Codemasters’ uncompromising rally extravaganza, 2015’s DiRT Rally, was so ferocious and fantastic that the studio could have foregone the general off-road racing of the vanilla DiRT series and focused purely on rallying. Instead, Codemasters has gambled on another straight-up DiRT sequel, and it turns out that DiRT Rally wasn’t the series’ killer, but its saviour. DiRT Rally was tough and unrelenting in its drive to realistically depict rallying as a terrifying and unforgiving sport. In response, Codemasters has made DiRT 4 more flexible and varied. DiRT Rally is still used as a foundation though – creating an even more nuanced and unpredictable rallying simulator. Right from the off, DiRT 4 demonstrates its commitment to wide appeal, offering two distinct play modes – Game and Simulation. The former is for players who want to enjoy themselves without needing to Google an operations manual for a Subaru Impreza WRX. The latter is for people who consider tuning engines and tweaking wheel cambers to be part of the fun.
You can then decide how challenging you want your racing; you can enable or disable a wide range of driving assists, and adjust the talent and tenacity of your AI rivals. There’s even a comprehensive rallying school, where you can learn various techniques, from braking effectively to using the weight of your car to get around corners faster.
Ultimately, DiRT 4 wants you to have fun, and it will let you make the game as easy or as difficult as you like. It’s important to emphasise this latter point. While DiRT 4 can be more easygoing than its rally-focused counterpart, it can also be just as forbidding.
Since DiRT Rally, Codemasters has made substantial alterations to DiRT’s racing model, at both the vehicle and track levels. Each vehicle is remarkably different in terms of weight, handling, acceleration and so on. It’s not just statistics either – you can feel those differences beneath your fingers – the speed with which cars pull away from the starting line, and the way they slide into corners. Even the damage model is more tactile. You can tell if your car has a flat tyre or if it’s stuck in a particular gear just from the sounds of the car around you.
Rally stages are more detailed and dynamic too, challenging you not only through twisting turns and inclement weather, but through specific, unpredictable
hazards. It might be a crashed competitor blocking half the road, or a low-flying helicopter kicking up dust across the track. The best one is dynamic fog.
Track sections can now be shrouded in soupy mist, forcing you to drive almost blind, relying solely on the instructions from your co-driver to navigate.
Codemasters understands that rallying is unpredictable by nature, and it’s gone to great lengths to maintain this unpredictability in the game. At the extreme end, the Your Track mode lets you generate an infinite number of random tracks out of component parts. It’s a superb add-on, extending the game’s lifespan considerably, although you’ll begin to recognise some of the track pieces after a while.
While DiRT 4 offers a broad range of race types, though, rallying is very much the focus. The career mode fronts rallying first and foremost, with by far the largest number of events, stage types and vehicles. It does, however, offer fewer environment types for rallying than DiRT Rally, with five environments compared to Rally’s six. Moreover, two of these environments – snowy Sweden and Powys in Wales – were already in DiRT Rally.
Meanwhile, DiRT 4’s alternative modes are equally fun, but considerably less well served than vanilla rallying. Rallycross swaps solo off-road time trials for highly aggressive track racing, with varying track surfaces and the innovative ‘Joker-lap’ mechanic. Here, once per race, you must take an alternative, longer route around the track, lending a smidge of tactics to this bruising vehicular contact sport.
But perhaps the best mode after rallying itself is Land Rush, which sees you racing dune buggies and pickup trucks around vast racetracks with dirt surfaces. The sheer breadth of these tracks combined with slippery surfaces make Land Rush a drifter’s paradise, and probably the least stressful mode on offer.
Bringing up the rear is Historical Rally, which is the same as regular rallying, but in cars that are less well suited to the sport. It feels like it’s been tacked on at the end and, much like the reduced number of rally track environments, hints at DiRT 4’s main flaw. The game is overly reliant on Codemasters’ work in DiRT Rally to bolster its own content, and doesn’t do enough to justify the price for people who already own DiRT Rally. If it had a couple more rallying environments, rather than one less, plus three or four additional tracks for each other mode, it would be Codemasters’ best game by a mile.
As it stands, DiRT 4 is an excellent game with a couple of caveats. If you skipped DiRT Rally and fancy giving the series another go, DiRT 4 is definitely the game to buy. It offers much of what made DiRT Rally great, but with more flexibility and a little more variety. If, however, you already own DiRT Rally, you’ll end up paying another £50 just for a slightly more involved racing system and a random track generator.