Played on Windows.
Also Available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
It’s time to hit the road once again, take our cars out and see who’s the fastest. Rather than hit a track, this time we’re going to prove ourselves on dirt roads. That’s right, it’s Dirt 4, by Codemasters and it’s time to see how this game measure up.
I’ve personally played every Dirt game since the original Colin McRae: Dirt, and even played both Dirt Rally and Dirt Showdown. So this game is right up my alley, and I was thrilled to see the improvements and what the brand new edition of the series will bring.
Graphically, the game looks amazing in motion. The focus is on the cars and track, and both look good. The cars definitely shine and in fact, there is a decent amount of destructibility to the cars. Pieces can be removed, the entire front of the car can be damaged, and quite often the player will end the race with more than a few bumps and bruises to the pristine automobile.
The tracks themselves look ok, mostly the road that’s under you looks like a road, but this is partially done to a few tricks and partially due to a lack of effort. Each track is generated, and we’ll talk more about that as time goes on, but the generated tracks are not very visually interesting. There’s a track you race on, some crowd, maybe a few cars, or even a broken down car, but no visual markers.
Each course feels similar in that the pieces of the course have been conquered by the player previously, but at the same time, it’s a different order. It’s a shame because it makes all the tracks feel similar in the wrong ways. Players don’t feel a unique experience with any track because graphically they’re all the same pieces.
The game can look pretty good in motion, but some of these images will lack due to a being snapshots.
In addition, if the player flies off the track anywhere, they’ll quickly realize everything outside of the main track doesn’t have the best looks. The people are fine for what they are supposed to be, but the undergrowth and everything that whizzes by is awfully weak when looked at up close. It’s a clever trick, but one that anyone paying attention to will quickly see through.
The two pieces that really impress me in this game though was the water effect for when a driver is in heavy rain or splashing through a puddle, or a strange fog that I only remember seeing once in the Career mode. The fog made it hard to see and is effective at that even if it’s only a simple effect. The rain in the game will add a new layer of complexity to the player’s vision creating a new challenge, though the fog is a nightmare, and almost impossible to drive through. If it appeared more often, I would even consider dinging the game another half a point. That’s a major penalty, but it really goes to how debilitating I found the fog.
There’s really not a major story for Dirt 4. I can talk a little more about the Career mode but there are minor pieces of progress to build towards. There’s a facility mode that helps develop pieces of your experience, what you want to focus on, or what bonuses you want.
The game has a really clever system for the co-driver as well. The game starts with Jen Horsey, who’s fantastic at calling out turns, however, there are seven other codrivers, each speaks a different language, Japanese, Spanish, Polish, Italian, German, French, and English. Jen, unfortunately, is the only woman in the game, and if a player wants a male English speaker, he can switch to it, the other six languages only offers male co-drivers. It is an interesting system though, rather than having an option in the options menu.
On the other hand, Dirt 4 has two other events besides rally, and those have just seven male characters, no females. It’s confusing as to why the game has only one female character that’s the initial character you play with, but that’s the choice made here.
The Career mode tries to have a little more story. You’re able to create a character, and there’s not much choice here, but you can choose a look and more, though it’s not really referenced in-game.
The water splash is effective in blocking the player’s view.
At the same time, Career tries to show your progression but does so in a laughable manner. It starts with a “local competition” in Michigan. After one race it says you’re now a national challenger. And gives you two events, both focus on Michigan. Apparently Michigan is the only place in the United States to have rallying.
Though that’s actually what the game is saying. Dirt 4 has five locations for rally racing in Dirt 4. They are Fitroy in Australia, Tarragona in Spain, Varmland in Sweden, Michigan in the United States of America, and Powys in Wales. With Sweden being a snow level that comes late in the game, that means you’ll see the other four often. Sometimes you’ll do five stages in Michigan and turn around do another five stages in Michigan because there are no other choices.
Similarly a second mode, Land Rush has 3 courses, Baja in Mexico, California in the USA, and Nevada in the USA, with 4 variants for each course meaning you’ll see a total of 12 total variants of 3 tracks that are played extremely often in that mode.
Finally, Rallycross has five courses at Lydden Hill in England, Lohéac Bretagne in France, Hell in Norway(hehe), Montalegre in Portugal, and Holjes in Sweden with 14 variants though each course has a mix of between 2 to 4 for each.
Now astute readers will notice I didn’t mention the number of variations of the five locations for the Rally mode. That’s because there are between none and infinite available depending on how you want to count it. Dirt 4 has a system to randomly generate Rally stages, which is a good idea, but the stages that it produces are nondescript as mentioned when talking about the graphics.
Each stage generated is created by stitching multiple pieces together, and it’s well done, but lackluster in practice. There is nothing that stands out when looking at the stage, or as you drive it. Similarly, you’ll quickly tire of the stages much faster when you realize you’ve seen so many of the pieces over and over.
Dirt 4’s Career mode stages appear to use the same system and just a curated selection of them. You’ll always get the same stage in Career mode, but there’s nothing that is very different between the first Career mode events and the last other than difficulty and length of the stages. They all look and blend together, and produces a weaker experience for it.
Repetition is the name of the game for almost all driving game, and that’s understandable. Most games have 40 or so tracks and reuse them so many times that players have learned them if they didn’t enter the game already knowing those courses.
Getting some air is the name of the game.
Dirt 4 has a different issue. Rather than having premade tracks that are well known, they create randomized courses that have very little character to them and aren’t very interesting after a few races. By the end of my fifth hour, I just was driving a simple line through whichever stage I was in, and really didn’t pay that much attention to the course itself,
There is the possibility that this was intentionally done. Most racing games have that problem where players memorize courses, and Dirt 4 is focused on the rally which should be using unique tracks every time. I can understand the randomized courses in that respect, though true rally drivers also learn their courses far more than what Dirt 4 offers without allowing the player to restart the course multiple times.
Still at the end of the day, I have a real problem with the courses in Dirt 4, the Rally courses don’t stand out that much, the Land Rush and Rallycross get so overused, I could live without ever racing those 8 courses and still have dreams of them because they’ve been so baked into my mind.
Eventually, through all this, you’ll realize you’re just playing through the content for content’s sake, and while that’s true of almost every racing game, it’s a little more disappointing here and happens quicker.
I’m sure some people won’t be aware of all this in the three events I’ve mentioned, so to quickly go over them, Rally Racing (in Dirt 4) is about driving down dirt roads and listening to your co-driver calling out turns as you follow a course. In real life, drivers will spend days memorizing a course, whereas the player here is thrown at a course and just has to drive it with little practice.
Dirt 4 also features Land Rush which is a set of races in a stadium where the player has to complete multiple laps of the same course for each race, usually only requiring four to eight laps per race, and two races per event. This is driven by big trucks that tend to crash into each other quite often, but it’s also the weakest mode in Dirt 4.
After that Dirt 4 has Rallycross, which is a road course that players will race through six heats each of four to six laps. It is incredibly repetitious but most of the races only take about five minutes. Players will also be required to drive through a small extension of the course at least one time on any of those laps, this is the joker lap. It’s an odd mode to describe but an enjoyable mode to race.
Land Rush and Rally Cross are the only two events where you’ll be able to see other drivers.
Finally, Dirt 4 has Historic Rally, which is just the same as Rally but just older versions of cars.
The four modes are not a lot of content and while the game does work well, it’s hard to not notice that Dirt 4 could have a few more modes. Even past games in the numbers series had more modes, even if fans had different opinions. While Dirt 4 has an additional bonus mode called “Joyride” it’s not part of the main Career progression, and the lack of anything as outlandish as gymkhana sounds good at first, I found myself wanting to see something new after a couple of hours of playing all these modes.
The core of any rally game will be the engine. The handling of the car, and the slip of the tires as it skids around the corner and the way the car and track merge to make a single experience.
Unfortunately, I believe that Dirt 4’s engine feels off. Dirt Rally before it created an incredibly difficult game, with no difficulty settings, but a rather solid rally experience. It felt right in certain ways that increased the challenge.
Dirt 4 seems to discard the Dirt Rally engine for a new experience is understandable. I can see a number of good intentions and choices made but Dirt 4’s rally engine just seems inferior in a number of important ways.
The biggest change for Dirt 4 is that option to play either as “Gamer” or “Simulation” which is a poor name, but a great way to choose how realistic the game should treat that. Interesting though, almost as if someone recently talked about that.
The exact differences have been kept secret, but it feels that the gamer setting doesn’t carry the momentum quite as hard and produces a much easier experience. This on its own isn’t a bad change, and in fact, is quite welcome to produce a game that anyone can enjoy. In addition, in Land Rrush and Rallycross, you’ll spin more often in simulation due to the muddy tracks you’ll be racing on, so having an option for an easier way to control the cars is welcome.
The issue is that simulation though doesn’t feel right. The car doesn’t feel like it’s gripping the track, as much as flying above it with a rocket. There is the feeling of losing momentum and flying around corners but it’s not what I expected.
Whether it’s as simple as a lack of a slipping tire, or something else, I’m not sold on the Dirt 4 physics engine and I think it lacks something in its “Secret sauce” that holds me back from appreciating it. Almost all the surface types feel very similar, with only the pavement in the Rallycross mode feeling different.
I also want to say the lack of stages that switch between tarmac and dirt roads may be due to the fact the physics engine can’t handle that properly. I say this because when I go off the road, the driving doesn’t noticeably change, and it produces a poor experience. It means that if one tire goes off the road, or even the entire car does, the player can just quickly drive on with almost no penalty.
There’s a few one-off moments like this helicopter and the fog, but those only appear once over many, many levels.
Compare this to how most modern race games handle it, and you’ll notice that cars quickly slow down on the grass versus tarmac, or even dirt. It’s both a safety feature of the actual courses and the fact that a road is meant to be driven on, whereas the grass is not. Dirt doesn’t do this, and similarly, once the player reaches the snow, the plowed road reacts the same as the snow drifts the player can fly up on.
The engine just doesn’t seem to do anything with the road material type and it creates an experience that feels weaker for the player.
I do know some rally racer claim that Dirt 4’s engine “feels right”, I can bow to their experience, but it doesn’t change the fact that going off the road in Dirt 4 doesn’t change the feeling of driving and the entire experience doesn’t feel right to the player.
It’s possible that something was broken when creating the new gamer setting for the car, or the physics engine couldn’t properly simulate both the gamer or simulation style, but I find it hard to really buy either of those explanations or accept them. I just find the driving engine here to be weaker than expected.
There are two more major problems in my opinion for Dirt 4. The first is that the difficulty of the opponent varies quite a bit. I played on the medium settings for a couple of hours and didn’t always find a ton of challenge, though switching to Land Rush did bring more challenge, I started to notice problems. On many Rally courses and some Rallycross courses, opponents would have a huge variance in difficulty.
In a single sequence of four races, I actually saw massive swings. I won the first race, and the second race had rain, I ended up winning by over 30 seconds, with almost no reason for it. The third race ended and I was 18 seconds slower than the leader and I couldn’t find a way to even shave a few seconds off. I didn’t run perfect, but I retried that one race for almost an hour and didn’t make up any time. And then on the last race, I won again with a little challenge. In all four races, I was playing at the same difficulty, there were no obvious ways to cheat, but sometimes the AI times are just weak, and sometimes they’re extremely challenging.
Later on in Rallycross, I ended up lapping a few of the competitors in the race. I was never able to do this again, but I’m unsure of what happened that I was so fast, I checked the replay and there were no crashes, so either I raced extremely well, or something else happened with the AI. Again this was a one-time occurrence, so I don’t know why.
The other big issue I have with Dirt 4 is also the opposite problem. Winning doesn’t matter.
Winning an event or a race earns the player money and that will affect the game, and allow players to buy more cars, but there are established team offers for almost every race, so there’s not really a purpose to winning other than personal pride. In fact, it’s theoretically possible the player could win the entire game, getting every license without winning a single race. That would be an odd thing to do, but not something that makes the game better for it.
Rather than solve the difficulty, I wonder if the team allowed progression to happen no matter what. It leads me to a thought but I’ll leave that for the conclusion. I think there might be a strange reason for this.
There are other odd issues that come up with Dirt 4. At the end of the race, the player has to drive to the race marshall, but there’s not a reason. After the player crosses the finish line, they have to either drive to the marshal, pass him, or drive off the road or into the crowd. I’m unsure exactly why. This is a piece of realism but it doesn’t really fit with a number of other ways the game breaks realism.
Speaking of realism, the game allows cars to drive around on their rims with almost no damage. If your car loses a tire, you can finish a race reasonably well on your rim. There are repair fees, but nothing too much and players can drive reasonably fast without one of their tires.
Car damage can result in body work and losing wheels. Though they won’t stop you from completing a course in most cases.
In addition, the game will sometimes just have damage done to the car that the co-driver will discover. Sometimes she’ll call out the brakes are broken, or making sounds. Though over the course of a 4-minute drive this sound just mysteriously goes away. Similarly, sometimes the audio feed from the co-driver breaks, but again, it’s mysteriously fixed.
This ties into the facilities and staff the player has assigned to the team and some random factors I believe, but it doesn’t produce a good experience and makes the player feel like random luck is more in charge of his experience than solid play as this damage is done whether the player drives clean or not.
Sometimes the RallyCross will not award the joker lap. It happened multiple times to me on Höljes, Sweden’s Rallycross level. Dirt 4 would claim an “invalid entrance” was made while the player drives the lap correctly. I’m pretty sure this is done because of a bad bounding box, but it’s another case where the game doesn’t seem to operate correctly, and it sounds like players have had it occur on two other courses as well.
In addition, Höljes in the game is really hard to follow and one of the courses I would often be unable to identify which roads the game intended me to follow, or what markings I should be looking for.
There’s also an upgrade system in the game but it is just a system to upgrade each of part four levels up and call it day. It’s not a compelling piece of the game. The tuning on the game is good, but the upgrades feel like a minor system, and only produce another place for players to feel that they have sunk their in-game currency in.
That’s a lot of issues with Dirt 4, but I did spend over 20 hours with the game and had fun for a decent amount of my time. But after getting frustrated with all the systems of the game, I tried something different. I turned off the HUD, disabled everything but the timer and the speedometer and just raced the course, like how a real rally race would work.
I found something, the heart of Dirt. It’s there, it’s still beating, there is just a ton of crap all around it that doesn’t work. Running the course as fast as possible and turning in good times are still fun in Dirt 4. Once I stopped comparing myself to other racers and looking at wins, but just focused on driving, Dirt 4 was good. Later, I even stopped worrying about simulation physics and turned on the gamer option and just enjoyed myself.
Dirt 4 has issues, but it’s still a great time when players take a step back to really consider it.
I realize something with Dirt 4, something’s off with this game and I want to say Dirt 4 feels rushed. Three different events, with a medal attack mode hidden in the joyride mode, makes me wonder. I would have loved to see Hillclimb but even that’s not here.
The fact that all the courses in the game feel like they were randomly generated and decided upon, feels like less effort than this series has seen in the past. The fact that the physics engine tries to support two different styles but really only gets one (the gamer) feeling right also makes me wonder.
The big piece to me is that players earn licenses whether they win or lose. The difficulty of the game definitely has issues, but the solution isn’t to abandon it at all. At least that’s now how I think that discussion should go.
Now I don’t have any firm proof, but I feel like Dirt 4 was rushed or at least something fell apart near the end of production. This is a game that just never comes together and produces a final product. As I said, you can find the heart of Dirt 4, but it’s just everything around it just isn’t as good as racing against the clock, which is a shame because at its heart that’s what Rally is. What happened?
Dirt 4 ultimately feels incomplete, I’m not sure exactly what happened to this game but it has a lot of problems, and because of that, it slips quite a bit, but it still knows what it wants to be, and that shines through even when it loses sight of it.
I give Dirt 4 a
I enjoyed Dirt 4 for what it is, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I went back and played a couple of races in Project Cars 2 after this. They’re different games, but personally, Dirt 4 didn’t scratch the rally itch that I hoped it would.
While I enjoyed this game, I would not recommend paying full price for it.
Final thoughts: A troubled game, that tries a few too many things and ends up weaker for it. Though the Rally racing at its heart is great once you strip away the Career and judge yourself based on the AI.
Stats: 28.5 hours. 27/48 achievements earned.