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DiRT 4 Review

DiRT 4 is Codemasters latest and greatest rally and off-road racing simulator, bringing together the content from 2015's superlative DiRT Rally spinoff with this years more mainstream DiRT entry. The question is, will the more serious presentation and gameplay style that made Rally so popular translate into the flashier world of DiRT? Let's find out.

DiRT 4 Review

Introduction

I have a feeling that the development team behind the original DiRT game intended for it to be a bit of a laugh at first, but over the years, it has since claimed centre stage from the much more sedate Colin McRae Rally experience that the brand was first famous for. DiRT games have always focussed on the bolder, brasher side of off-road racing, with modes like RallyCross, Gymkhana and even Destruction Derby thrown into the mix.

With the launch of DiRT Rally in 2015 however, the buying public demonstrated their appetite for a more pure racing experience. As a result, DiRT 4 walks the fine line between both worlds, and as a result it is a game that is tempered by compromise. There are fewer locations to rally though than there were last time out, and the RallyCross and Land Rush modes that make up the traditional DiRT content are barebones at best, with just three tracks each.


DiRT 4 is available now and can be purchased via Steam, or through the KeenGamer ESHOP.

Story

Whilst there is no story in the traditional sense in DiRT 4, there is a well featured career mode that allows players to represent one of the various teams in each of a myriad of events. This approach allows players to earn money and ultimately, buy their own car and begin a team of their own via the My Team mode.

The career features in DiRT 4 are kept to the outer margins of the game, and it is entirely possible to play through every event without ever having a team of your own. Even so, there are some very low level career features that remain consistent from one event to the next. For example, if you have an excellent relationship with a particular team from a successful rally, all that good feeling will carry over into the next event if you choose to run with the same team.

This principle provides the core logic for the My Team mode as well, with team relationship and financial performance being the two most key measures of success. There is a lot to do with My Team if you choose to, but it has a relatively slender impact on the core racing experience. You can hire and fire staff, including engineers, press officers, co-drivers and more, and you can upgrade your team facilities to enable access to better vehicles, more staff, faster repairs and so on.

I suspect that the most interesting feature of My Team for most people will be in the modification of vehicle appearance for online play, and DiRT 4 does a decent job of providing a means to do so that is both accessible and powerful. DiRT 4 lacks the potential for bespoke customisation that games like the last generation Forza Motorsport games had, for example, but it does allow a wide range of patterns and colour combinations to be created.

DiRT 4 Review. Classic Rally is a welcome feature

Gameplay

As you would expect, it is in the driving mechanics and features where a racing game like DiRT 4 must really excel, and as always, the Codemasters team has delivered. Carried over from DiRT Rally, there are two driving modes to choose from (Simulation and Gamer) and four embedded (and customisable) difficulty levels behind them. Playing on the Gamer setting on beginner difficulty provides a dramatically different experience to playing in Simulation mode with either of the two hardest difficulty pre-sets, for example. 

The ability to adjust the level of challenge across such a broad range is incredibly welcome, and it means that players can experience the game at whatever level they wish to. DiRT 4 is the rare kind of game that is built to accommodate both the casual player using his spare Xbox One controller on a high end laptop and the racing game aficionado, using multiple monitors and an immersive cockpit experience. As a result, it can accommodate anyone in between, and the ability to make minor adjustments and tweaks is very welcome.

There are four racing modes in DiRT 4, including Rally, Classic Rally, Land Rush and Rally Cross. The first two are largely the same, offering varied point to point racing across the five different locations that the game provides (Australia, Wales, Sweden, USA and Spain.) Land Rush provides chaotic, wheel to wheel buggy racing around three broad but largely straightforward stadium tracks. Rally Cross is a kind of middle ground, with two racers competing on the same track with a degree of separation.

The two variants on rally racing are undoubtedly the most interesting, and the thrill of careering through a Welsh forest down a steep and winding gravel track is just as exhilarating as it was in Dirt Rally. Unfortunately, with only five locations (and Wales the standout among them) I did eventually find myself bored by the lack of variety. A new Your Course mode provides some addition longevity by offering what is essentially a semi-procedural track generator with nigh-on infinite variation, but because it is limited to the same five locations, it doesn't help much there.

Land Rush and Rally Cross modes felt like an unnecessary distraction to me, offering little (and arguably less) than previous DiRT games. There are three tracks for each mode which is plenty, because for me at least, my interest in the modes themselves waned long before the problem of occasionally visiting the same tracks. It's not that these modes are badly executed, it's just that they feel at odds with the more sombre presentation that comes with the focus on traditional rally races. DiRT 4 features none of the bombast that previous entries had, and as a result, these modes feel like an arbitrary inclusion.

Regardless of what event you play, DiRT 4 nails the off-road racing experience in a way that no other game can. Whatever the level of difficulty or realism you choose apply, this is a game that can challenge veterans and make novice drivers feel accomplished just for completing a course in one piece. The handling has weight and feels beautifully balanced, with a real difference between vehicles of different class and type. The game conveys the hedonistic thrill of feeling as if you are right on the edge of control in each race, and this is just amplified as your proficiency grows.

DiRT 4 Review. Australia provides the setting for the dustiest tracks

Graphics and Audio

Played on a high end PC with the maximum graphical quality possible, DiRT 4 is an astonishingly beautiful and highly realistic depiction of motorsport. Every car is rendered in immaculate detail, from the most ridiculous spoiler you can imagine to the individual weaves of carbon fibre on the bonnet. Sound effects are just impressive, 

Whilst the locations are fewer and perhaps less iconic than those in DiRT Rally, the scenery is nonetheless beautiful here too. Wales, for example, features gravel tracks that cut through purple-tinted moorland and then plunge through dark forests. Rain and fog are common adversaries here, but the game looks spectacular in any weather. Spain is the opposite, with jet black tarmac that sizzles in the bright sun, and races that run alongside sheer drops and through isolated villages. 

Land Rush is the busiest mode in the traditional sense, and the only one that presents the game engine with more than a couple of cars to render. That doesn't matter though, because DiRT 4 still looks amazing, and whilst the buggies that race in this mode are perhaps less "appealing" to look at, they are no less complex in appearance, and arguably more so, due to the visible suspension components and open rollcage.

On PC, I didn't see the framerate drop below fifty, whilst on PS4 which obviously has much lower quality graphics to begin with (some improvement on Pro) I saw very occasional drops. The PS4 version is still an exceptional looking game (relatively speaking) and the performance overall is excellent.

DiRT 4 Review. Rally favourite Wales returns, offering breakneck downhill racing

Conclusion

In conclusion, DiRT 4 provides a very strong package for fans of mixed off-road racing, and motorsport in general, but (aside from Your Course) it is a lesser proposition for rally fans than Dirt Rally. It is also a poorer showcase of the other racing disciplines than previous DiRT games.

That said, DiRT 4 is still an exceptionally talented game that delivers a really comprehensive package. There is a decent career mode, a lot of content by any standard measure, and a course creation mode that allows potentially unlimited replay value. There are cross platform online leader boards and competitive modes, and any time spent behind the wheel is an absolute joy.

PROS CONS
+ Exceptional racing pedigree + Non-rally modes are weaker than ever
+ Your Course is an excellent addition + Does not match the heights of DiRT: Rally
+ Well featured career mode
+ Exceptionally handsome
+ Many online features and daily challenges

8
Great

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