Codemasters' DiRT games have always been a favorite to go to when it comes to hard-hitting rally racing – especially since we don't have a classic like Sega Rally to turn to. But it's a superb alternative that has since found its own footing, with a number of events that span the globe and the kind of technical presentation that make it a triumph amongst both the racing elite and newcomers alike.
After last year's DiRT Rally – which is difficult yet absolutely excellent when it comes to down-and-dirty races – I was curious to see where the series would go next. And now we know, as DiRT 4 has made its way to store shelves and digital marketplaces. It hasn't necessarily reinvented the wheel, as it follows the similar formula that other games in the series have. But if it ain't broke, why fix it? And it's very, very not-broke. (That statement makes sense, I think…)
Anyway, one option you'll notice right up front is the ability to choose between Gamer and Simulation. This will make a world of difference depending on what kind of racing experience you're looking for, and I hope that it will be included in future Codemasters games to come. With this, you can either choose to go all-in with a simulation and work your way through a number of challenges mastering the road, or you can take the more casual route and just have fun with your ride, turning on a few modifiers and coasting your way towards some first place victories.
The choice is yours, and both are actually quite rewarding. Sure, Gamer has a few demerits with the aids turned on, and Simulation can really get on your nerves as drivers try to get around you for a first place win. However, Simulation provides you ample rewards as you eventually learn to become a better driver, while Gamer really provides an experience that's as close to Sega Rally as you can get for this generation. It's all about the speed and having fun passing the competition by.
It's Your World, Drive In It
What's more, there's no dividing fence between the two sides. If you really want to learn what Simulation is all about and become a better driver, you can. The DiRT Academy that's included in DiRT 4 is stupendous, packed with a number of features that help you learn everything from weight shifting to understanding what goes into drifting around a sharp turn. It can take a great deal of practice, so be prepared to invest some time. Once you do, though, you'll understand the real fundamentals of what DiRT is all about – even if that means learning what's what with the game's three disciplines. But, if you prefer, you can just race in Gamer and have a good time that way, too.
DiRT 4 comes with an abundance of cars and tracks to choose from, and you can modify parts and even team members, as you bring on others to help with repairs and guidance. Sure, your co-pilot can be a bit annoying with her barrage of commands ("100! Tighten!") but it's all on the technical side anyway, and she'll lend you a hand, especially on those tracks when the road's too foggy to see within inches ahead of you. You can also create tracks from scratch, if you prefer, with the press of a few buttons in the Your Stage mode. It can be challenging, since you're basically racing on new terrain, but it's brilliant when it comes to generating something new for yourself.
The game's Career Mode is robust, filled with a number of events that will challenge even the greatest of racing fans. It's chock full of beautiful tracks where you can stock up on cash, unlock new rides and see how you fare against others. (More on that in a second.) It's probably where you'll spend the most time outside of DiRT Academy, unless you live and breathe online competition.prevnext
Plenty To See And Drive
There are other modes within the game as well. Rallycross returns, with up to eight racers in online action as they take on one another. A word of warning – the competition can be a bit brutal here, so maybe it would help to get some practice first before you go insisting that you'll dominate the track. Landrush also makes a return, but it's mainly just a matter of running through the same old races. Fans will love it, though.
Codemasters has also made sure to keep things fresh with a series of community challenges, which can be easily seen once you start the game up. These are a bit on the tough side, but well taking part in, as you can see how easily you rank against others in the racing world. That's another great element to this game – you can compete without really competing, and see how you stack up against some of the most die-hard DiRT racers on the planet. Damn, these guys are good.
Gameplay-wise, DiRT has never played better – and keep in mind that's with the system that I adapted to with DiRT Rally last year. DiRT 4 doesn't miss any spring in its step when it comes to learning the handling of your vehicle, and the Gamer setting really makes it easy to just jump in, go over bumps and enjoy the ride. Too few racing games have an option that's for everyone, and that's what makes this Codemasters release so wonderful – it's adaptable, no matter what your skill level may be.prevnext
One Sweet Ride
DiRT 4's looks are also quite dazzling. While it doesn't quite run at 60 frames per second, it still shows the resemblance of a great racing game. The tracks and weather effects are elegantly balanced, and the car models look terrific, too, especially as you start to bump into things and kick mud up onto the frame of your car. There are minor hitches in the performance, particularly when the fog comes in, but nothing that will get in the way of your joyride.
I wish more was done with the audio, though. As I said, your co-pilot's commands are a necessity, but I wish there was an option to kick the music more into high gear. The tunes selected for DiRT 4 aren't bad, but they're limited to menu screens. Maybe next time, Codemasters will give us the option to crank the radio up. (At the very least, you can always turn on Spotify and race to your own tunes, even if that means drowning out your command buddy.)
These are small potatoes, though. The fact of the matter is, DiRT 4 is probably the most balanced game in the ongoing series – and the most accomplished. It has a ton of options for rookies and die-hards alike; it looks and sounds like a dream ride; and its gameplay is chock full of options. The activities will keep you busy as well, and Your Stage feels like it could go on forever with its track creation. We're not sure where DiRT goes from here, but at least we've got plenty of driving to enjoy in the meantime.
RATING: Four and a half stars out of five.
Disclaimer: A review code was provided by the publisher.prev