I’d be lying if I told you I haven’t been counting down the days until the launch of DiRT 4, though in my journey around the internet to consume every last piece of preview media centering around the resurgence of Codemasters’ beloved off-road series, one aspect has stuck out to me like a sore thumb; one that could eventually lead to the game’s downfall if not rectified in the appropriate fashion.
While Codemasters are said to be dropping the dudebro mentality of the previous games in the series in favor a significantly more serious vibe like the one seen in DiRT Rally – albeit more fleshed-out with proper career mode progression elements, team management tasks, and other intricate moving parts – the actual list of content is scarily underwhelming, just like in DiRT Rally. Yes, we’re getting the ability to create your own rally team, hire mechanics, design your livery, sign sponsors, and compete on lengthy point to point stages created by an in-game algorithm to ensure you’re always kept on your feet and have a slew of new roads to travel, but there’s an equal number of shortcomings that could potentially serve to detract from this otherwise phenomenal experience.
The official website lists just five environments available to select from in DiRT 4, two of which return from the previous game that we’ve all played to death already. Though Spain, Australia, and Michigan will be new additions to the hardcore Codemasters universe, we’ll be trekking through familiar territory in Wales and Sweden. Planet earth only has so many countries capable of hosting a WRC-style event, and we’ll obviously not be blasting through stages in Hawaii or Madagascar anytime soon, but it’s a bit underwhelming to see only three new environments on the rallying side of things, and a mere five rally environments total. Without the official WRC license, DiRT 4 will most likely employ the use of a fictional world rally series, the realism of which will certainly be stretched when sim racers start to reach the upper echelons of the game’s mammoth career mode and the highest level rally season is over almost as quickly as it started.
Look, I understand the automatically generated stages will throw an extra layer of diversity in the experience so maybe it won’t be all that bad, but people are going to get tired looking at the same old Australian Outback very quickly if there are only four other environment options. Here’s to hoping Codemasters have several additional landscapes planned as downloadable content, because what world rally championship only has five rounds?
Things are equally dire on the rallycross front, as the official site lists just six rallycross circuits available at launch in DiRT 4, three of which are returning from DiRT Rally. Unlike traditional tarmac circuits, rallycross tracks are incredibly brief affairs and can be memorized in just a few heats, meaning those who own DiRT Rally have already seen half the rallycross content in DiRT 4, and they haven’t even played the game yet.
It would have been a perfect opportunity for Codemasters to revive the several creative rallycross locations seen in DiRT 2 and DiRT 3 for a vast selection of content out of the box, justifying the grind of saving up for a top class rallycross supercar – because the length of the season would take you on a globe-hopping campaign spanning ten or eleven circuits once you’re finally at the top tier – but instead it looks as if rallycross will once again be this awkward sort-of-coherent diversion where you bust your ass to finally buy a Ford Fiesta, and once it’s in your garage, you’ve exhausted all of the rallycross tracks in the game and are unwilling to touch the mode again.
Landrush arguably suffers the most, however, as we’re told only three tracks – situated in California, Nevada, and Mexico – will be available. Using the dirty Ridge Racer style technique of alternate layouts at one location, we’ll probably have six tracks to select from, but again, we’re looking at so few tracks in general, players might become tired of the entire mode and have no desire to turn another lap after grinding to save for a new truck. Licenses are a genuine pain in the ass so I fully understand if you have to rely primarily on fantasy circuits, but once more I have to ask why tracks weren’t recycled and updated from the previous two DiRT games; if you can see everything an entire discipline has to offer within five minutes of track time, why as a developer would you not make an effort to change that?
The more locations you add, the more relevant online leagues will become. Sure, everyone will undoubtedly race to start their own private online championships among their friends with the built in league functionality, but having a large selection of tracks ensures these leagues will run for five, six, or even seven seasons, instead of just being active for the first month of the game’s launch, and then going on an indefinite hiatus until some YouTube personality starts one up again in a year’s time for a laugh with his subscribers.
Leaked vehicle class screens also indicate the game’s lack of diversity in content stretches beyond circuits and environments. Though the total number of cars in DiRT 4 is said to eclipse over 50 – a pretty good number for any rally game – we have to remember that the game is essentially split into three portions; rally, landrush, and rallycross, so only a portion of that 50 will be purpose built rally cars. Initial reports from footage taken by PlayStation Access sometimes show just two or three cars per rally class, with members of the official DiRT subreddit noting certain classes have indeed seen a reduction in size since DiRT Rally. The 2000cc class will awkwardly pair two 2001 WRC entries against a monster Ford Focus from 2007 now that the Citroen C4 of Sebastien Loeb appears to have been removed, while the highly popular N4 production class is still just two brand new cars despite Rally America grids sporting several years and models of Subaru’s, Ford’s, and Mitsubishi’s. This would have been cool to see in DiRT 4, it was in past iterations of DiRT and we all greatly appreciated the diversity, but unfortunately this practice has not returned.
What this means from an end user standpoint, is that there’s no excitement in saving up to purchase a car in a faster class and exploring what options you have available, because your choices are absurdly limited. Part of what made earlier DiRT games fun is that the various rally classes included all sorts of entries from Ford, Mitsubishi, Subaru, and even Pontiac when they still existed, including several models from each manufacturer, leading to very diverse and exciting grids that offered a car for every driving style. Taking this element away creates a very stale Communist Poland-like game world, in which offline progression and online dick-waving really isn’t something to look forward to since everybody will share the exact same experience, corralled into buying the exact same car at the exact same point in the game.
Will the lack of content cripple DiRT 4? Possibly. I think what’s going to happen is that people will be blown away by the sheer quality of the title, but everyone will suspiciously be dropping it much quicker than anticipated if Codemasters do not plan a heavy Stream of post-release downloadable content. Will it score 9’s and 10’s, and go down as Codemasters knocking it out of the park, winning several Racing Game of the Year awards? Most likely, but without Codemasters breathing life into the title, I can see a situation where everybody talks about how great DiRT 4 was, only to have abandoned it by the end of the summer.