Pedal to the metal—if you didn’t leave it in a tree
THUNDERING ROUND the Michigan woods in a tuned hatchback may not be what you’re expecting 10 seconds into a new driving game, but that’s where Dirt4 starts. No tedious training, just you and a Ford against the gravel. It should be simple, but we find ourselves in the trees more than we’d like.
Before that, Dirt4 exists in a state of quantum uncertainty: Game or Simulation? Pick one, and you enter one of two parallel universes, in which the rules are subtly different to one another. Game mode is more entertaining, faster, an enjoyable blast round a track in a ridiculous vehicle. Simulation is much deeper, the tuning of your cars becomes vastly more important, and the whole game slows down as a result.
In fact, you could call this two games. Game mode is a sequel to 2011’s Dirt3, while Simulation follows 2015’s more hardcore DirtRally. The latter was better received, thanks to its racing purity, realism, and lack of reliance on the Gymkhana obstacle course mode. It seems what players want from a rally game is a technical challenge, not a whooping idiot smashing his car up. So, Gymkhana is gone. Its replacements are more thoughtful—the Landrush buggy and truck racing, around sandy circuits, is the first you’ll encounter, and makes a fine contrast to the woodland stages before it. The laps are short and the circuits not too twisty, otherwise all the racers would be sliding all over the place. Win that, and you do it all over again, this time in a pickup.
The game is clever enough to keep the modes coming. A championship is over before you’ve had time to tire of it, and the next provides a different vehicle and surface to race on. Practice laps are available, but restarts are unlimited in Game mode, so you can treat every run as a practice. It’s this that exposes one of the downfalls of Game mode: It’s a bit easy. The co-driver may be reading pace notes during rally stages, and there’s a team radio to alert you to other cars and your performance in Landrush, but it’s too easy to zone these things out, and see nothing but the next corner and the red marker in the topright that denotes your placing. Having won seven races in a row, an unexpected burst of speed from a Landrush driver surprised us, but shunting him into the sidewall sorted that out. If Game mode is like this, where would Simulation take us?
Into the ditch, that’s where. Suddenly, tuning mattered, damage was mounting up, and the grip at the front of our car was gone. Those pace notes began to matter, and limited restarts meant we had to concentrate. Simulation mode needs to be approached in a very different way to Game mode, and it’s to the devs’ credit that they’ve incorporated two very different approaches into one package.
RALLYING Fast-paced; huge depth and replay value.
DALLYING We’ve seen better-looking car games; Simulation mode can be a shock.
RECOMMENDED SPECS Intel Core i5 4690 or AMD FX 8320; 8GB RAM; Nvidia GTX 780 or AMD R9 390.
$60, www.dirt4game.com, ESRB: T
Rallying in the woods leaves you open to fog and rain.
The sandy tracks kick up
a lot of dust.