Dirt 4

Blend­ing Dirt Rally’s hard­core sim cre­den­tials with a gen­tler learn­ing curve


PC, PS4, Xbox One

De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Code­mas­ters For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Ori­gin UK Re­lease June 9

The car’s at­ti­tude con­tin­u­ally shifts with each vi­o­lent land­ing or ad­just­ment in di­rec­tion

We’ll ad­mit to winc­ing a lit­tle when Dirt 4 was an­nounced in Jan­uary.

Dirt Rally, re­leased last year, was an un­com­pro­mis­ing, snarling re­turn to Code­mas­ters’ rac­ing roots that en­tirely dis­pensed with the se­ries’ long-run­ning grabs for main­stream suc­cess. It spat any­one who didn’t un­der­stand throt­tle steer­ing and load trans­fer vi­o­lently into the verge. So talk of a more ap­proach­able Dirt game that also en­com­passes a par­tial re­turn to the brash Amer­i­can mo­tor­sports of for­mer en­tries felt like an un­for­tu­nate back­wards step.

When we first sit down with the game, dur­ing a visit to Code­mas­ters’ Southam HQ, our fears ap­pear to have been jus­ti­fied. We bar­rel through an un­fa­mil­iar course and set some lead­ing split times, de­spite rolling the car cut­ting a corner. We po­litely smile at the devs who are sat in with us and let them know that it feels… nice. And it does: the car is fun to shake through the turns, cor­ners feel fast, and there’s a sur­pris­ingly but­tery feel to the han­dling that re­calls the ac­ces­si­bil­ity of the ear­lier games. It’s bold and en­joy­able, but it all feels a bit muted in the wake of Rally.

Know­ingly, our hosts change the han­dling model to ‘sim­u­la­tion’, switch off all the driv­ing aids, and flick trans­mis­sion to man­ual. It’s a rev­e­la­tion. Now we can sense ex­actly where all four con­tact patches are, and what they’re do­ing. Load trans­fer works per­fectly as we trail brake into cor­ners be­fore lift­ing off and let­ting the car go side­ways, then flick the nose in the other di­rec­tion to tackle the next turn. Every change in cam­ber and de­for­ma­tion on the track must be ac­counted for, as the car’s at­ti­tude con­tin­u­ally shifts with each vi­o­lent land­ing or ad­just­ment in di­rec­tion. All of this and we’re not even us­ing a wheel. The un­yield­ing spirit of Rally is still very much in­tact, then. Now, how­ever, there’s an al­ter­na­tive op­tion for play­ers put off by such a daunt­ing chal­lenge.

This shored-up han­dling model finds its way into the re­turn­ing Ral­lycross mode, too, which con­tin­ues to hold the of­fi­cial FIA World Ral­lycross li­cence. Ly­d­den Hill, Hol­jes and Hell re­main, but are joined by new tracks in France and Por­tu­gal. The way the cars han­dle on these tar­mac-and-dirt mix­tures is re­mark­able, and tack­ling them in anger from the cock­pit of a WRX Su­per­car pro­vides some of the game’s most ab­sorb­ing chal­lenges.

Lan­drush mode is a more con­tro­ver­sial ad­di­tion, but also ben­e­fits hugely from Dirt

4’ s meaty, no-non­sense sim han­dling. The bouncy, 900bhp barges at its cen­tre are ridicu­lous cre­ations, and re­quire a shift in driv­ing style to hus­tle around Code­mas­ters’ un­of­fi­cial but well-de­signed cir­cuits. It’s a phys­i­cally ex­haust­ing, grin-in­duc­ing side­line to the other two more pre­ci­sion-fo­cused dis­ci­plines, and is pre­sented en­tirely free from the dude­bro Amer­i­can­isms that have come to de­fine the se­ries in the past – helped, in no small part, by the pres­ence of US rally and ral­lycross driver Jen Horsey.

While the game’s ral­lycross tracks are of­fi­cial, its rally stages are not. Rally’s spec­tac­u­lar recre­ations of of­fi­cial stages are all ab­sent – a re­sult of Gran Turismo ac­quir­ing the sole rights to Pikes Peak and the of­fi­cial

WRC games con­trol­ling the rest – and have been re­placed by a near-un­lim­ited sup­ply of pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated tracks. But we’re happy to re­port that Code­mas­ters’ tech works spec­tac­u­larly: none of the dozens of pro­ce­dural tracks (cre­ated via Your Stage, which uses slid­ers to de­fine length and com­plex­ity) that we work our way through feels un­der­whelm­ing or thrown to­gether. Tracks are gen­er­ated quickly, and we would strug­gle to dis­tin­guish them from hand-de­signed cour­ses in a blind test. Rally driv­ing isn’t about mem­o­ris­ing cor­ners and brak­ing points, but is in­stead an in­stinc­tive dis­ci­pline in which you rely on pace notes, courage, and over­worked ve­hi­cle com­po­nents. Your Stage per­fectly en­cap­su­lates that spirit, and also means that the ca­reer mode ex­hibits a gen­tler, more cu­rated learn­ing curve.

There’s still some time left in the stag­ing area, of course, but Dirt 4 al­ready feels like a con­tin­u­a­tion of Rally’s as­ton­ish­ing pedigree, rather than a com­pro­mise.

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