DiRT 4 Review: The Generator Generation

DiRT 4Product Reviews 26 June 20, 2017 by

DiRT 4 always faced a challenging road to release. After the immensely successful DiRT Rally, Codemasters now had two sets of fan to please: the thrill-loving mainline series fans and those enthralled by the hardcore spin-off. The good news then, is that DiRT 4 manages to impress on both sides generally but that doesn’t mean it’s without its blemishes.

Editor’s Note: We never heard back from Codemasters about a review copy of DiRT 4. However, Brendan was so curious about the game he put his own money down for it. Therefore this review is based off extended playtime on the PlayStation 4 consumer version of DiRT 4. The title was tested with a DualShock 4 and Thrustmaster T150. Simulation physics were used throughout, without driving aids. 

Content and Value For Money

DiRT 4’s car list taps into various generations and disciplines of rally car to offer a nice selection of motorsport machines. You won’t find any official modern WRC cars in the roster but what is here provides a wide range of entertaining drives.

The bulk of the car list is dedicated to regular rallying with representation from historics right through to R5 machines. Rallying is the main focus in DiRT 4 and it shows. There’s a small but mighty selection of Rally X and Land Rush vehicles in the roster to provide some variety. You’ll find more dedicated off-road cars in these categories.

Cars are nothing without tracks to drive them on and DiRT 4 aims to deliver a unique experience in that regard. Rather than host a selection of developer-created routes, DiRT 4 uses the experimental Your Stage feature.

Your Stage is a track generator that Codemasters claims will offer millions of possibilities to the player. There are five main venues for tracks: the USA, Australia, Spain, Wales and Sweden. The choice of countries in DiRT 4 is massively varied for a relatively small number. The game covers many corners of the world, offering different environmental experiences in comparison to each other. Does it work though?

Well, yes, it does. The tool creates tracks in a matter of seconds, providing the player with a new challenge when required. It feels like a revolution for the genre: whilst track-based racers would never have the audacity to base a whole game around the feature, it feels at home here. Rally is just suited to this type of game mechanic.

The feature itself has issues. Set up a 10-mile stage with complex parameters and there’s a good chance you’ll see repeating segments. On top of that, stages look pretty basic, lacking the charm found in tailor-made rally trials. Michigan suffers the most in this regard. It breaks the immersion a little bit but what you get back from the game is more than worth it.

Codemasters bolsters the traditional rally experience with five FIA World Rallycross circuits and three locales in Land Rush. The former offers world class track pedigree and the latter an excuse to let loose in the buggies and trucks in the class.

DiRT 4 offers players the chance to compete in four main modes: Career, Competitive, Joyride and DiRT Academy.

Career is the main focus here, giving players the chance to start their own rally team and take on a series of disciplines. Creating your team is as simple as choosing a name and creating a color scheme from the preset patterns available. Players can manage sponsors and staff, giving a level of control over team finances in both spending and earnings.

Staff impact areas like in-stage repair times and the accuracy of spotters in rallycross. Sponsors set tasks to achieve in an event, granting you more funds as a reward for meeting the objectives. It’s your fairly standard approach to team management but it works — we’re glad Codemasters didn’t trivialize this aspect of the title.

The structure of Career is very straightforward: there are no real decisions to be made. Simply choose an event and move onto the next one when you complete it. It’s a design that gets you into the action as soon as possible but highlights a key problem in the title’s showcase mode: it just doesn’t feel substantial.

Land Rush offers a stadium-based racing aside to the main focus of the game. There’s nothing here that really makes it stand out and you may find yourself forgetting it even exists. Track designs are fairly standard for this type of event and feel like a means to an end. Land Rush is definitely a step back compared to similar disciplines in previous DiRT games.

Rallycross works very well and is an improvement on the DiRT Rally experience of the discipline. As one of the more spectator-friendly motorsports out there, we welcome the addition of more circuits from the FIA World Rallycross championship.

Competitive hosts the daily, weekly and monthly events that impressed in DiRT Rally. Joyride allows players to take part in a rally event, using Your Stage to generate track selections. DiRT Academy is where you’ll learn the ropes: there’s no set objectives here. Choose an area you want to improve in and practice to your heart’s content. This setup is refreshing and works better than an objective-based approach for teaching new players how to rally.

Graphics 

Upon starting the game, you’ll immediately see the design influence from DiRT Rally. Menus are straightforward, getting you on the track as soon as possible even from first start-up. Set up the in-game driver, desired physics engine (Arcade or Simulation) and the game sets you on your way.

Everything is presented in a way that’s easily understandable, which makes for pleasant navigation for new and returning players alike. DiRT 4 also incorporates a small “What’s This?” feature which can be activated at any time in any menu, giving the player a description of what they’re looking at. It’s a minor feature but a good addition for those unfamiliar with racing terms.

DiRT 4’s visual fidelity may be a bit of a sticking point for some. Whilst it looks decent, there are definitely better looking racers on the market. Mother Nature often aids the title, as driving in the intense fog or rain will provide a better experience all things considered. However, it’s in intense sunlight the game starts to feel dated.

Environments don’t quite have the depth or complexity found in other rally titles. This is seen through the many forests you’ll take on across DiRT 4‘s environments. If these forests looked good, the lack of variety wouldn’t be magnified as much but they don’t really impress, looking almost last-generation at times.

As a counter point, car models look very good and with damage build-up through stages, DiRT 4 is the best in its class at showing this off.

It’s worth noting that the title runs at a smooth 60 FPS during traditional rally, which has probably impacted DiRT 4’s fidelity overall. The title’s reliance on Your Stage and its preset building blocks used to create tracks stand out too. Most venues and the vistas they host are simply not worth taking notice of due to bland visuals, which is a sharp contrast to the venues of DiRT Rally. There’s just a sense of atmosphere that is absent in the latest entry in the series.

Land Rush doesn’t compare well from a technical standpoint. Framerate juddering is common, making it a less-than-ideal experience for those on the original PS4. Oddly enough, Rallycross works fine. It’s specifically Land Rush that seems to cause the problems.

Sound Design

The sound design in DiRT 4 is one of its strong points. Cars roar appropriately and you can hear the differences between cars clearly. If you’ve played DiRT Rally you’ll be familiar with what to expect here.

Vehicle noises also react realistically through the environment. The car engine notes bounce off nearby walls and echo suitably in more empty areas. A good example of this is found within the town areas of the Spain Your Stage tracks. As cars dart in and out of alleyways, engine noises and growls are amplified. Its a neat touch that ultimately adds to the experience.

However, the soundtrack is a bit of a miss throughout the game. Tunes are poppy and heavily featured in the menus but the try-hard vibe can sometimes grate. Combine this with a small track list and you might be reaching for Spotify sooner than you’d expect.

Driving Physics and Handling 

After the sheer fun of DiRT Rally, we were happy to see the differentiation between Gamer and Simulation physics in DiRT 4. Despite the series alternating between arcade and sim-like controls, we weren’t sure the spin-off’s handling engine would make it across unscathed to the mainline series and it seems there have been some slight alterations.

Initially, nothing seems to have changed; skills transferred over from DiRT Rally very well. We were able to control the more powerful vehicles with no extreme effort and take on some complex tracks in little time. However, as the playtime racked up, changes became apparent.

Gravel rallying has an abnormally high level of grip compared to what you would expect. It feels pretty jarring and when playing in Gamer settings, the title starts to feel more like SEGA Rally than DiRT. Some of the 4WD cars felt like they were using racing slicks as even putting the car into a slide would be tough, feeling incredibly unnatural.

This seems to be a trend, as vehicles over time would start to act uncharacteristically in specific circumstances. Our Subaru Impreza would be plugging along nicely, only to suddenly spin out, with no warning coming from the car’s behavior.

Land Rush fares worse. The rallying offshoot offers a twitchy driving experience hindered by overly aggressive AI. Sadly, the mode is usually an exercise in frustration over anything else.

It’s worth stressing that these are nitpicks in the general scheme of the game though. Most of the time, driving is great even with the excessive grip on certain surfaces. We had a lot of fun throwing historic rally cars around the game’s many custom-generated trials.

Online Features

DiRT 4‘s online selection offers a range of casual and competitive modes. Pro Tour aims to offer a more intense experience for those who’ve conquered career, using a ranking system to determine player ability. Like DiRT Rally before it, the real star of the show is the unique selection of rally events updated on a frequent basis.

We’re avid fans of how the DiRT series integrates leaderboards through daily, weekly and monthly events. We’re suckers for booting up the game and trying our hand against whatever wicked setup Codemasters has prepared. Your Stage adds a dynamic element no other title can offer. We can literally play a new challenge every day against thousands of other people who will be no more experienced than us at the challenge. These leaderboards are also cross-platform, so you can test your mettle across PS4, Xbox One and PC.

The Verdict

All things considered, DiRT 4 feels more familiar in its lineage to Rally than the previous mainline titles. Most of the series staples are here, with a handful of disciplines and some team management elements mixed in.

The main issue is that everything outside the core rallying experience feels less substantial than it should, almost like an afterthought. On the dirt, we had fun pushing cars to their limit on an infinite amount of tracks. Land Rush? Less so.

Your Stage impresses on its debut but there’s certainly room for improvement. That thought — one hopeful for refinement — is one we had about numerous aspects of the game.

DiRT 4’s career doesn’t do much to stand out from the crowd and the car list still feels a bit lacking compared to others in the genre. This was a fair oversight for DiRT Rally since it was a spin-off. DiRT 4 is the successor to D3 but feels neutered in key areas, with a lackluster presentation factoring into this too. Codemasters should take what it has and build on it for the next entry — maybe politely ask the WRC to share its license again, too!

Still, DiRT 4 is mostly good when it’s just you and the route, and really, that’s what matters most. Is it the best rally game on modern consoles right now? For sheer longevity and content, yes. However, that comes at a slight hit on the simulation physics.

If you need us, we’ll be busy generating a colossal, foggy Group B challenge in Wales.

DiRT 4
DiRT 4 gets you more bang for your buck and is a good return to form for the mainline franchise.

Learn more about how our rating system works.

Content and Value For Money
DiRT 4 offers a well-rounded package of rally content. It improves upon the previous title’s offerings in nearly every way, save for the unfortunate loss of Pikes Peak.

Graphics
Generally speaking, DiRT 4 looks nice enough and the technical performance is mostly good. Just don’t expect the best visuals in the genre.

Sound Design
Vehicles sound gritty and atmospheric effects add to the realism of the title.

Driving Physics and Handling
Whilst not reaching the heights of DiRT Rally’s physics engine, D4 is still a very competent racer at heart.

Online Features
Daily, Weekly and Monthly events shine with cross-platform leaderboards only improving the experience.

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