There’s been quite a buzz around Dirt 4 ahead of its release earlier in the month, and I’ve got to admit, I was pretty damn excited to start playing it. That’s coming from someone who hasn’t played a rally game for quite some time, too.
Since moving away from the iconic Colin McRae Rally era of gaming titles, the Codemasters franchise went for a more American flavour before morphing into a full-on rally simulation with the hugely-popular and much-loved Dirt Rally.
Well, Dirt 4 seems to merge all of those elements together to produce a rally game that you won’t get bored of anytime soon.
After a weekend behind the controller, here are some of my first impressions…
1. Easy on the eyes
I think that sums up the graphics and visuals of the game best. It’s not full-on stunning, but it’s an attractive game to look at. Compared to the polish and detail of Forza or Gran Turismo, it can’t keep up and looks a little bland. But, it’s probably Codemasters’ best effort so far.
2. It’s accessible
Whether you’re a complete rookie, not too familiar with rally games (like me), obsess over rally games or are just an all-round racing game pro, you’ll probably find the right balance and set-up – or, close to it – in Dirt 4. The choice of settings and two physics modes (Simulation and Gamer) allow you to fine-tune the game to your own abilities.
Plus, the entry ‘test’ rally and DirtFish training feature when you fire up the game is a good way to familiarise yourself with the controls, quirks of rallying and give novices a chance to see what it’s all about – the discipline introductions do a good job of this too.
3. Create your stage
Undoubtedly the star of Dirt 4 is the ‘Your Stage’ feature, which is a custom stage creator within the game. With the five locations – Australia, USA, Wales, Sweden and Spain – players adjust length and complexity slides, plus set weather and time, and the tool generates a unique stage for every event.
From my limited experience of rally games, they get a bit boring after you’ve done the same stage a few times, but with Your Stage, there’s no worry of that because each one is different. Sure, it would be nice to customise them a bit more, but that’s perhaps me being a bit greedy. It’s a wonderful feature and one that will keep the game feeling fresh for some time to come, I imagine.
4. Variety of disciplines
While some may not like the diversification of disciplines in the Dirt franchise, I definitely think it’s one of Dirt 4’s key strengths. Rallycross, Landrush events and Historic Rally all add much-needed depth to not only the main career but the other game modes as well.
Limiting a game just to the rally genre can get a bit stale after a while, and with only five locations in Dirt 4 on the rally side (we’d have liked a few more iconic venues, such as Finland or Monte Carlo), getting the chance to race in different categories means there’s a lot more to do and explore.
5. Rallycross is brilliant fun
To be honest, I’ve enjoyed most of the different disciplines so far, but Rallycross has definitely been my favourite. It basically merges the mixed terrains of rallying with the competition of circuit racing, and that makes it absolutely hilarious and very enjoyable.
The action itself is incredibly close and while the AI can be either a little tentative or a bit too aggressive, not really finding a balance in the middle, that still doesn’t’ detract from the fun handling and action-packed races that I’ve experienced.
It’s an officially licensed FIA World Rallycross game so there’s lots of official cars and tracks in there. Perhaps we’d want one or two more of the latter but it’s been great to move up the Rallycross ladder so far and try out the beasts that are the RX Supercars.
6. Crosskart? Not so much…
Crosskarts look like mean little machines, and that’s how they handle too. Perhaps it’s the settings I’ve got, but they’re tough to get to grips with and incredibly unpredictable. It all adds to the drama but it’s also made me rage quit and hit restart a couple of times. I’m sure once I work out how to drive the little off-road buggies without spinning, I’ll enjoy it. But at the moment, I’m finding it tough.
7. Rising through the ranks
Because of the number of disciplines and cars in the game, with different levels of performance and meeting different regulations, the career mode is much more detailed than I expected. Sure, you could probably work through Landrush or Rallycross in a day or two, but there are lots of events to choose from and different routes to take.
At the moment, I’ve focused on rallying, but started to dabble in Landrush and Rallycross – as any young driver might do if the opportunities came up. This kind of career simulation isn’t anything new in racing games but the way it’s done in Dirt 4 really draws you in.
8. You're in charge
As far as I’m aware, creating your own team and building it up is a fairly new thing in Codemasters games - it hasn’t been appearing for too long. I’ve certainly not come across it very much in racing titles so this was a cool thing for me to get stuck into and see what happens.
Being able to manage staff, facilities, buy and sell cars and sort out sponsors and liveries adds a touch of realism and immersion to the career. It’s not anything ground-breaking but has been formed and developed nicely.
9. Nice noises
This is something I didn’t actually notice until a few hours in, but the sounds and noises in the game are brilliantly realistic and gives you a sense of when you’re pushing your car to the limit, or over it. The rattles, crackles, clunks and smashes are brilliant, although I have noticed a few little issues – hitting a bollard shouldn’t create a massive clashing sound.
10. Enticing mix
While some categories of cars are well populated, especially when it comes to classic rally cars, others are a bit sparser. It’s also worth noting there aren’t any proper, current World Rally Championship machines, which is a shame, but there are 2000CC and R5 ones. Plus, I can’t complain too much when there are Group B beasts in Dirt 4. Which are absolutely mental.
Handling wise, I’ve only tried the Simulation physics mode, and it feels pretty engaging, although it took me a while to get used to it. I know it’s a rally game but there really is quite a lot of sliding, and there are a few quirks – kerbs can be excessively hazardous on the circuit racing, for instance. But nothing major.
I’ve only just started scratching the surface with Dirt 4 but considering I’m not a massive rally gamer, Codemasters’ latest offering has won me over and taken me back to the nostalgic rallying titles I used to play – while also bringing in lots of other cool disciplines and features.
I’d probably go as far as saying it’s the most well-rounded rally game we’ve had so far. Have you been playing Dirt 4? What do you think? Let us know in the comments.