In fact, DiRT 4 brings back, well, more dirt. It is indeed more grounded (pun intended) in the original concept of rally driving, but throws in some fun peripheral elements along the way.
The tutorial for this game is unique in its freedom: select a technique you wish to practise, and rather than set goals that need to be met before moving onto the next lesson, the game lets you progress at your own rate. Or, if you wish, just hang out in the practice arena and do burnouts and jumps.
The game is endorsed with a FIA World Rallycross Championship moniker, so we better have some Rallycross then.
Landrush events with open-wheel buggies or stadium trucks leaping from one muddy jump to the next are also great ways to spend some laughs with friends online.
So, despite the refinement, DiRT 4 is actually several games in a single package. One is the fun one-off single player and multiplayer times you can have with RallyCross and Landrush events, and the second is the more serious and long-term commitment to a rally career in either a modern day setting or more historical (and scary) way.
You can play rally modes as one off — even randomly generated — stages if you really want to, but that seems a little pointless. Better to go all in on a career in rally driving, including building your own team, getting sponsorship, designing a car livery and then fine-tuning the all-important timing of your co-driver stage note delivery.
The cars and the surrounding country side look fantastic, albeit a bit light on for dust effects if you happen to be playing from a third-person chase camera perspective. Shadows creep through the trees, and the surrounding dirt banks, foliage and shrubbery feels natural and never repetitive.
Unexpected townships are welcome diversions from the countryside as it wizzes by, and the occasional broken-down competitor beside the road adds a smile-delivering sense of realism to the stages.
Make a slightly wrong move and you will find just how debilitating a seemingly fragile wire fence can be to a speeding rally car. And whilst on the subject of going off road, DiRT 4 is certainly more “forgiving” than most rally games. You can, if able, bash the nearby bush for a significant time before returning to the road-way.
This is important, because there are no reload checkpoints, or rewind options on these rally stages, and some can be lengthy. Instead the game offers a limited amount of “restarts” allowing the stage to be redone. Or, if you find yourself stuck in a tree, you can recover your vehicle for an appropriate time-penalty.
Between stages, the game offers a rather unique repair feature which takes a punt at how long each repair may take, it is not guaranteed however, and sometimes repairs take shorter, or more often than not, longer than originally suggested. This adds a level of strategy to the between-stages moments.
Strangely there is no tyre selection process in DiRT 4, probably the first time we haven’t seen this option. There are many other ways to tweak the vehicle before each race or stage however, so plonking on the obvious tyre selection is not really going to be missed.
Currently DiRT 4 only feature four countries providing rally stages; Australia (yay!), Sweden, Wales, Spain and Michigan in the US. Each offer a mix of surfaces, and weather, and as mentioned earlier, this game provides a facility to generate an infinite array of randomly produced stages with the adjustment of a few sliders and a press of a button.
There are more than 50 vehicles in the game, from the fun Crosskarts, out-of-control Pro Buggies through to more familiar modern and historical rally vehicles. The physics of each car feel faithful, a bit floaty and somewhat rolling for example with a Ford Fiesta contrasted with the more sure-footed AWD paws of a Subaru WRX STI NR4.
Apart from hooking up with friends online, DiRT 4 offers Daily, Weekly and even Month-long challenges where selected events can be taken on with those from around the world.
DiRT 4 is refined, it is a polished and focused release that doesn’t try to impress with large numbers of bullet points, stable of cars or modes. Instead, we get a tight package of events and locations that fans are looking for. The Rallycross and Landrush events are fun, the rallying sophisticated, at times frustrating, and certainly challenging. Exactly what we were looking for.