June 9th 2017 (Xbox One)
Five left into two right into five right – over crest jump maybe? Dirt 4 powerslides onto consoles, hot on the heels of the critically acclaimed Dirt Rally, featuring many disciplines of rallying to master… if you dare.
“Whoah, calm down. Get your eyes on!”
Codemasters, the champions of the racing genre, have returned with another game in the Dirt series. Originating with the title of Colin McRae Rally many iterations ago, once again Codemasters have pushed the boundaries and released a true rallying game for the ages. The game starts with a quick Driver customization segment before players are sent off to a rallying academy to learn the ropes. This determines the suggested difficulty, though it’s easily changed to allow for any level required. The main difficulty choice is between handling models, with Arcade and Simulation on offer, AI and assists optional within each mode. Once all this is set and the training academy complete, it’s time to get some mileage in! At the beginning, the only way to get out on stage is with a team offer, where players drive for another team to gain valuable experience and money. These are fun and fairly low pressure, a great way to get used to the physics of the game and the pace notes from the co-driver.
Once enough money is amassed players can purchase their own cars and assemble a team. They can be moulded to fit any driving style, be it by choosing mechanics who specialise in power or focusing on upgrading the chassis for better handling, there are a lot of choices even at the early stage. However, the choice of cars early on is small, and really boils down to a Ford Fiesta or an Opel Adam. These small engined, front wheel drive cars are great to learn in and are eligible for a wide array of championships. As more stage entries start to become wins, notoriety increases and so too does the level of sponsorship. Sponsors give specific objectives for each event, and achieving these can improve the relationship with the sponsor and the money they offer. More money means more cars, more cars leads to even more eligible stages and, therefore, even more wins (so much for “mo’ money, mo’ problems). This is the main objective of the “Rally” part of the career mode, which is one of four modes on offer. The others are Landrush, Rallycross, and a Historic Rally mode. The former two are circuit based race events in different spec vehicles, with the latter being more powerful versions of the rally cars and Landrush being super powerful trucks and buggies. Historic Rally mode, of course, poses you against famous beasts from rallying history to truly test those brave enough to try them.
Dirt 4 offers many different landscapes to race on, and all of them are beautifully represented by the games engine. Whether it’s the dusty sands of Australia or the gravelly twists of rural Michigan, everything from the trees to the lakes is just so darn pretty… don’t drive in to them for a closer look though, water and rally cars don’t really mix that well. The cars themselves have also been beautifully recreated, with many of the classic liveries brought to life once more to re-live the glory days, just enough to keep the auditorily gifted (or huge car nerds) very happy. The crowning achievement of Dirt 4 (and Codemasters racing games in general) is the frenetic sense of urgency that is very common in a race, even more so in rallying. In Dirt 4, this means players rarely have time to register the pacenotes, let alone glance over and see the split times compared to their opponents, especially on the Simulation mode. In Manual mode, where players also control the gearshifts in the car, there’s so much going on that a 5 minute stage feels like it’s taken 30 seconds. Everything is so fast-paced that even repairs between stages are timed, with penalties for going over the alloted 30 minutes, just like real life.
The bad points are very few and far between. Bugbears arise in the form of glitches, both with audio and certain gameplay aspects. The engine notes can get stuck at flat out, which makes knowing when to change gear difficult when playing in manual. The gameplay glitches are with sponsor objectives not activating when they should, and an issue with stage times where even though you’re fastest you aren’t winning the stage. Admittedly, this is not a big problem but one that needs to addressed.
Beautifully crafted, refined and with a genuine feeling of being behind the wheel of many exotic machines, this is a true tour de force. Balanced enough that new and experienced players can enjoy it alike, this is the definitive rallying game of the current generation.