Rally, one of the purest forms of motorsport. Man and machine against the road, a co-drivers hastily barked instructions all that keeps them from slipping off the road and out of the action. Codemasters reached near perfection with distilling the core rallying experience into a video game with DiRT Rally a few years ago. Now, they’re back with DiRT 4, a racing game with rally at its heart, but a different beast to the hardcore icon from 2015.
This is certainly a game designed to appeal to a wider audience; from the off you are presented with two handling models, arcade or simulation. I’ve been playing on simulation with most of the assists turned off, and I’m still playing with my ancient Xbox 360 pad. But despite playing on simulation, everything feels a bit more forgiving than in DiRT Rally. The cars are much easier to handle, in Rally I was generally limited to racing in my Mini as anything else was beyond my ability to keep under control, whereas here I am happy enough to jump into an Imprezza from across several generations, and put in a respectable time (for me). The crazy Group B machines are more than a handful, but I’ve felt more comfortable switching between classes. The damage model has been expanded, extra headlights will fall off in night stages rendering you blind, engines can overheat which can be combatted by stopping to refill the coolant, with a time penalty to come along with it. Despite the range of damage you can experience being extended, I’ve suffered far less punctures, and haven’t had a car entirely written off yet. Even going off course isn’t as instantly punishing, you are granted an extended grace period to find your way back on track, even if it would be quicker to opt for the Reset Vehicle option in the pause menu.
All these changes to make the rallying experience aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is certainly something worth considering if you are expecting a game to play like Rally. Don’t go expecting a full rally simulator, this is much more of a rally game.
One of the most intriguing design decisions has been Codemasters choice not to include any real world, pure rally stages. Yes, there are real world courses for Rallycross such as Hell and Lydden Hill, but if you are expecting a Sweet Lamb or Col du Turini, you will be left disappointed. The career mode is full of stages crafted by Codemasters, but none have the same iconic feel as the real-world locations do. There are some enjoyable stages to experience as you work through the career, but as they are all based on static elements that make up the Freeride random stages, you will come across some stages that feel eerily similar to the previous stage, even if the name doesn’t indicate they are linked together. Coming across several hairpins of the same design, with the same ancillary features, on the same stage can be a bit disappointing. The idea of infinite stages using the random generator is fun, and at times it will throw up some curveballs, especially when it comes to elevation changes. If you can accept that some features of a stage might repeat, you’ll be ok.
However, it is disappointing that there are only five locations for rally stages. America, Australia and Wales make up the gravel rallies, while Spain offers tarmac and Sweden snow. I find myself missing the exhilarating speed and jumps of Finland, the panzerplatte of Germany and of course the ice of Monte Carlo. Yes, the random stages, and stages in career mode are fun, but with the limited range of locations to race in, you don’t even get the chance to experience the wildly different characteristics that the rallies have in different countries. For me, this is what is letting the game down, and prevents me from awarding it a Headshot, as I really love the team management elements of the game.
Team management elements in racers can be difficult, some are far too limited to excite, while others put you in the shoes of the driver and expect you to interact with other characters. Racing games aren’t normally great at animating human beings, so these moments can be very jarring. Fortunately, DiRT 4 takes a nice approach by letting you play around with a host of features, none of which seem to be too detrimental to your career if you largely ignore them. You can easily earn enough money from the community events – Daily, Weekly and Monthly Stages – that relying on hitting targets set by sponsors to earn bonus money to help you afford the next car you want isn’t exactly required.
But it helps to get invested in the team management. Hire better engineers, and they will be able to accurately estimate how long repairs will take. Essential when taking too long in the service park will see you hit with horrendous time penalties. Sign a better PR agent on board, and the quality of sponsorship deals with rise, they might expect better performances, but the financial rewards will be worth it. You can even play around with the buildings in your team. Expand your garage to own more cars, or improve the R&D section to gain access to better quality and performing parts. The R&D section is essential if you are buying cars from the second-hand market. They will often come with parts of various quality levels. It’s not much good having a car with an A class engine, if the brakes are an E and will break as soon as you try to stop at the end of a stage. Playing around with these elements won’t be for everyone, but I find them a welcome chance to tinker and develop a sense of identity and ownership with my cars.
Rallying isn’t the only game mode on offer, there is also Land Rush and Rallycross. The former is a take on the apparently popular American version of putting a bunch of beasty buggies and trucks on a dirt track, and letting them have at it. It isn’t my cup of tea, and I’m really struggling to understand how the buggies are meant to handle. Rallycross is based on the official FIA Championship, full of all the rules you would expect with regards to joker laps and false starts – and yes, I’ve seen the computer commit a false start. The handling in Rallycross is quite twitchy, certainly not as bad as in Rally, but it still isn’t my favourite mode.
You can easily ignore these modes, there is plenty to get on with in the main Rally Career, and ultimately you can take part in the Historic Rally mode where you can dig out the old classics and throw them around some fancy new stages.
I’m enjoying myself with DiRT 4, and I am so pleased that Codemasters didn’t go down the route of DiRT Showdown and throw away all the good work they had achieved with Rally. I just wish they had combined the real-world thrills of historic rally stages with the new random stage generator. With that, and a simulation handling mode which felt like it had a bit more bite to it, this would be an easy Headshot. As it is, I’m going with On Target.
The Verdict – On Target
Platforms Available – PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Platform Reviewed – PC
For more on our scoring policy, please head here. Review based on Steam media account.