Wot I Think: Dirt 4

This is my first time contributing to RPS, so I’m going to start out with a little (pertinent) information: I’ve driven a lot of cars. As an automotive journalist I’ve sat behind the wheels of everything from the aggressively unremarkable Dodge Dart to brilliant machines like the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series, the Subaru WRX STi, the Audi R8 V10, a rally-prepped Ford Fiesta, and even a pair of formula cars. I’m pretty quick on tarmac.

Dirt 4 isn’t about tarmac, so I knew it would be a learning experience. In fact, I drove that Fiesta I mentioned a moment ago about 100 meters onto a rally stage, with Tim O’Neil and Ken Block on board, before I valiantly steered it into a ditch. Once I got it out of the ditch and en route again I made it down another half of the stage before reacquainting myself with the ditch. I swore to do better next time, but next time never came.

“Close enough”, I thought when I got this assignment, so I set up my sim gear and got to racing.

Dirt 4 [official site], like many modern games, figures out where you stand by throwing you right into the game to start. I was offered the choice of “Game” or “Simulation”, I picked “Simulation”, and it plopped me in the virtual seat of a WRX STi at the beginning of a stage. At least Ken Block wasn’t watching this time.

Hello ditch. After completing that stage and meeting its ditches, a choice of difficulties is presented, and the lowest one was generously titled “Racer.” As tempting as all the cool modes and features I’d read about were, I opted for the prudent and still enticing rally school option, which takes place at a virtual reconstruction of the Dirtfish Rally School in Washington.

The information was presented clearly, even if I did find it a bit lacking in detail. While I understand that, for the most part, video game tutorials need to cater to a rather small attention span and just get the player into the action, I wish there had at least been an option for a bit more detail on some of the lessons. I diligently spent a long time working on and conquering these lessons, and I felt ready to both tackle the game and ready to take another shot at avoiding ditches in that Fiesta.

The stock setup on most of the cars is fairly neutral, which can lead to some understeer on heavy braking, and has garnered a lot of complaints online. A few minutes in the tuning menu can make your cars a lot more tail happy, but it’s still not quite as crazy as Dirt Rally was. I think this is a good thing. Dirt Rally rewarded oversteer more than the real world does. Yes, when you watch the supercuts of Sebastien Loeb driving like an automotive deity, it’s all of big drifts and huge rooster tails, but this is the exception to the rule. Rally deals in improvisation, so a big part of success is mitigating accidental oversteer without loosing too much speed. This isn’t to say that oversteer can’t be faster in rally – it often is, especially on tighter corners – but much of the time you want to minimize your slip angle so that all of your power is working to send you forwards. Dirt 4’s physics are more accurate, even if they are less cinematic and even if Codemasters did go just a little too far in adding grip.

That said, a car biased towards oversteer is significantly faster than one biased towards understeer, so just mess with the tuning until it’s set up to match your skill level and driving style.

With that sorted out, it was time to start my career of flinging expensive machines off of cliffs and into trees, given that Rally is the only discipline that’s unlocked to start. Where the career mode really shines is once you’ve gotten enough money to buy your own car and start your own team. Picking your livery is satisfying and courting sponsors and staff is simple enough for it to be a welcome break from driving, not a tedious chore.

Where it’s best, however, is R&D. If you don’t invest enough in R&D your car will break down faster and be more likely to give you trouble over the course of a stage and require more time and money spent on repairs. Poor planning, cheap car parts, and a crash or two can drain your bank account and earn you a penalty for exceeding the 30 minute repair allotment. Pushing to the top tier of a discipline without the funding to do so can leave you driving slower than you’d like so you don’t wear down your weakest parts too fast.

Once you’ve completed a few Rally events, the other disciplines start to open up. Land Rush, stadium races in super trucks, is straightforward, quick, and aggressive racing which comes as a welcome respite from the constant improv that is a stage rally. Of course, you don’t get to start by tearing it up in a 900 hp truck; you start in a CrossKart, which is basically a roll cage with a 750cc engine (150 hp goes a long way in a 705 lb car) and some wheels sticking out. Think of what a hillbilly formula car would be and you’re on the right track. Even though it was the noob version of LandRush, the CrossKart races were some of my favourites in the game. I might need to play with one of these in the meatspace soon.

Land Rush leads you nicely into Rallycross, which is my favourite event both in the game and IRL. Superficially it’s similar to Land Rush, but the addition of some tarmac sections in the tracks and the joker lap, a more technical extension to the course that you have to complete once in the race, adds a bit more strategy. Taking your joker at the right time can be the difference between a podium finish and being dead last. My only issue is that on all but the highest difficulty setting the AI seems utterly terrified of going flat out, even on arrow-straight stretches of tarmac. The beginner cars seem painfully slow but still offer great racing opportunities, the Group B cars are quick, unstable, and utterly punishing when you make mistakes, and the Supercars are bliss. I haven’t tried them all yet, but the Focus RS RX has been by a wide margin my favourite, especially after I had the gearing and alignment set up how I like it.

After a while doing short races in stadiums, the call of a stage rally will once more overtake you, and then the game’s most impressive and most important feature is sitting there, waiting patiently for you to notice its brilliance: the generated stages.

Previous rally games have been great, but have stopped feeling like rally after playing it a few times. As soon as memorization becomes a factor it’s not really rally anymore. Of course, procedurally generated levels in any game can be mediocre, but these don’t seem any different from the hand-picked stages in career mode. You can choose length, complexity, and number of stages in your event, and then save it to share with friends if you think it’s brilliant. This handily cements Dirt 4 as the best rally game out there.

As it stands, Dirt 4 offers infinite replayability for stage rallies, and some good options in other disciplines. I’m hoping that in the future Codemasters is going to add some more courses for Land Rush and Rallycross (GRC, with its Red Bull addled, Vegas-XTREME antics and massive jumps would be a great addition), but for now I’ll be happily enjoying the bountiful content in the main game. Dirt 4 is right up there in the top tier with iRacing and Project Cars, and it has me loving low traction in a way I haven’t before. I’m itching to give it another go in the meatspace… this time with the ditches as mere scenery.

Note: I reviewed Dirt 4 on an Aorus x7 hooked up to a Fanatec Clubsport wheel base (with the BMW GT wheel), pedals, and sequential shifter. A handbrake would have been wonderful, but mapping the input to the shift paddles worked well enough.

Dirt 4 is out now on Windows via Steam and Humble for £45/$60/€55.

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50 Comments

  1. Catchcart says:

    I have bounced so hard off of every installment I have tried in this series because of the pathetic/non-existant nods to people who don’t already know rally. IIRC Dirt Rally has a few dry and dusty videos under the heading of tutorial and then leave you to pick up on the lingo. I would have liked to hear if the ‘School’ mentioned in the article actually teaches or if it’s just a name.

    • caerphoto says:

      It does teach pretty well, I think – it does a ‘guided tour’ of what it wants you to do, with voiceover explaining what’s going on and why you’d want to, for example, use the handbrake in a turn, then gives you as much time as you want to play around with it and practice. There’s a bunch of different lessons, starting from simple stuff like “how to slow down in a straight line”, up to trickier stuff like driving with a flat tyre.

      You can also just go to the Dirtfish area mentioned in the review and drive around in whatever car you like to get a feel for how they handle, no pressure and no worrying about repairs. Quite a nice way to relax, really.

      • Catchcart says:

        Thanks for answering! And it actually sounds like a huge improvement in newb friendliness. I had kinda gotten the impression that Codemasters had nothing but scorn for us…

        • caerphoto says:

          Don’t forget there’s also the “Gamer” handling mode – it makes the game drive in a much more arcadey way, so the cars are a lot grippier, don’t spin out as much, have supernaturally good brakes, etc. It’s not realistic, but if you just want to drive fast offroad who cares.

    • Stirling Matheson says:

      It explains a variety of techniques one by one, with short tracks meant to help you figure them out, and you can keep re-watching the lesson, which also shows you the throttle, brake, and steering inputs alongside the gearing in the middle of the screen.

    • GameCat says:

      Dirt Rally is brutal for newcomers, but once the stockholm syndrome kicks in, you can’t stop playing it.

      • maxcolby says:

        it isn’t near as brutal as RBR(Richard Burns Rally).

        I’ve always played Rally games since the original Playstation so the mechanics of all are natural enough. Add in plenty of hours on RBR, Dirt rally was pretty easy.

        • SBLux says:

          Did you have all the assists turned off? I played both RBR and Dirt Rally that way and actually found Dirt the more difficult of the two. That could be partly down to the cars I chose to drive mind you.

  2. ColonelFlanders says:

    After that enormous douchebag who called RPS something to the effect of pathetic for not having racing enthusiasts to review car games in that other Dirt 4 article, it must have been absolutely splendid to know you had this smackdown in the pipes.

    • apa says:

      Excellent that RPS has a pro looking at driving games!

      • Ghostwise says:

        Having a cars journalist review the vroom-vroom games does sound reasonable.

        • Slazia says:

          Really? A car reviewer? Does RPS care nothing for the genre of procedurally generated rally games by Codemasters released in June 2017? I hope they have someone better to review procedurally generated rally games by Codemasters released in June 2017 in the future rather than this disappointment.

          • apa says:

            I hope I have read your intention wrong, but it’s a bit like Tim Stone doing the strategy game reviews instead of Pip. (No offence to Pip, I like her stuff too!)

    • Stirling Matheson says:

      I haven’t heard of the douchebag; I’m just happy to be here.

  3. haradaya says:

    I absolutely loved DiRT Rally, with over 230 hours clocked. But within 5 hours of DiRT 4 it already feels like the better rally game.
    While DiRT Rally felt good while racing the stage, the rally experience was always lacking. They’ve fixed the stern onlookers and replaced them with people actually excited to be there. They’ve added dynamic stage conditions such as pockets of fog and AI broken down at the side of the road. Or maybe your co-driver noticed engine misfiring earlier and lets you know you might experience it during the stage.
    You get to see your car in the service area with all the dents and dirt from the last run, you can have it washed to keep sponsors happy.

    I don’t imagine I’ll be retuning to DiRT Rally anytime soon. If I had to say anything negative about it it’d be the graphics, which has somehow degraded from DiRT Rally. There’s a lot of low-quality textures in the cockpits, and the overall picture seems grainy to me even with 8x MSAA.

    • FelisCatus says:

      It is grainy, not to mention 8xMSAA imposes a hefty hit even on a high spec rig, I’ve ended up forcing AA through the Nvid control panel for a better result, but even then I get the sense the graphics have a slightly “unfinished” feel to them, for an example, examine the foliage layouts in Michigan, there’s not a great deal of blending and colour transition from track to off track, it’s very stark where one stops and the other begins (Kinda how Witcher 3 looked in the very first release before the patches rolled in).

  4. UncleLou says:

    That was a great read, thanks.

    One question/comment:

    “Of course, procedurally generated levels in any game can be mediocre, but these don’t seem any different from the hand-picked stages in career mode”

    I’ve seen complaints that the hand-picked courses have been made with the same tool or elements like the auto-generated ones and do *not* feel like the real courses in Dirt Rally, could this be the reason the auto-generated don’t feel worse, because the ones in career as just as “bad” (if they are bad)?

    • caerphoto says:

      They don’t seem different because they’re all generated using the stage generator – the “hand-picked” bit just means Codemasters generated some stages that had the right level of difficulty for that stage in the career (i.e. short, easy ones to start with, longer and harder as you progress) and saved them (same as you can do with a stage you’ve created that you particularly like).

      They don’t feel like DR’s real-life–based stages. They look nice, but they start to feel a bit samey after a while, especially Michigan. Still, I find on the whole I prefer them as you can’t just memorise them like you can in DR. Sure, you’ll eventually learn all the different corner ’tiles’ the game has, but ideally the way they’re strung together keeps things interesting.

      Really the main problem is there’s not enough of each type of corner. Again, picking on Michigan, but it seems like there’s only one type “left 3”; the game needs a lot more than this imo.

  5. Faldrath says:

    Ooh, nice to see a racing game properly reviewed!

    Can you give us a little more info about the controllers/wheels you used, please? Dirt Rally had atrocious FFB when released, I wonder if they’ve learned the lesson with Dirt4.

    Are you going to review more racing games? I’d love to see proper RPS reviews of games like Raceroom, Automobilista, iRacing, Assetto Corsa, and the like.

    • Stirling Matheson says:

      I added a note to the end/should have had that to begin with.

      I use a Fanatec Clubsport wheel, pedals, and shifter… really wanted a handbrake this week.

      • Faldrath says:

        Aha, thanks! I take it that the fact that you didn’t mention FFB issues means it’s at least acceptable, then.

        • Stirling Matheson says:

          It was pretty good steering feedback. One of these days I’m going to get some subsonic transducers set up so I can feel with my ass too. I want that suspension feedback in my ass.

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    distantlurker says:

    Horace claims another victim MWUHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAAA!!!

    *cough* I mean, welcome!

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    Drib says:

    Welcome to writing for RPS, good to see another contributor!

    This review was interesting as well, I’m always glad to see sim/actual enthusiasts looking at these games. I’m not nearly well versed enough in cars to play on these ‘realistic’ modes, and besides that I trend toward using keyboard input, with all its absurd digital input glory.

    But random gen tracks are a neat addition, or at least one I hadn’t heard of before. So, wishlist it goes I guess.

  8. King_Rocket says:

    Great review, gran turismo also had generated rally stages so it’s great to see codies embrace it.

  9. 4004 says:

    “Dirt 4 is right up there in the top tier with iRacing and Project Cars”
    did you just put iRacing and PC in the same line?
    kinda sceptical about this. If you wanted a sim, there is Dirt Rally

    • Stirling Matheson says:

      iRacing is–by far–the better simulation, but when I don’t feel like having to schedule a race against humans I find myself drawn to Project Cars.

    • USER47 says:

      I still can’t understand all the Project Cars hate. Granted, I haven’t bought it at launch, I only picked it up recently, but as far as I am able to judge, it’s a good sim/game/whatever, with tons of content, decent depth, great smooth graphics and fun career.

      Yet in all the discussions about it, there are always people claiming how incredibly arcade or buggy it is, usually also adding that Assetto Corsa is 289% more awesome. Am I missing something obvious about Project Cars?

      • Premium User Badge

        edna says:

        I agree with you. Project Cars is a lovely thing. Lets you just get on with racing, without making you grind to get cars, and if it is considered arcadey then thank heaven for that. I still find it plenty hard enough to stay on the track throughout a long race whilst maintaining a decent pace. Dread to think how inaccessible a proper sim would be! Without a force feedback wheel I think you rely on at least a little arcadeyness.

      • ModestlyInsane says:

        It depends what you’re looking for.
        Unfortunately PC was hyped as the be-all, end-all motor-racing sim, which it certainly wasn’t.
        Very good-looking game, but not much of a sim tbh.
        Then there was the whole sordid sequence with critics being silenced, and Ian Bells somewhat erratic behaviour.
        And of course it was buggy as hell for a good long while after release.
        So if you got PC on release-day or close to it, odds are you have some baggage to go with it at this point.

        The FFB in PC is awful until you tinker with about 20 different things in it, all very unhelpfully named.
        And if you’re a fan of single-player mode, tough.
        The AI in pCars is absolutely abysmal.

        But again, it depends on what you’re looking for. If you want something that looks good, can be easily played with a controller, and is something where you can just jump in and go, I’m sure it’s fine.
        Those of us with dedicated sim-rigs, and far too much money invested in hardware, we felt a little screwed.

  10. Foosnark says:

    Damn it RPS, I had convinced myself to wait for a Steam Sale before picking up Dirt 4. You’re testing my resolve with these positive reviews.

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    Grizzly says:

    Good to see you on RPS!

    What I adore about Dirt 4 are the little touches: Some wet patches remaining on an otherwise dry stage after you’ve had a rainy one, that you can’t just go out and buy historic cars but have to buy them second hand (NFS5: Porsche 2000 style) and that not taking care of your car properly (or taking risks whilst repairing) finally means that you too will suffer some of those clutch slippages and other failures that did happen to your competitors in Dirt Rally, but never to you. There’s clearly a lot of heart put into this game, yet it doesn’t make any of the mistakes Dirt 3 or Dirt Rally made.

    • FelisCatus says:

      I can get where the mistakes in Dirt 3 are, but I’m a bit curious as to where the mistakes in Dirt Rally exist, because aside from perhaps over familiarisation with the tracks, there’s not a -lot- wrong with it.

      Expand if you may?

      • Premium User Badge

        Grizzly says:

        Dirt Rally has some really uneven progression on top of the repetiveness that comes from repeating the same championship over and over again. It almost forces you into the hardest cars straight away. The car upgrade system is simply based upon time spend in the car, so getting the car to actually drive on full performance is a simple grind rather then you becoming better at driving the car.

        This creates several problems: If you found a championship too easy, you can’t up the difficulty until you’ve finished the championship which can be boring. If you found a championship too hard or too long the only thing you can do is just to abandon it entirely. Championships on master difficulty let you drive each stretch of road in the game 4 times, two times from each direction but with different start and end points.

        The custom championships do fix a few of these problems but if you want to unlock the higher difficulties you still have to advance to that level in the normal championship mode. As a game, it doesn’t really respect your time in the way Dirt 4 does. Dirt 4 has a much more even progression curve and allows you to set your difficulty straight away.

  12. dracvs says:

    There is only one worry in my mind:

    Please tell me there is no Gymkhana anywhere to be seen. I hate gymkhana. With a passion. I think it is the most absurd and stupid thing to be put in a video game. One thing is watching Ken Block doing amazing stunts in a controlled course than to try and control a 1 ton behemoth doing donuts on a parking lot.

    For the rest, I am really looking forward this game thanks to the review.

    • Premium User Badge

      Grizzly says:

      There is Joyride, which is an arcade time trail thing in the vein of Gatesmasher and the DC Challenges. However, it is not *at all* part of the career mode and rests safely at the bottom of the “Events” menu, where you can freely ignore it.

      It’s actually quite a lot of fun! It helps that there’s nobody shouting in your ear how you should definitely do this awesome thing and upload it to youtube.

    • Chorltonwheelie says:

      This is what I would like to know too.
      I really liked Dirt 3 but the F’in tedious Gymkhana sections stopped me progressing.

      • Stirling Matheson says:

        There’s not a lick of Ghymkhana to be seen. You can set up some similar challenges in Free Play, but it has nothing to do with Career mode.

  13. USER47 says:

    I find the stage generator very underwhelming. One problem is, it’s tile based, so you can meet the identical several hundred metres segment even three times during one stage and very soon you will be recognizing copy paste segments all over the place. Another problem is, there isn’t that many of these types of tiles, so for it to be copy-pastable it can’t be too memorable. In the end all stages in one location mostly look the same, despite slight variations in elevation and order of corners.

    The generator also isn’t good with tighter corners and hairpins and such, so most of the corners are 4 or 5 type, all very similar. Dirt Rally stages may have a problem of memorization after a while, but they are far more varied, with more beautiful scenery and more memorable places. Dirt 4 can have thousands of stages that are technically different, but when they all look and play the same and consist of repetitive sets of corners, I am not very optimistic the randomness itself will help replayability.

  14. vahnn says:

    Finally, a review that doesn’t say DIRT RALLY HAS BETTER PHYSICS, DIRT 4 IS AN ARCADE GAME. There are various factors which account for the supposed increased grip of Dirt 4: D4 now has realistic simulation of weight and aerodynamics, and the default tunings on the cars are very neutral, almost how your own car at home is set up. You’ll have to tune it a bit you get that swinging back end everybody loves so much. Furthermore, the career mode starts you out in a wimpy little FWD car that’s very slow with a low top speed and a tuning that makes it hard to kick out the back end. It’s very much not fun and a poor introduction to the game, and I’ll bet it will result in a lot of quick refunds.

    The game boasts a great tutorial mode that teaches you a few dozen important aspects of rally racing, including maneuvers, differences in handling between AWD, FWD, RWD, as well as the various surface types and weather conditions. Most begin with a demonstration with a voiced explanation of what to do, then it resets and you’re free to practice it as much as you want until you’re ready for the next lesson. A few of them are short informational videos.

    30 hours and I’m still having a blast, but there are definitely a few issues. As mentioned everywhere, the procedural stages reuse a lot of the same segments and you’ll start seeing a lot of the same stuff. Even entire seconds cab be the same as a different track in the same location.

    There are also some issues with the pace notes. The general speed of delivery seems a little sluggish you begin with, and then your co-driver seems to announce a lot of unnecessary stuff. Crests, dips, and don’t-cuts are way too abundant, and most times not needed. This becomes a problem as you start getting into faster cars and fly around the stage at higher speeds. They will get bogged down announcing three insignificant dips and two inconsequential dips and tell you not to cut on a right 6, by the time the tell you there’s an acute left, you already should have been braking 2 seconds ago and now you’re screwed. It’s not super frequent, and seeing the calls earlier helps a little, but it needs fixing.

    And lastly, the graphics seem you be a step down from Dirt Rally–but only in a few instances. Primarily the sunny daytime stages, the lighting and textures are very bland and washed out. The shadows and lighting could use a lot of work. But in most places, I feel the graphics are on par, if not better in Dirt 4.

    But the game is a blast for me so far, even just playing with an xbone controller on Simulation with all assists and hud off, on Tough (hardest until you unlock Fearless) with cockpit helmet pov cam. And I’m really liking the daily competitive pro mode, where you’re matched with up to 7 other drivers, you each pick a car and race the same stages at the same time until the event is completed, and you’re awarded points which progress you through 5 divisions, each consisting of 7 tiers. Increasing your standing will match you with tougher players. Lots of fun!

    • caerphoto says:

      Primarily the sunny daytime stages, the lighting and textures are very bland and washed out. The shadows and lighting could use a lot of work.

      It’s odd to read that, because I feel the opposite – the shadows and lighting in D4 are really nice, and it’s DR that looks grey and washed out.

  15. Pizzzahut says:

    A very nice Arcade game. It’s definitely no simulation.

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    edna says:

    Nice review, thanks. Think I’ll carry on with DR until D4 drops in price a bit though. Still got plenty to enjoy there after my 50 odd hours.

    One thing I would add: everybody should try these games with the Steam Controller (or maybe PS4) using gyro controls. It really adds to your ability to corner smoothly and bang out little flicks of the wheel. Another world from using a stick or, god forbid, a keyboard. And I say that after playing all such things with a keyboard for many, many years.

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    edna says:

    Hmmm, whilst on this page I got a fake Firefox update page come up (“run this .js script to install critical update”). Dodgy advert somewhere? HitmanPro and Bitdefender don’t pick up anything on my system.

  18. CriticalMammal says:

    Oh wow, I heard a lot of noise around release from the people complaining about the car grip and was about to write Dirt 4 off as a less serious Dirt Rally. I think this review sold me on giving it a chance. Sounds like there are a lot of nice little improvements to what Dirt Rally was doing.

  19. alt24z says:

    “Dirt 4 is right up there in the top tier with iRacing and Project Cars, and it has me loving low traction in a way I haven’t before.”

    Cheers for the laugh mate. I had to read this one a few times over.

  20. piphil says:

    “As soon as memorization becomes a factor it’s not really rally anymore.”

    Not sure this is quite true: rally drivers have several reconnaissance runs at low speed through stages, in order to tweak their pace notes. Stages will often be run multiple times during a rally, and are often reused over multiple years. Drivers with previous experience of a rally course have a big advantage over rookies.

    Sure, that’s not quite the same as driving the same stage over and over and over, but memory is a big factor – and misremembering a big issue, as it leads rapidly to cock-up junction.

    I personally would rather drive stages recreated from real-life, and I hope that Dirt Rally 2 goes for that approach. This is a complete pain to do obviously, so I can see why the developers took this approach. I’m glad to hear that the physics are improving, and they’ve made their way into as title that has more “arcade” options. I’ll probably pick up Dirt 4 at some point, but I’ll be hoping Dirt Rally 2 turns up sooner rather than later.

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