You are barrelling down a narrow gravel lane somewhere in the muddy Welsh countryside; relying on spot lamps, pace notes and a balance between bravery and stupidity to make it through the trees in one piece. Your heart tells you “If in Doubt, Flat Out”, but your head tells you to “care over jump maybe”. And that is your eureka moment. DiRT4 isn’t about knowing what is around the corner like it is the back of your hand, it is about trusting your skill that you can make it around the corner.
The rallying in DiRT4 is like no other game on the market. Gone are the days of repeating a stage ten times over just to nail the apex and know where to cut, every time you sit on the start line and have Nicky Grist count you down you are doing so for the first time. And it has been a long time since the co-driver has played such a pivotal part in the game, the words he utters in gospel and you choose to ignore him at your own risk. And if you don’t believe me, wait until you suffer intercom problems and you find yourself tip toeing over each crest unsure of what is ahead.
The service area is also much more detailed then previous games. You are once again allowed full control over tuning the suspension, alignment and differential settings of your car and can test them out on a short Shakedown stage. It isn’t an essential part of the game as you can use a suggested setup, but if you want to get your hands greasy fine tuning your gear ratio you can. But don’t let that be off-putting to prospective buyers, anyone is capable of playing this game. There are two handling models in the form of simulation or gamer; Gamer is suitable as a pick up and play whereas playing in Simulation mode takes a bit more concentration as the cars are much more raw –
but rewarding – to drive quickly.
Deeper within each game mode, there is an entire field of options and assists that means no matter what your skill level you are able to enjoy yourself and test your speed. You can choose to race solely in cockpit cam, or to have ABS and driving aids – or any combination of them all. What is greater still is that at any point in the game you can decide to up or lower the difficulty or move to the other handling model. This means that you can the game progressively harder as you get quicker.
Another clever addition to help ease the learning curve is the DiRT Academy which acts as a non-restrictive lesson plan to help you build up speed. Lessons include throttle control and braking and you can attempt them as many or as few times as you like to hone your skills and then transfer them to the stage or track.
If you are after a different taste of racing, DiRT4 is also home to the officially licenced FIA World Rallycross series. This discipline has been given an overhaul since previous DiRT games; you now have Rallycross Supercars, S1600 and RX2 classes and real-life tracks with the Joker. You cannot tire of Rallycross in this game, you may know the track but when you have a grid of 600HP beasts lined up alongside you every lap has a spice of uncertainty. Rallycross has often been overlooked or half-baked when it comes to getting a mention in racing games but DiRT4 does justice to the sport and you know that it isn’t a content filler or just there for the sake of it, but that Codemasters wanted it to be an accurate and exciting category of the game.
Trailblazer or Hillclimb events didn’t make the cut but the game is far from lost without it. Landrush does reappear and is the weakest suite in the games armoury. The trucks are great fun to drive and the tracks are challenging but the uncertainly of excitement you find in Rallycross is replaced by being uncertain if you are going to be spun out on the first corner or the second. If you have the patience to tune your off-road machine to make it suit your style of driving and learn the physics of it, it can be enjoyable but it just takes time.
The Ken Block Gymkhana is also gone from the series, which reaffirms the image of being the most mature DiRT game of the series. However Codemasters did manage to sneak skills tests into the Joyride section of the game. You have the option of smashing blocks or doing a sprint time attack which can be fun as a form of comic relief from the seriousness of Career mode. If it isn’t up your street you are under no obligation to do them as they are completely separate from the competitive aspect of the game.
There is more to the game than just being fastest across the line; you also assume the role of team manager, where you look after the contracts of your engineers, service crew and sponsors. In theory it sounds like unnecessary micro management of the game, but in essence you will spend hours customising the team paint scheme and getting the right sponsors on the right part of the car. There is a serious sense of achievement after working on something so trivial; but you must remember it is your brand, your very own Combilift Rally Team.
As a whole the game has depth that will have you coming back for more even after you have completed the Career but it is largely shifted to rallying – the bread and butter of the game. The “Your Stage” tool uses a length and complexity slider to randomly generate and stitch together a stage for you to use. And these stages only appear once which puts extra onus on you to heed the calls of the co-driver. This was something that was always missing from rallying games, where you would spend a week playing it and then have seen all there is to see, but with DiRT4 the saying of seeing a thousand corners once rings true. The system isn’t perfect; you will see how certain
combinations of corners often seem to follow each other, but it is still much more random and
difficult than any other stage rally game.
As well as making a game with strong content, it is also very polished and beautiful. There are certain points where you can’t help yourself but gaze in amazement. One such moment was in Wales during sunset, where the last of the days light was breaking through the trees in the wooded area and the balance of light and shade made it both impossible to ignore and to see through clearly.
DiRT4 won’t draw you in under a false pretence that you would be able to put it up to Stephen Wright or Alastair Fisher in real life if only you had an R5 Fiesta at your disposal, but when you spend the guts of ten minutes racing a virtual R5 through the twists of Spanish hairpins and end the stage mentally and physically wrecked from your efforts you get a sense of what they go through. But bar doing a Facebook Live at the end of every stage, there isn’t much more you can do to get a realistic rally experience from your living room.
DiRT4 is out now, and available on PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One.