Codemasters is back with the next installment in the Dirt series. Will Dirt 4 be as popular among the developers’ fans as Dirt Rally? It’s not easy to create a racing game nowadays. Years ago it was all about the driving system, the physics, and the graphics. But now, with more players in the genre and more developers than ever, studios need to innovate to bring back old gamers and introduce their IP to the next generation. Dirt 4 is trying to do all this, not forgetting about the core experience and in the end, it delivers.
A Career to Steer
The developers have noticed the recent trend in motorsport games, where a career, or even a story, became a staple of the genre. The career mode in Dirt 4 is a mixed experience, however. Luckily it does not try to introduce any characters or story arcs as often as other games do, resulting in irritating protagonists and events you just can’t force yourself to care about. The mode gives you some limited options to run your own team, recruit staff such as engineers and PR specialists, as well as take sponsorship deals. Just don’t expect a fully fledged rally team manager title, it’s just not there. All in all, Career is a good way to get your grip on the game’s systems and features, spending a huge amount of time on such minuscule details as your car’s looks. If you like this sort of tampering and a bit of simple micromanagement, you’ll be happy, but not for long. This is a nice addition, especially when compared to previous installments in the series, but Dirt 4 is all about the rally, make no mistake.
Options, options, options
Those of you who remember Dirt Rally surely recall the frustration the realistic simulator could create for less experienced drivers. Codemasters seem to have noticed this issue as their new title offers two physics modes: gamer and simulation. The former is best for new-comers or fans of much simpler driving games. With assists turned on Dirt 4 is still a pretty difficult game to master, but driving through forests and hills at top speed is supposed to be hard. And when you feel that you are ready for a truly realistic experience, the simulation mode will surely test your skills and nerves. Dirt 4 is best at this setting when you have to make conscious choices regarding the braking system, the weight – all the small factors that affect the handling of your car. And then you have to translate this into the actual driving. The Rally events are surely the main course of the game, but trying your luck in the Land Rush mode with buggies, trucks, and crosskarts can provide some much-needed fun and excitement when you get a bit frustrated. It’s a nice, but not the most important, addition to the series.
The Your Stage mode is one of the biggest accomplishments of the game and a truly spectacular new feature. Where other racing games try to introduce as many pre-designed tracks and variations as possible, Dirt 4 is simply giving you a tool that creates something truly unique. Rally games are at their best when you have to react to what you see, to what happens just around the next sharp corner or over the bump, so the moment you know tracks by heart, this type of excitement disappears. In the case of Dirt 4’s stage creator, you can bring back that feeling whenever you want. The tool itself looks very simple on the outside. You can set the length and complexity of the track, then change the time of day and the weather and you are done. Tracks can be generated for all the five basic countries available in the game: Michigan, USA, is best for beginners with its relatively forgiving conditions; sunny Australian gravel gives some great chances for controlled drifting; the rainy Welsh hills and forests will test your handling skills and to finish the country roster up, snowy Sweden and scorching Spain are there for all fans of the extreme. If you like the generated stage, you can save it for later to master the randomly generated twists, turns, and bumps. But you can also generate some more if you still need the thrill of discovering some new way to fall off the road.
There is something fresh in Codemasters attitude to the genre, even though the title doesn’t offer anything entirely novel. Maybe it’s because the company is fighting their racing competition with the things they know how to do, without the need to attract the players with hundreds of cars and modes. The developers are not trying to include everything that has ever appeared in the motorsport in their game, as they know what their aim is: to deliver a rally game that will satisfy both casual fans and hardcore motorsports aficionados through the driving system and a tailored experience that feels surprisingly free. They are going against the recent trends popularized by large publishers, at the same time remembering to add something new, like the buggies, to always keep the players glued to their controllers. And the addition of the track generator prolongs that experience, throwing at you something exciting when you feel that you already know the predesigned stages by heart. If you have a rally itch, Dirt 4 will scratch it with screeching tires and enthusiastic co-drivers, mud, and speed. And this is precisely what Codemasters want.