It was a long time since the last Dirt game was released, and then two came along almost at once. Dirt 4 is more of a sequel to Dirt 3, from the Xbox 360 days than to the newer Dirt Rally. But now with the added power of the Xbox One, it's much more impressive.
You expect some similarities with the previous Rally title, and you'd be right. Dirt 4 has added variety in its race modes, but if you're expecting a leap forward from Dirt Rally it's time to reign it in a little.
Dirt 4 vs. Dirt Rally
Dirt 4 feels more casual at times than Dirt Rally, with a bigger focus on non-traditional rallying. You have off-road karts, buggies, and trucks, as well as an expanded Rallycross experience and a dedicated classic rally mode. It has traditional rallying in spades, and the only thing Dirt Rally has that Dirt 4 does not is "Hillclimb."
We praised Dirt Rally for its realism, and in Dirt 4 you get some of that, too. You can set the car handling to either realistic or "gamer," with the latter being the option for more casual players who just want to pick it up and go sideways really fast. This also means it's easier to get into than Dirt Rally.
Visually, Dirt 4 is also about the same as Dirt Rally. The cars look great, environments are engaging, and the weather effects can be dramatic. But while it looks good, I was hoping for a little more than something on par with a game released more than 12 months ago.
What's also the same and equally disappointing? Online multiplayer requires a Codemasters Racenet account.
The core of the Dirt 4 experience is the single-player career mode, which follows a mostly linear path. I say mostly because there are points at which you get the freedom to choose the type of race you're going to enter, the series and location, and the car you drive.
Ultimately, it's a ladder to climb, but in this instance the further you go the more licenses you unlock and the more fun things you can drive. It's not exactly a slog, either, with all categories of racing unlocked without much game time required.
Career mode gives you the chance to set up your own team, which is more than just sticking your name on a car. As you would if you were setting up a real rally team, you need a co-driver (legend Nicky Grist is provided for you), and you need a team around you of engineers.
Initially, you're limited to "basic" team members, who are lesser-skilled. As you get better, win more money and grow your team you'll be able to recruit the very best the rally world has to offer, and you'll also be able to upgrade your car. (Upgrades mean a higher level of competition.)
Setting up a team requires getting sponsors and then keeping them happy by meeting certain targets. If you do, they love you. If you don't, you end up with poor relationships.
It's not a necessity to race for your own team all the time, though. Early on, you have the choice to drive for already set up teams in new classes rather than having to buy and maintain your own new vehicle. The same then applies to sponsors and the team with regards to meeting targets and keeping them happy.
Diverse locations and gameplay
There's plenty to see and do. In the rally modes, you've got a variety of surfaces to contend with. In Rallycross, you have both gravel and tarmac at once, and in off-road racing all bets are off. The locations are diverse, and the weather or the night can make them even more challenging.
Each car is different, each location is different, and you'll find a solid rhythm will reward better than outright speed most of the time.
Dirt 4 does a great job of walking you through the driving techniques in the game, but the co-driver's notes are also absolutely vital to getting through stages both quickly and in one piece. Tune your ears to suck in what your co-driver is saying, get in the zone and your hands will follow.
You don't have a co-driver in the other modes, but you do have a man on the radio spotting for you. In off-road races, you'll hear messages telling you how your times are progressing and the position of any cars immediately to the side of you. Likewise in Rallycross, you'll get helpful radio messages to get you through the races in the best fashion.
Choosing the handling that suits your play style, diverse locations, weather and a whole bunch of different cars to play in make for a terrific rally game. And the damage is real and can be devastating. You don't always have access to a service point. So you really don't want to smash into a huge boulder and ruin your run.
Dirt Rally was a terrific game. But the biggest critique here is that Dirt 4 doesn't really go much beyond it. There's more to do, but much of the experience feels too similar. That doesn't make it bad, and it's still a great package for console race fans. But I can't help feeling like I wanted more.
Had Dirt Rally not come to console just over a year ago my ultimate conclusion may have been a little different. Dirt 4 is a terrific game, and if you never played last year's release you'll likely be blown away. I just wish there was some kind of defining feature that made Dirt 4 leap ahead of last year's game.
- Good looking cars and environments.
- Authentic experience with a genuine challenge.
- Lots of variety and different things to race.
- Feels a little too similar to last year's Dirt Rally.
- Online play requires a Racenet account.
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