We knew Codemasters were building something behind the scenes, we just weren’t sure when it would see the light of day. After the unexpected success of their internal side project DiRT Rally – an uncompromising rally simulator heavily inspired by the sim racing cult classic Richard Burns Rally – Codemasters have announced the fourth entry in their flagship off-road franchise that once sported the Colin McRae namesake many years ago. Yes, DiRT 4 is happening.
There are both reasons to get excited about the game, and reasons to be skeptical. The main line of DiRT games churned out by Codemasters have always received widespread critical acclaim for being packed full of content and features while exhibiting impressive graphics, but sim racers have often turned up their collective noses at the title for relatively short point-to-point rally stages, and a flashy festival-like atmosphere aimed primarily at a casual audience. In some instances, the games could feel as if they were an elaborate advertisement for Monster Energy – a drastic departure from the unlicensed WRC offerings of the early 2000’s which helped Codemasters achieve worldwide recognition.
Yes, DiRT Rally was a hardcore variant aimed at a very specific subset of fans, but I can’t imagine a situation where Codemasters will continue on with this simulation-centric approach for a mass-market release. Unless you owned an elaborate racing wheel setup, very few people could even stay on the track in DiRT Rally, and for a main franchise release, that’s not something that’s going to sell very well.
However, there is genuine hope for what Codemasters plan to bring to the market in time for a June release. According to the reveal post on the official Codemasters blog, DiRT 4 will ship with an innovative rally stage generation tool that supposedly allows for an unlimited number of tracks in the game, using a system that sounds like a cross between V-Rally 2’s stage creation tool, and the track editor in Gran Turismo 5. So even if the game’s physics have been simplified for consumption by a general audience – as opposed to the diehards who flocked to DiRT Rally – you won’t exactly be running out of things to do.
“DiRT 4 features a game-changing system called Your Stage; an innovative rally route creation tool that allows you to produce an almost-infinite number of unique stages at the press of a button. You choose your location and set the route parameters, then Your Stage does the hard work to create a unique rally stage that you can race, share with your friends, and then challenge them to beat your time. Your Stage allows experienced rally players to create longer, more technical routes, whilst newcomers can create simpler shorter routes as they hone their skills.”
This is a major addition to the series, as the most common complaint surrounding any rally title of the past twenty years is undoubtedly the lack of stage variety. Part of the fun that comes with purchasing a rally title is being forced to drive flat-out into the unknown, and the initial fear and challenge that comes with sitting down with DiRT Rally or Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo for the very first time and attempting to post competitive laps quickly diminishes once you’ve learned the general layouts of each stage. Codemasters are attempting to rectify this exact problem with what they’re calling Your Stage, though we have no idea how this tool will work in execution – only that it exists, and you use basic parameters to churn something out. If you want a preview of what this may look like in action, I’d suggest looking up videos of V-Rally 2’s track editor for the Sega Dreamcast, or rally racing in Gran Turismo 5. It’s not precisely how Your Stage will work in DiRT 4, but it’s a start.
It’s an exciting time to be a fan of rally racing, that’s for sure. No major developer has implemented a feature this ambitious in a racing game for quite some time, so we’re all looking forward to seeing how it’ll turn out – and the best part is that we don’t have to wait very long. DiRT 4 is scheduled for a June 2017 release, so we’ll be playing it just as summer rolls around.