Dirt 4 captures the lightning-like rush of off-road racing in a bottle, bringing you again and again to a place of heart pounding perfectionism only the best racers achieve. Racing along the gravel paths of deep woods Michigan or the twisting byways of Tarragona, Spain the game both features and demands an attention to detail that is nothing short of impressive. Coming from other racing games, Dirt series newcomers will find a game ready to receive them and push them from Gamer beginnings to Simulation endings with a handful of quirks along the way. This is our DiRT 4 review.
The Dirt series has always been about the thrill of taking the race off road. Dirt 4 doesn’t disappoint. In no time flat, you’re racing along the gravel backroads of rural Michigan and it is thrilling. Even with a six month break from my last racer, it only took a handful of attempts to develop a feel for the racing model. Dirt is about control, not keeping the pedal to the floor with reckless abandon. Once that understanding took hold, the game opened up before me.
Each of the game’s five nations has a distinct, beautiful look with courses and terrains that demand different skills from the player. Racing single-car Rally or multi-car RallyCross on gently twisting gravel is a far different experience than a hairpin turn filled asphalt roadway. When you move into the Landrush game mode, pushing buggies, carts, and trucks across loose sand is a whole different ballgame. The same can be said for Historic Rally, which seats you into classic off-roaders with a whole different set of demands. The diversity on display across the game is just fantastic, and varies even more with each new vehicle’s unique handling, night driving, and weather conditions.
There is also a surprising level of depth for a game as accessible as Dirt 4. You’re given two control paradigms to choose from in Gamer or Simulation modes. Gamer turns most assists on by default, but also lessens the impact of adverse weather conditions, and alters the physics of car handling. Simulation does just what it sounds like. Even though I tend to prefer arcade racers, I found the Gamer option to be a bit too finnicky for me with the cars ultimately feeling less responsive. Simulation, on the other hand, isn’t much more difficult and still allows you to use assists if you choose. More importantly, it’s as if a layer of abstraction has been removed between yourself and the car and cars respond more naturally and consequently feel better.
No matter which paradigm you choose, there is still a huge amount of nuance and choice to outside of the race. Team building is back, allowing you to completely customize your car, accept sponsorships, hire employees, and even build new structures to support your team. Before the race, you can also look at detailed track information and then use that to properly set up your vehicle. Everything from suspension, brakes, and tuning right down to how many spare tires you carry is an option. That’s important, too, as a good hit against a ridge is likely to blow out your tire forcing a mid-race change out.
As you level up, you earn credits that you can spend to buy new vehicles. There are a wide, wide array of vehicles to choose from, each rated on a letter scale for its different subsystems. If you can’t afford the credit counts at a dealership, you can now browse the classifieds and sort through a rotating selection of lower priced vehicles. Unlocking new cars is the most exciting part about leveling up in Dirt 4. Since they all handle differently, getting upgraded and back on the track is an addictive loop.
If the Career Mode’s four event types and dozens upon dozens of events weren’t enough, there are also other game modes to explore. Multiplayer is of course present, but a whole separate Joyride mode allows you to take part in daily, weekly, and monthly competitive challenges. You can pop into the Dirt Academy for some lessons of free riding in any of your vehicles, but that’s a little bland to stay interesting for long. Instead, you can hop into Freeplay mode which allows you to create and share your own courses.
Freeplay mode is a great, if simple, addition. Within Freeplay mode, you’re allowed to select your nation, event type, length, time of day, and weather condition. Actually creating the track is a matter of pressing a randomize button and seeing if you like what comes out. It works and, theoretically, should give you a never ending supply of tracks. The joy of creating something uniquely your own is robbed by the randomization, however, and it feels like more could have been done here.
What it lacks in course creation, Dirt 4 makes up for in AV. Codemasters did a great job of making their tracks look beautiful in motion. Some great lighting effects and texture work, particularly on car exteriors, really helps it to shine. Interiors are a little more rudimentary but still look great. The game’s audio is what is truly impressive, however. I tend to play in third person mode but the sound inside the cab is too good to stay pulled out for long. The sound of terrain under tire, filtered up through the body of the car is some of the best I’ve ever heard. It’s that good.
Dirt 4 is a great rally game. The accessibility it presents to newcomers, quickly transcending into more advanced driving techniques is one of its strongest features, but the thrill of the race on these unpredictable, minimap-less tracks never failed to get my heart pumping. There are some odd quirks with physics – cars have a tendency to pirouette like a ballerina from hitting a ridge the wrong way – and a too limited track creator, but these are nitpicks before all that Dirt 4 does so right. It’s time to get dirty.