With Dirt 4, Codemasters have put the pedal to the metal to bring us the most accessible Dirt game yet…unless you want to play in VR.
The last game in the veteran rally series was the spin-off title, Dirt Rally. It was seen by many as Codemasters' apology to real rally fans for over-doing the Ken Block-inspired AWESOME of the last few games. It was also an uncompromising bastard to play. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. With Dirt Rally if you were likely a poor rally driver in real life, you were going to be a poor player in the game, which for sim gamers is exactly what you want. There are no restarts in real life (even if there is in Dirt Rally).
Newcomer, Dirt 4 offers players two styles of racing right after loading. You can choose Gamer or Simulation. Gamer is going to give you the sort of more arcade rally experience that you'd expect from previous instalments, whereas Simulation will have you racing with the unforgiving driving model of Dirt Rally. Gamer mode works well with a gamepad in front of the TV, whereas for Simulation you really need a good racing wheel set-up, preferably with a shifter as well. Two polished rally experiences in one package, you can't say fairer than that.
Everyone's a winner. Well, not exactly. Notably missing from the game's options is a VR mode. Along with Project CARS, Codemasters' Dirt Rally is my go to VR racing game. Using the Revive hack to get around the Oculus exclusivity, I regularly play Dirt Rally on my HTC Vive VR setup. With my Thrustmaster wheel, pedals and shifter, it's like driving the real thing.
Even on PlayStation VR Dirt Rally is awesome.
Going back to playing Dirt 4 on a TV screen or monitor (even over triple monitors) is a bit lame. I don't care why it's not been implemented. If an indie title like Project CARS 2 can have VR straight out of the box at release, so can Dirt 4. And I'm guessing that the Codies have a lot more recourses available to them.
But enough about what the game doesn't have. Dirt 4 is packed with great content.
Before you start, you need to set up your team. That is, buy a car, select a name, a livery and choose a sponsor. The My Team area allows you to hire staff, such as engineers, co-drivers and even PR people. You also get to manage your facilities, with bigger garages holding more cars and a better R-D department yielding better parts. All this costs money, so you need to manage your sponsors to ensure that you are meeting their expectations.
The game gets you to buy cars using your winnings either from dealers or classified adverts. Entering an event without owning a suitable car will cost you in car hire fees.
The main way to earn cash is in the career mode. Players to work their way through the ranks from the bottom to rally champion. The cash and reputation from winning rallies, increased your exposure and gives you the funds to propel your rally career into the stratosphere.
Events are held across four disciplines that cater for just about anyone. Rally and Historic Rally are your traditional point-to-point staged rally modes. You and your co-driver must navigate your way from A-to-B though a series of timed stages. The fastest driver wins the event. Whilst Rally features modern car, Historic Rally lets you try some of the dicier rally cars from the '60s, '70s and ‘80s.
The game features just about every make and model of rally car from the 1960s to date, plus a few more. Minis are joined by Escorts, Imprezas, and Evos. For some rally modes, you also get to hoon around in buggies, trucks and tiny cross karts.
Players that prefer to race against other cars may prefer the Rally Cross and Land Rush modes. Both offer head-to-head circuit racing on a mix of dirt and asphalt surfaces. Be prepared for lots of dust and the different vehicles handling on the varying surfaces. Rally Cross pits more conventional rally cars against each other, as well as cross karts. For Land Rush, all bets are off as drivers take to sandy circuits in buggies, pickup trucks and cross karts. The madcap antics of Land Rush is the polar opposite to the disciplined stages of the Rally modes.
The game features a range of locations, each with unique surfaces and stage characteristics. There's the wide gravel roads of the USA, the dusty tracks of Australia, the asphalt roads of Spain, snowy Sweden and the narrow forest trails of Wales. Rally Cross features real-world circuits like Lydden Hill in south-east England, whilst Land Rush takes us to Mexico and the USA.
Online action comes in two flavours reflecting the timed rally stages of Competitive mode and the head-to-head races of Rally Cross and Landrush with Multiplayer mode. Using Codemasters' RaceNet players can check their progress and track their online careers.
The BIG deal this time out is the inclusion of My Stage. Found in the Freeplay section of the menu, players can customise rally stages according to taste. Want a short stage? You got it. Want a stage with less bends? No worries. Yep, you can now create a quick rally stage even if you've only a few minutes to play. On the flip-side you can also set yourself up with an eye-watering test of your rally skills. Freeplay lets you prepare your own rally championship for yourself and friends.
Rally driving isn't easy. A lead foot on the gas will end in tears. The Dirt Academy is the place to practise your Scandinavian flick. In the relative safety of the DirtFish practice lot, the game will take you through the essential skills that you need to be a successful rally driver.
The final mode of the game takes inspiration from the crazy gymkhana modes of previous Dirt games. Player can slide and weave their cars through some inspired circuits, smashing bales and avoiding obstacles. There are loads of challenges available across the full range of vehicle classes.
The absence of VR aside, Dirt 4 is the new benchmark by which all rally games shall be judged. The vehicle handling, both in gamer and simulation modes, feels just right, offering a challenge for players new and old. The visuals are impeccable and the My Stage DIY stage creator is inspired. If you are a fan of rally driving or want something a bit edgier that your usual circuit racing game, you should give Dirt 4 a go.
Dirt 4 is available now of Windows PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.