Game Review: Dirt 4 is an Engagingly Grimy Rally Racer

Photo courtesy of Codemasters The UK based developers Codemasters have been making rally games for close to 20 years now with the Colin McRae Rally series.  Dirt 4 is the twelfth game in this series, and the sixth to carry the “Dirt” name.  Dirt 4 manages to bridge the gap between simulation and casual gameplay while sacrificing little in the terms of realism and immersion. The culmination of the Dirt series, Dirt 4 has been building on its predecessors and is chock full of features, cars, and modes. In addition to the rallying of its namesake there is also “Dirt Academy,” rallycross, buggy racing, stadium truck racing, trial modes, and a career mode, among others.  There are over 50 cars taken from many time periods and classes – so there is a lot to try. Unfortunately though, cars are event specific. You can’t take supercars onto a kart track, for instance. Photo courtesy of Codemasters Racing and off road is reproduced well - larger cars feel like they have weight, while smaller carts or buggies feel light and quick. Based on your difficulty setting you’ll often find yourself fighting to keep your vehicle on the track. Photo courtesy of Codemasters Dirt 4 offers a wide variety of options to get the amount of realism that you want. Immediately upon starting the game you are asked if you prefer an arcade or simulation style.  In the options menu you have the ability to tweak each of the settings to your desired difficulty. You are also able to change the AI drivers to be more aggressive – the default AI difficulty seems too tame, with opponents almost stopping to allow you to pass if you take a turn to wide in one of the racetrack modes. The harder difficulties can be brutal with AI drivers actively blocking you or trying to edge you off of the track.  If you are a casual player, a beginner, or prefer that arcade feel you have that option as well. Photo courtesy of Codemasters Dirt caters to players new to rally racing and those already familiar. You are introduced to Dirt Academy at the start of the game. Not just a tutorial, the Dirt Academy does a good job of easing you into the handling of rally cars while teaching newbies and even those familiar with rally racing tricks and tips to be successful.  Players who are familiar with racing games, or are gearheads in general, will appreciate the depth Dirt 4 allows. Before a race you can tune and tweak any number of parts on your car to get the performance you want, and between stages you can manage your crew’s time to make the important repairs – or you can let the game handle that for you. Photo courtesy of Codemasters The career mode is easily the highlight of Dirt 4.  You can start as a local racer and end up competing at an international level with your own team. Each win brings money  that can be spent on personnel, facilities, cars, etc. The better you do, the more money you make. That money also goes towards repairs, so there is an incentive to keep your car from any major damage. During longer events, damage carries over between stages and you don’t always have a chance to make repairs – if you’re not careful you may have to limp through parts of an event with a barely functional vehicle.  The career mode offers an extra level of immersion and there is great satisfaction to be had when you advance from regional, to national, and eventually international competition. You can rally across randomly generated levels in Australia, Spain,  the United States and Sweden using a system Codemasters has dubbed “your stage.” These randomly generated courses are very well done and increase the replayability of Dirt 4 significantly. Players can also generate their own tracks, and though you can only choose the length and complexity, this can create some surprising variety and tough courses.  Rallycross tracks are licensed and will take you to Great Britain, Sweden, Portugal and France.  The dusty buggy, truck and kart racing in the “landrush” modes are in California, Nevada and Mexico. Photo courtesy of Codemasters A major drawback from its previous series’ entry is the lack of VR support. Dirt Rally had PSVR and Oculus support, but Dirt 4 doesn’t have it yet – with no signs of a VR mode forthcoming.  The exclusion of VR is really a shame, but the developers haven’t completely ruled it out yet. A helpful academy mode and casual handling options make Dirt 4 the perfect entry into the Dirt rally racing series. Realistic handling, great graphics and weather effects make this an immersive sim that enthusiasts can appreciate.  A robust career mode and an endless “your stage” race track creator makes this a title anyone would keep coming back to. Dirt 4 is a solid racing game and worth your time. Pick it up now on Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian. He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.