DiRT 4 (PlayStation 4) Review

By Tomas Barry 07.06.2017

Review for DiRT 4 on PlayStation 4

The most recent project from Codemasters, DiRT Rally, was a huge critical success. Its unwavering commitment to authentic and realistic driving made it one of the best modern rally games out there, perhaps even placing higher than Richard Burns Rally, a former golden-standard for rally sims from 2006. Elsewhere though, the off-road side of the DiRT franchise, which has spanned a decade now, hasn't always been so ambitiously devoted to realism, but has always provided a great sense of variety, intensity and playfulness. Ultimately, then, while it was inevitable that DiRT Rally would heavily influence the next project, what was much harder to anticipate was how much the traditions of the off-road DiRT series would effect this new concoction too. Something new and surprisingly innovative is born.

One major reason that sim-driving enthusiasts tend to be dismissive of driving experiences that are realistic in appearance yet claim to offer an arcade experience, is that this all too often translates to a lack of detail. When the physics engine isn't precise enough to feel properly convincing, or when the track details aren't particularly representative of the real deal, the line 'it's an arcade emphasis' tends to operate like a cop-out, almost the equivalent acknowledgement 'could be better.' There's certainly no problem with that, since the fun and the overall balance are the most important aspect, but to certain types of driving fans with interests in simulation, this is a bit like taping up a giant crack in the floor and claiming all is well.

As a result, sim-fans don't often take things derived from the arcade-side of the driving spectrum particularly seriously. Each to their own. However, the off-road side to the DiRT franchise has always had room for aspects of arcade influence. As illustrated by its brand of short-burst intense and chaotic action, the impressive range of driving disciplines that the series traditionally offers, as well as the numerous more arcade-centric components introduced via the off-road series, such as DiRT 3's free-roam arenas and joyride multiplayer events. However, DiRT 4, both in terms of its design and its accessibility, stands out as one the most successful collisions of both arcade and sim ethos ever. Not just because it keeps itself accessible to both types of players, but because each side of the spectrum seems to help the other side of the experience!

Screenshot for DiRT 4 on PlayStation 4

The best example of this is the rather genius 'Your Stage' mode, something that Codemasters has in fact been working on in secret for some years, which randomly generates courses from five rally locations (Australia, Wales, Sweden, Spain, The United States), offering players just length and complexity modifiers to manipulate in order to keep things simple. This seems to be intrinsically an arcade-derived idea, yet it inherently benefits the sim drivers too. That's because these random runs force drivers to properly listen to their co-driver prompts, which is a hugely crucial part of rallying. Even the most serious DiRT Rally enthusiasts would have to admit that their times could be improved if they truly trusted in the word of their co-driver at the crucial moment, but fear of crashing often means the seconds are gained in re-trying the course - which is less simulative in itself, ironically.

Yet, in so many ways, DiRT 4 doesn't feel like an off-shoot of DiRT Rally, it feels like the direct-successor and then some. While it spreads itself out more thinly, its range is impressive offering rally, landrush, rallycross (a similar set of experiences, with the FIA Championship licence returning from DiRT Rally) and a historic rally discipline. These are very distinct types of rallying, which certainly provide a colour and contrast from a gameplay point of view. Each category represents a very particular set of challenges, which will suit some types of drivers far more than others. This often means novice players will have to relearn some rallying concepts along the way, especially when it comes to aspects such as weight-transfer and braking methodology. This seems like a good thing, since it promotes driver education and purposeful consideration on a technical level. Where there is contrast, there is challenge. There's also much less recycling here than the DiRT Rally career.

Screenshot for DiRT 4 on PlayStation 4

Moreover, it's the experimentation, that this iteration has far more licence to embrace, which in combination with the DiRT Rally-derived physics engine, identifies it as a step-up for this side of the brand. It's capable of feeling very sophisticated, but this simulative sense of detail also accentuates the more frenetic sense of joy and fun that previous titles were known for. Signalling it comes from a broken home, DiRT 4 offers both a simulation physics mode, as well as a 'gamer' mode, presumably the more forgiving of the two. This reviewer, as already noted, has no time for such nonsense. However, the room to breathe certainly seems to enable DiRT 4 to be confident in presenting an authentic experience no matter what the driver's ability level. All types of players will feel well-accommodated here, especially since the freedom to modify difficulty and driving assists seems very well implemented.

There are various difficulty pre-sets, which play with assist elements on a gradient scale, and represent a good starting point for getting to grips with things. However, everything is entirely customizable as one would expect, and can even be shifted on the fly during a race and within career and championship events. This effectively means drivers can feel their way in to each new discipline they're itching to try, whilst still progressing and earning credits. Players can remove the training wheels gradually as they see fit, which is important.

Screenshot for DiRT 4 on PlayStation 4

Take Landrush racing, the vehicles are unpredictable to say the least so even though the personal preference is for sim settings, the only choice here was to hike the stability and traction control up- then during a race, modify it down to a feasible compromise in-between. It was pleasantly surprising to find that this was possible, all the while keeping the unique ingredients of each racing discipline in tact from a technical standpoint. This is a credit to the finely developed physics engine, as well as the talented bunch at Codemasters themselves. Part of the joy of DiRT 4 is that one can go from being a master of one type to a novice in another.

Another impressive element to DiRT 4 is the career mode. This allows drivers to build their own team and crew, as well as customize and buy new and second-hand motors, buy facilities for the team and for players to test-drive within. The sense of progress is very powerful here, since there are actually a lot of doors that open up as the credits start to roll in. Managing the team can prove slightly distracting (who wants to keep an eye on staff contracts when there's racing to be done?) but various assists exist to keep that in the background should the player wish. Many driving games that nail the technical side of the picture, the physics engine, the handling, the audio and visuals, end up falling a little short in the way of single-player career content. However, this is far from the case here, with an extensive range of courses, experience, and no corner cutting to be seen. Even the tutorials seem particularly thoughtful and well-designed. This could also be partly due to the enlisted input of rally drivers Kris Meeke and Petter Solberg, whose influence seems to have translated very well. Elsewhere, the game also benefits massively from co-drivers Jen Horsey and Nicky Grist, whose delivery is top-notch. Codemasters have even provided detailed options to manipulate the exact timing of their instructions too, which seems like going above and beyond in terms of versatility!


 
Generally, then, there's a fantastic sense of polish. Another such strong-suit here is the highly detailed audio, which is an important aspect of all driving games, but here just seems to shine extraordinarily. Listening to the engine is very easy, since it's such a convincing representation which can be read and interpreted realistically. The minute details players will hear as they transfer from gravel onto tarmac, or as the tyres and the mud swirl on a particularly hot-corner exit, are simply first-class. The playlist, it must also be said, is a much more tasteful and stylish, which does provide presentation points.

In terms of graphics, this seems on par with DiRT Rally, though perhaps a bit more saturated. The greater range of environments means DiRT 4 is a real visual treat, also adding to the immersion immeasurably. There were a few frames dropped during landrush races, when lots of cars were on screen, but other than that, performance has held up very well so far, with the PS4 providing a very smooth frame, which may not be sixty frames per second, but is certainly adequate.

Screenshot for DiRT 4 on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

DiRT 4 really does succeed in extrapolating new things from two different sides of the driving spectrum. The 'Your Stage' procedural track generator really does feel like a revelation, which will ensure that drivers remain on their toes even after clocking countless hours already. As stated, it's remarkable what this can do for drivers if they're willing to adapt and learn, and certainly helps to cultivate technical understanding and development. A more in-depth follow-up review on the PC version will be coming soon, but there's no doubt about it: DiRT 4 is one of the most exciting driving releases this year. A much-celebrated brand comes back with a bang.

Developer

Codemasters

Publisher

Codemasters

Genre

Driving

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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