One week after being released out into the wild, there’s quite a mixed reaction surrounding Codemasters DiRT 4. While the game itself lives up to the previous level of quality set by earlier entries and spin-offs in the DiRT franchise, for every satisfied sim racer giddy at the prospect of limitless point-to-point rally stages and lighthearted team management aspects that strive to give meaning to your on-track conquests, there’s an equally disappointed customer prowling the forums, wishing Codemasters had put just a bit more time into the title. While DiRT 4 is still a phenomenal game and very well worth the $60 asking price for those needing a dose of virtual off-roading in their vidya library, Codemasters objectively dropped the ball in many key areas, and those unhappy with the experience are making some very valid arguments as to why this game could have and most certainly should have been so much better.
So to give sim racers who were underwhelmed by DiRT 4 a bit of a voice to support their collective arguments rather than allowing them to being dismissed on the various forms in which they discuss them, in today’s article we’re going to cover all of the elements Codemasters didn’t get right in their most recent racing simulator, and how they could improve upon them with post-release updates. With these reasonable fixes, Codemasters could easily morph DiRT 4 into what we’d all envisioned on paper, rather than remain in an “almost, but not quite” status until the inevitable forthcoming sequel.
Codemasters were dealt a very shitty hand after Milestone and Kylotonn both managed to snatch up semi-exclusive licenses for certain Citroen’s, Toyota’s, and the top tier WRC spec cars for their respective multi-platform rally titles. As a result of these licensing deals, DiRT 4’s car roster is equivalent to a slice of swiss cheese; the more classes you explore, the more holes you find in the car roster. The modern rally side of the game awkwardly tries to push the R5 class as it’s premiere professional category due to the absence of WRC rides, with the N4 production class that most entry level drivers will flock to features just two cars – Subaru’s brand new Impreza, as well as Mitsubishi’s latest iteration of the Lancer Evo X. While I can understand licensing restrictions preventing the high-flying WRC lineup from making an appearance – and therefore can’t really knock Codemasters in this department – it’s the lack of diversity in the classes that are featured that hurts DiRT 4 the most, and it’s an area that Codemasters should have had enough foresight to make the appropriate adjustments long before the title launched.
Given how much time sim racers will spend ripping around in both the N4 and R5 divisions, Codemasters should really make an effort to expand both of these classes to feature either older cars, or additional cars from manufacturers they already have a license for. The Open class division in real life – a sort of quasi-equivalent to N4 – features several older models of the Subaru Impreza, Mitsubishi Lancer, and Ford Fiesta, and considering how Codemasters already created these models for older DiRT games, they should really make a return as downloadable content for DiRT 4 to give some much needed-variety to the popular sportsman N4 category, in the same manner which tarmac developers would create semi-fake Ruf GT3 cars to expand their GT3 vehicle roster. Codemasters also feature vehicles from both Opel and Citroen elsewhere on the roster, so it’s strange the R5 variants of these cars aren’t present. I don’t think it’s necessary for Codemasters to pursue attaining all listed vehicles from the Group R wikipedia page, but the car roster in otherwise popular classes is severely hurting, and bringing back either legacy models from past DiRT games, or acquiring R5 spec entries from manufacturers they’re already on good terms with would be the easiest fix.
Next, I’d like to talk about the environment selection in DiRT 4. On paper the game has a pretty solid variety of race types and locations, but when isolated into their own specific realm, sim racers are left with four distinct race types that quickly become repetitive. The Monster Energy World Rallycross tier in career mode boasts just five circuits while Landrush comes in at a laughable three, and the Global Rally Series that adorns the cover artwork only visits a mere five countries – hardly a global championship, especially considering we never visit South America, or Asia. While the game’s procedural generation-powered point-to-point rallies dubbed Your Stage can quickly become repetitive, Your Stage isn’t DiRT 4’s specific problem; the issue is that there are so few environments, you’re racing championship after championship in Australia, Michigan, and Wales for the entire first half of career, so of course, you’re going to notice the same puzzle pieces that make up each track if you can spend three straight championships never leaving Wales.
The fix here varies from discipline to discipline. I feel the technology behind Your Stage works well enough where Codemasters shouldn’t need to worry about adding more chunks to each environment, they simply need more environments period. Three new environments – one tropical island, one alpine region, and one sahara desert – would be enough to give the game a “global” rally feel while straying far enough from the WRC license and providing some kind of proper contrast to what are otherwise very traditional rally stage layouts and environments. On the Rallycross and Landrush side of the title, once again I’d like to see legacy content from DiRT 2 and DiRT 3 make a return considering many of the layouts seen in Monaco, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and Baja, California were instant classics at the time of release, and there’s really no reason not to have them sitting on a hard drive at Codemasters HQ when their newest game is in desperate need of content.
I think for me personally, the biggest shock I received while playing DiRT 4 was discovering the length of the outlandishly short single player career mode. Within an hour of ripping off the plastic, the Landrush World Championship video had been unlocked, and by the middle of the following afternoon, I’d also conquered the 30-stage Global Rally Series tournament at the end of the rally ladder as well. DiRT 4 is criminally short regardless of what off-roading discipline you choose to specialize in, to the point where you’ll quickly find yourself replaying career events out of boredom for supplementary income and to further develop both your team and sponsorship prospects.
This one is probably the easiest fix suggested in the article; when the inevitable downloadable content wave hits, Codemasters need to insert additional events into each of the four primary Career ladders – which would go hand-in hand with the suggestion above regarding both more closed circuits, as well as more point to point environments being released as DLC. Codemasters have built a very stellar team management aspect into DiRT 4, but it’s possible to hit the finish line long before you’ve fully upgraded your team or wanted to put the title down. Considering online races don’t appear to count towards the day to day operations of your virtual racing entity, the ability to partake in more events would justify the team management features and how so much of the offline career mode revolves around finite sponsorships and team member contracts with a tangible expiration date.
What I’m getting at with the three suggestions above, is one can see everything DiRT 4 has to offer far too quickly, and there needs to be more for sim racers to do within the title given the game’s fantastic level of polish. People want to keep playing DiRT 4, but currently there isn’t a lot there after the initial day or two spent indulging in the title. More cars in popular classes, three new rally environments, and a cast of fan-favorite Rallycross & Landrush locales, plus a platter of new career events to make use of the aforementioned additional content, would keep people playing long after release.
I was pretty surprised that after DiRT Rally offered a Master level difficulty that made you truly nail each stage for a top time, the Tough option in DiRT 4 saw you leading sole stages by upwards of ten seconds, requiring you to merely keep the car in one piece for a championship victory in the latter stages of career. I’ve seen some argue that people are blowing out the AI due to infinite restarts and a platter of driving assists enabled, but I personally completed the final championship in the rally ladder with the restart option at zero for that sweet 95% winnings bonus, and the AI were simply never a threat in the slightest. This extends to the closed circuit ladders as well; the CrossKart AI is woefully off-pace, to the point where I was able to lap them with a lap or two spare, in heat races on tracks with basically two or three corners nonetheless.
I also noticed that Codemasters seemed to be self-aware of their AI not being fully up to par in DiRT 4, with the team throwing inclement weather at you in basically every event near the end of each ladder to artificially jack up the difficulty. Look, it’s cool that they’ve done a good job modeling every type of weather condition possible for DiRT 4, but the amount in which it occurs in the back half of campaign mode is just silly. You can’t honestly tell me the entire WRC or Rally America calendars are contested at night, in dense fog, or in heavy downpour scenarios, because that’s just not how mother nature works.
The fix for these issues is pretty simple; re-introduce the Master difficulty as was seen in DiRT Rally, and release a title update that clears up the weather just a tad for the penultimate events. I don’t think either of these are too much to ask for. The fog effects are great, as is the rain splatter on the windshield, but currently it’s to the point where Codemasters are clearly using it as a cheap tactic to increase the difficulty of the game.
Of course, who could forget the most controversial part of DiRT 4, the vehicle physics?
Look, DiRT 4 is without a doubt the easiest game in the entire franchise in terms of difficulty in piloting the car at maximum or near-maximum attack – you have so much grip, it always feels as if you can’t go fast enough, which is very strange considering rally driving in general is about underdriving the car and curbing your desire to push & take corners too quickly. Originally in my review of the game I claimed this was strictly limited to the modern class cars, but as I’ve explored more of DiRT 4, I have to come out and confirm that this extends to basically everything on the point to point roster aside from the Group B class. The amount of grip you have at any given time in this game is insane, with the big, lazy, arching slides of Richard Burns Rally and DiRT Rally virtually impossible to reproduce here; the vehicle instead awkwardly stalling out and losing forward momentum. Unlike what the Codemasters promotional material proclaimed, we certainly did not receive “DiRT Rally, but better” – these are rally tires so technologically advanced, they won’t be made available to professional teams until 2027 at the earliest.
So what’s wrong, exactly?
Take the BMW M3 E30 that’s part of the rear wheel drive 1980’s class. This car was awesome in DiRT Rally, as your throttle input dictated how sideways you wanted the car to be, and you navigated some of the more intense rhythm sections by rotating the rear end around purely via throttle management. Not only is this how you’re supposed to drive a rear wheel drive rally car, it’s how I drive my truck during snow storms here in Edmonton, and it’s how Dustin taught me to drive our late model. This isn’t a technique limited to one Codemasters game released in 2015, it’s a driving skill that’s universal to rear wheel drive vehicles.
In DiRT 4, rolling onto the throttle to try and rotate the ass end of the BMW M3 E30 on a gravel stage instead produces this weird understeer effect. It’s like the rear tires have such enormous forward bite and lateral grip, it manages to overpower the front end of the car and understeer like a stock car with a worn right front tire. Strangely enough, this behavior isn’t present on the tarmac stages in Spain, so I’m under the belief Codemasters simply need to revert to a previous iteration of gravel tires – something I encourage owners of the PC version to experiment with ahead of time if the file structure between DiRT Rally and DiRT 4 is found to be even remotely similar.
If Codemasters are willing to fix the gravel tire behavior – provided it wasn’t a conscience design choice made to help the normies pilot a rally car, but a genuine oops on their part – I think a lot of people will continue to invest long hours into DiRT 4 in spite of the shortcomings listed above. However, if Codemasters intentionally botched the gravel tires to accommodate entry level users not well-versed in the art of chucking a rally car sideways at 150 km/h, the rest of the issues and possible solutions outlined in this article are a solid way to ensure people don’t toss aside DiRT 4 after a month of casual play.