The DiRT series has been the definitive rally racing experience since it debuted a decade ago. Following up on the Colin McCrae series, it delivered high-speed, visceral racing that was uncommon in rally racers. The original game was the best rally racer since the halycon days of the Rallisport Challenge series on the original Xbox – but Codemasters added an excellent team-based spin to things that helped out a lot. It gave every race a sense of importance, and that trend continued through future entries. The arcade-centric nature of things led to DiRT Rally making things more serious while DiRT 4 brings just about everything that made the prior entries great while adding to it and changing up the formula a bit.
DiRT 4 nixes the festival vibe and goes for a more serious team-based approach, with a Forza Motorsport-esque formula of race>menu and then some accomplishments being doled out after each event. DiRT 4 is going to be familiar to those who have played the franchise before – and perhaps a bit too familiar in some regards. The core racing formula is identical, but a revamped on-screen HUD makes navigating tougher turns a bit easier. Your co-driver’s voice is also a bit clearer here than before, but the recordings tend to jumble together at some points – making it hard to figure out what was said.
DiRT 4 is more of the same in a lot of ways, which isn’t really bad – Codemasters can always be counted on to deliver a fantastic game. What they’ve done here is try to merge the arcade and simulation styles together with a gamer mode that makes things more user-friendly and simulation that adds some challenge. Those seeking a challenge can opt to have tires blow out, while everyone can opt to have things like light or heavy rain and other assorted weather affects. The weather system is outstanding overall, and probably the best implementation of one since Project Gotham Racing 4 a decade ago.
Light rain looks nice on the tracks – especially at night – while heavy rain leads to you needing to be careful and avoid sharp movements. Going too hard into a turn will force you to spin out, and you need to taper your speed going into corners just to be safe. Fog can also affect you – especially for nighttime races where visibility is incredibly low. This makes relying on your co-driver and the on-screen direction all the more important since it can mean the difference between you emerging victorious or losing major ground.
DiRT 4’s weather also plays a part in non-car races. You can now race in buggies, which are quite a bit lighter than your regular cars. You need to avoid oversteering and it takes a couple of laps to get used to them. Due to the all-terrain nature of these vehicles, dust is kicked up a lot and that will also impede your view – especially if you go for a first person viewpoint. Even going behind the buggy, you can see dust kick up and block the entire track. It’s a bit scary, but also fun to see a slew of drivers in a cluster and then you can pass them and make them literally eat your dust.
This sensation is enhanced in rallycross mode where you may not have as much dust flying around, but a crowded track combined with a lot of rain does obscure your view and make for a more exciting race. This is especially true if you have a good set of headphones, as you will hear not only the rain, but also the engines all around you. It makes races seem almost claustrophobic and adds a layer of intensity to everything.
DiRT 4 continues the tradition of the franchise controls being rock-solid. The button layout is logical and everything is responsive. The Xbox One controller’s triggers remain the best on the market when it comes to replicating the pressure-sensitive pedal controls of a real car, and it’s incredibly comfortable for long play sessions as well. Oversteering is something you may run into, but it won’t be the game’s fault beyond some AI rivals pushing your back end around – and then you can just use rewinds to fix that problem. This is a fairly user-friendly game beyond some slightly bland menu designs, which has taken a more traditional approach instead of the franchise’s usual stylish stuff, and it isn’t always for the better.
Visually, DiRT 4 does look fairly impressive most of the time. The cars themselves are full of detail and it never fails to impress me seeing them caked in the elements. Races just feel more intense when you’re driving around in a vehicle covered in dust and debris. The environments themselves, though, are a bit barren at times. There are trackside objects, but you don’t get to see them very often except for the end of the race when you’re slowing down and have to avoid hitting your crew. They’re sparsely detailed and after each race, you see your in-game faces – which shows no emotion whatsoever – whether or not you win or get completely shut out.
DiRT 4’s audio really shines with its sound design – especially with crowded areas. When you’re in an area with a lot of crowds nearby, you can hear them cheer, which adds a nice amount of excitement to things. Of course, having a sea of cars around you is cool too and quite immersive, especially during a close race where you’re neck-and-neck with a few of them and know that a single wrong move could send you from a pole position to the back of the pack.
DiRT 4 isn’t the greatest entry in the series, but it is still quite good. It lacks the feeling of life that prior games had and trades that in for a more sterile feeling. It’s a shame too because the festival setting injected a lot of fun into things, while the casual atmosphere let you go at your own pace through your career. Now, things are more rigid and while the core game is still fun, it feels like you have to do well as opposed to simply having fun being its own reward and better play resulted in faster progress. The core mechanics are excellent, though, and anyone looking for a high-quality rally racer will find one here. Series veterans who have become lapsed fans may not be won over by it, but should at least give it a rental while newcomers should give it a whirl as a rental and then give it a buy if they fall in love with it.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a digital copy of DiRT 4 for the Xbox One provided by Codemasters.