Dirt 4

EDGE - - GAMES - Devel­oper/pub­lisher Code­mas­ters For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Re­lease Out now

PC, PS4, Xbox One

Some­thing’s wrong. We’re not re­fer­ring to the flap­ping thud of a burst tyre or the win­cein­duc­ing scrape of de­tri­tus lodged against the brake ro­tor – though both of th­ese noises are caus­ing us con­cern. No, it’s Nicky Grist’s calm, col­lected pacenote de­liv­ery as we des­per­ately try to keep ahead of the class leader’s time that’s both­er­ing us the most.

In Dirt Rally, Code­mas­ters’ bold re­cent ex­per­i­ment with the chameleonic se­ries, chief game de­signer and pro­fes­sional co-driver Paul Cole­man recorded the game’s pace notes while wear­ing a hel­met and strapped into a D-Box mo­tion seat. The peer­less out­come com­mu­ni­cated the stress of fast sec­tions and the vi­o­lence of cam­ber changes and bumps. But Grist’s ap­par­ent in­sou­ciance sug­gests that the team has re­verted to a more tra­di­tional record­ing-booth setup. It does the job, of course, but de­spite the re­turn of a big name it’s hardly as stir­ring, and feels like a step back.

The game is di­alled back in other ways, too. Take the vi­su­als, for ex­am­ple: while Dirt 4 cer­tainly has its mo­ments, it rarely looks quite as strik­ing as Rally; some sub­tle light­ing ef­fects for snow glare and re­flec­tive signs are pleas­ing, but the in­ex­pli­ca­bly ugly water and rain ef­fects are an odd come­down from Rally’s dirty splen­dour. The new lo­ca­tions are prob­lem­atic, too. Both games drop in on Swe­den and Wales, but 4’ s ad­di­tions of Aus­tralia, Spain and Michi­gan just don’t raise the pulse like Rally’s Fin­land, Monaco or Greece. The ab­sence of iconic lo­ca­tions such as Sweet Lamb and Pike’s Peak com­pound the mat­ter fur­ther.

Dirt 4 goes some­way to mak­ing up for its lack of of­fi­cial cour­ses with Your Stage, the pro­ce­dural route gen­er­a­tor on which the rest of the game is draped. You can only de­ter­mine length and com­plex­ity via a pair of slid­ers, and set time of day and weather con­di­tions, but the sys­tem is ca­pa­ble of gen­er­at­ing an all-but-lim­it­less pa­rade of di­verse cour­ses (you just might have to hit the gen­er­ate but­ton a few times to get the twist­ing de­scent you were hop­ing for). The re­sults are sur­pris­ingly con­vinc­ing, for the most part feel­ing like real or hand­de­signed ef­forts – in­deed, Code­mas­ters has even used the tech to pop­u­late the game’s ca­reer mode.

Pro­ce­dural gen­er­a­tion’s in­her­ent prob­lems aren’t fully solved – there’s a dis­qui­et­ing sense of déjà vu as you hurl your car through iden­ti­cal acute left han­ders or dodge the same for­ma­tions of rocks on the out­side of sev­eral sweep­ing right threes – but what they lack in be­spoke de­tail is more than re­couped by the dizzy­ing va­ri­ety of routes. More im­por­tantly, the con­tin­ual flow of un­fa­mil­iar cor­ners and crests per­fectly cap­tures the in­ten­sity of rally driv­ing, in which quick think­ing, improvisation and in­ad­vis­able brav­ery are all es­sen­tial at­tributes. And the abil­ity to save your cre­ations, build multi-stage events (which pay out and con­trib­ute to your ca­reer earn­ings), and then share th­ese with your friends and chal­lenge them via on­line leader­boards could give Dirt 4 the longest tail of any rally game so far. Blast­ing down a pro­ces­sion of short, two-mile stretches of ran­domly gen­er­ated gravel is thrilling and mor­eish.

An­other ad­van­tage of us­ing cre­ated, rather than real, tracks is that Code­mas­ters has been able to con­struct a ca­reer mode free from the usual un­even dif­fi­culty curves that are syn­ony­mous with rally games. Here, you start with sin­gle stages just over a mile in length, and progress up to the multi-event cham­pi­onships that take place on com­plex eight-mile routes. Com­bined with a com­mend­ably de­tailed and sup­port­ive Dirt Academy, which takes you through a wide range of ba­sic and ad­vanced tech­niques, this is the most ac­ces­si­ble Dirt ca­reer mode to date. Ac­ces­si­bil­ity is a key con­cern for the se­ries’ fourth num­bered en­try. Dirt Rally was un­com­pro­mis­ing, and bril­liant for it, but it catered for a spe­cific, ded­i­cated au­di­ence. Creat­ing a han­dling model that ap­peals to both that hard­core con­tin­gent and the broader au­di­ence of the main se­ries would be a fool’s er­rand, so Code­mas­ters has built two sep­a­rate mod­els in­stead. Right from the off you can choose be­tween Gamer and Sim­u­la­tion – a dis­tinc­tion so pro­found that it has its own menu op­tion rather than sit­ting with the other set­tings. Gamer shaves off all of the rough edges, ti­dies up your car’s at­ti­tude in the cor­ners (even with all the as­sists off) and im­bues tyres with Her­culean lev­els of grip. It’s not so in­tru­sive you can’t break trac­tion or lean on the par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics of your car, but ev­ery­thing still feels sti­fled and dull.

Switch to Sim­u­la­tion, how­ever, and Dirt 4’ s cars come to life. The game’s tweaked ver­sion of Rally’s han­dling model may prove di­vi­sive, how­ever. While the nu­ance and com­plex­ity of ve­hi­cle feed­back and re­sponse re­mains, Code­mas­ters has in­creased the fidelity of its sus­pen­sion physics and made cars – even the Stratos – slightly more for­giv­ing. For our money, Rally’s setup pro­vides the more sat­is­fy­ing chal­lenge, one that bet­ter com­mu­ni­cates the vi­o­lence of rally driv­ing. But 4’ s re­vised, and still re­mark­ably in­volved, han­dling flat­ters more and has the knock-on ef­fect of mak­ing play­ing with a pad al­most as en­joy­able as a wheel.

The han­dling tweaks are par­tic­u­larly no­tice­able when wrestling with bug­gies in the re­turn­ing Lan­drush mode, and make Ral­ly­cross (which re­tains Rally’s li­censed venues and adds three more) ex­hil­a­rat­ing bumper-to-bumper racing more man­age­able.

But de­spite a mul­ti­tude of im­prove­ments and a much larger of­fer­ing than its pre­de­ces­sor, Dirt 4 some­how feels less spir­ited. Had Rally not ex­isted, this lat­est game would’ve felt like more of an event, but in its cur­rent form it doesn’t quite achieve the po­tency of its more fo­cused fore­bear.

De­spite a mul­ti­tude of im­prove­ments and a larger of­fer­ing than its pre­de­ces­sor, Dirt 4 feels less spir­ited

LEFT You can now re­tain con­trol of your car af­ter the fin­ish line, bring­ing it to a con­trolled stop in front of the mar­shal. It’s a nice touch that adds to the sense that you’re tak­ing part in real events.

BE­LOW Lan­drush takes place on a hand­ful of fic­tional tracks, and proves ri­otous fun. It makes for a pleas­ant change of pace, too ABOVE Code­mas­ters throws in de­tails like crashed cars that make its pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated tracks feel more alive than they might have oth­er­wise. We miss pho­tog­ra­phers dash­ing from the track, though

You can cre­ate your own team liv­ery and grad­u­ally amass spon­sors to make ev­ery­thing look more pro­fes­sional. Once founded, you can en­ter your team into any of the game’s events

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