Post Script

Reinventing the wheel

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When we vis­ited Code­mas­ters back in E306, we noted the fear­less­ness with which the com­pany ap­proaches new en­tries in its long-es­tab­lished se­ries. Whereas many de­vel­op­ers would be averse to stray­ing too far from the tem­plate of such proven com­mer­cial suc­cesses, Code­mas­ters thinks in the longer term. Take the bold rein­ven­tions of TOCA and

Colin McRae Rally, which be­came the Grid and Dirt se­ries re­spec­tively. And those fresh starts her­alded con­tin­ual ex­per­i­ments with for­mat, pre­sen­ta­tion and even han­dling mod­els. It’s an ap­proach that risks rais­ing the ire of fans – in­deed, the Dirt se­ries’ flir­ta­tion with US dis­ci­plines and Amer­i­can­isms has caused dis­plea­sure among some sec­tions of its au­di­ence in the past – but also one that mit­i­gates against any dan­ger of stag­na­tion.

Dirt Rally was Code­mas­ters’ bold­est ex­er­cise to date, a crit­i­cally lauded swing to the sim­u­la­tion end of the han­dling spec­trum and a chance to ex­per­i­ment with early-ac­cess de­vel­op­ment for a stu­dio more used to pol­ish­ing its ef­forts be­hind closed doors. But it’s also a hard act to fol­low. In re­turn­ing to the broader ap­peal of ear­lier en­tries in the se­ries, Code­mas­ters was faced with per­haps the most po­larised Dirt au­di­ence to date. Whereas be­fore the schism con­cerned rally purists and fans of the daz­zling spec­ta­cle of the Lan­drush and Gymkhana events, now it’s cen­tred on the core of the game: the way the cars han­dle.

Rather than dic­tate the char­ac­ter of the lat­est Dirt game, then, Code­mas­ters has in­stead tried to please ev­ery­one by pro­vid­ing two very dif­fer­ent han­dling mod­els. Get­ting both right was, we imag­ine, an un­en­vi­able work­load. But per­haps this switch from dic­ta­tor­ship to democ­racy is to blame for Dirt 4’ s un­der­whelm­ing form. Here’s a game that makes a good fist of cater­ing to ev­ery­one, but many as­pects suf­fer as a re­sult.

That’s not to say that Dirt 4 isn’t as coura­geously de­signed as pre­vi­ous games in the se­ries – far from it – but rather that it’s un­avoid­ably less fo­cused. Don’t get us wrong: Your Stage is a re­mark­able cre­ation that, af­ter years of de­vel­op­ment, raises the bar for pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated race­tracks. It may re­peat tiles with slightly too much fre­quency, but that’s the only clue that th­ese routes weren’t de­signed by hand. Fling­ing a car down them is just as sat­is­fy­ing as nav­i­gat­ing re­al­world or de­signed stages, and the way they keep you on your toes dove­tails per­fectly with the spirt of rally driv­ing. But in op­po­si­tion, both Lan­drush and Ral­ly­cross, while bril­liant fun, feel con­sid­er­ably less sub­stan­tial than the main rally com­po­nent, of­fer­ing only a hand­ful of tracks and slim­mer ca­reer modes.

The game’s ex­panded team man­age­ment sys­tem, mean­while, is far more in-depth than the one found in Rally, but feels just as cold and de­tached de­spite the newly in­tro­duced need to man­age em­ploy­ees’ moods and keep spon­sors happy. And while we’re happy to see the ear­lier games’ hy­per­ac­tive stag­ing ar­eas have been made more au­then­tic, Dirt 4’ s pit area, while laden with de­tailed op­tions, is a bit life­less. In the end, much of the game feels like a se­ries of com­pro­mises as as­pects of Rally’s ex­posed un­der­pin­nings and the glitzy ex­cesses of ear­lier en­tries meet at an un­sat­is­fac­to­rily re­solved half­way house.

None of this un­der­mines the value of Code­mas­ters’ ap­proach, how­ever. Dirt 4 is still an ac­com­plished game, and while some may pre­fer Rally’s less for­giv­ing han­dling, 4 still boasts one of the best off-road driv­ing mod­els ever cre­ated. In al­low­ing it­self the free­dom to ex­per­i­ment with Dirt’s form, Code­mas­ters con­tin­u­ally breathes new life into a se­ries nearly two decades old. Such a com­mit­ment to rein­ven­tion will in­evitably oc­ca­sion­ally mis­fire, but it’s hard not to es­cape the feel­ing that if Code­mas­ters had been more forth­right in the form Dirt 4 should take, the re­sult would have been more im­pact­ful.

As well as mod­ern ve­hi­cles and kit cars, Dirt4 in­cludes a host of rally le­gends for you to fling down its wind­ing cour­ses

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