Codemasters has released a brand new entry in the Dirt franchise for PC, PS4 and Xbox One gamers. We took the Xbox One version for a spin after our recent adventures with Dirt Rally on Playstation VR left us wanting more Dirt.
There’s no escaping the Dirt franchise. After the first Dirt title in 2007, which featured the late Colin McRae in its title as well, it’s never been far away – even though it’s been 6 years since Dirt 3 came out. After 2015’s Dirt Rally and the recent VR update for that game, Dirt 4 returns the series to a less sim-heavy and more diverse approach.
The easiest way to see this more diverse approach is by looking at the game modes on offer. Where Dirt Rally is all about the classic (time trial/solo) rally events, Dirt 4 features that mode as well but in addition lets you race against others in rallycross events. Having to overtake or shut the door on other cars is a vastly different dynamic than that of Dirt Rally, and something that race fans who aren’t keen on rally events might have missed in that game.
The classic Landrush events with its trucks and buggies also return in Dirt 4, as do several more arcade/fun-oriented activities in a mode that’s called Joyride. While it sacrifices some of its realism and a bit of the sim-focused tone of Dirt Rally, it makes up for it in the sheer diversity of game modes on offer.
There’s even a bit of cross-pollination between modes, depending on how you look at things. In a game like Dirt Rally, you’re more than used to having a co-driver giving you hints on what’s coming up next – so you know when to slow down or line yourself up for a tight corner. In Dirt 4, this mechanic translated to rallycross as well, but with the added feature that you’re vocal assistant will also let you know about opportunities to overtake. This is great stuff both in terms of adding a little pressure to these moments and in teaching you how to “read” a race.
Customization has always been a big part of the Dirt franchise as well, and Dirt 4’s more arcade-friendly approach doesn’t mean you don’t get to tweak your car in a myriad of ways. Realism and difficulty more or less go hand in hand here, as enabling certain option and help features to make your life easier is something that’s immediately reflected in the difficulty level that the game tells you you’re racing at. It’s confrontational, but it helped me push myself to try harder and disable certain features just to feel better about myself.
Although linear in nature, the game’s career mode also features some of this customization. This mostly extends to aspects of the game that don’t directly affect your progress, but can indirectly steer you in the right or wrong direction. An example of this is which crew members and sponsors you let yourself be surrounded with – as expertise and money have an influence on your performance and how much you’re able to invest in your cars (and thus) career.
In addition to the co-driven dialogue, the rest of the audio in Dirt 4 is also spot on. Engines, environmental changes and just barely hitting that mud patch – it’s all represented through the game’s stellar audio. Add an pretty decent music tracklist to the mix, and half of the audiovisual package is top notch. The visual half, however, is merely “good” – failing to provide the leap forward that we’ve seen from other franchises that came out (with new releases) since Dirt 3. The trailers for Dirt 4 looks great, but the actual in-game graphics aren’t quite up to the levels of Project Cars or Assetto Corsa – especially when you look at the backdrops.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of Dirt 4 is the “Your Stage” mode, which provides randomly generated courses for you to race on and which will greatly increase the game’s longevity. I keep wondering which gamers will enjoy everything that Dirt 4 has to offer though – with the emphasis on “everything”. It seems like it’s a game that was designed to please all crowds, but I could see the crowd that enjoys the entire content package being quite small. Rally racing is much more for the enthusiast who is better off with Dirt Rally, and those who found Dirt Rally too unforgiving and serious will probably enjoy Joyride, Landslide and Rallycross a lot but might not be interested in straight up rally racing.
Does this make Dirt 4 any less of a good racing game? It certainly doesn’t, because it’s another excellent Codemasters title to add to their growing portfolio of racing titles. Dirt 3 fans who didn’t get what they wanted with Dirt Rally will certainly enjoy Dirt 4 – and when multiplayer really takes off it looks like this can be just as memorable as Dirt 3 was for the previous console generation.