Dirt 4

Pedal to the metal—if you didn’t leave it in a tree

Maximum PC - - IN THE LAB -

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.

Dirt 4

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.

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