DiRT 4

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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.

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