre bring more replay value to its games, Dirt 4 doesn’t do enough to stand up against the Forzas of the world as a viable alternative. Still, Dirt 4 offers a fun experience for players who are both experienced or new, and is worth the investment if you are a fan of the car genre. Don’t expect to be blown away with a huge car list or amazing visuals – expect a fun time with a responsive racing game that gives you plenty of reasons to keep playing.
- Your Stage is a fantastic addition
- Good experience for both new and experienced players
- Different locations provide different challenges
- Visuals are somewhat lacking
- Small car list