It appears that the vocal minority on the game’s official subreddit proclaiming DiRT 4 to be dropping like a rock in terms of popularity might actually have a basis for their arguments. Calling upon data that can be attained by anyone venturing over to Steamcharts, which in this case puts Codemasters’ most recent rally simulator alongside their 2015 science project DiRT Rally, indicates that despite launching earlier this month, DiRT 4 has aged almost two entire years in just two and a half weeks. Exhibiting a steady decline in active players since the title’s release, it’s the majority of customers – along with the vocal minority on Reddit – who have spoken the loudest. DiRT 4 has not been very well received by the core audience it was built for, and it’s caused such an uproar among hardcore racing game fans, it’s actually led to DiRT Rally for Windows operating systems receiving a tangible boost in active players over the previous week; DiRT 4’s early adopters promptly jumping ship in favor of a more refined driving experience.
Though mainstream gaming websites have showered DiRT 4 with universal praise, and implied Codemasters have struck gold with the formula of pairing light team management elements with unique stage generation software, the sim racing community – in other words, a large portion of the userbase – obviously doesn’t echo the same feelings of gratitude and appreciation. In many instances I would be quick to attribute a mass migration such as this one primarily on the copious amounts of sim dads in our community for being too stubborn to put up with the mandatory yet extremely basic staff and sponsorship elements that are integral to the game’s progression, but alas, this is not the case. The reality is that DiRT 4’s tweaked physics are so profoundly backwards to drive, the physical act of flying through a gravel stage at speed is leaving droves of sim racers wholly unsatisfied with the experience, and they are willing to put up with significantly less to see and do if it means the action behind the wheel makes any sort of sense.
I’ve been doing my best to fire up DiRT 4 on a regular basis, as I support the direction Codemasters have taken by combining hardcore simulation elements with some sort of living, breathing world around your virtual rally team, but with each passing online challenge I complete, and the more career events I participate in, the elephant in the room eventually stamps its feet and throws my Subaru into the Australian forest. Whether it be the tires themselves, the way the gravel surface has been modeled, or a hidden stability assist you can’t completely turn off, DiRT 4 is very perplexing and counter-intuitive to drive. Though I had been able to figure out what was required of me from the physics engine and promptly flew through the modern rally and landrush campaign branches during my first evenings with the game, returning to DiRT 4 after a few days of inactivity left me woefully incompetent behind the wheel – I started to see why so many have subjected this game to a public lashing in regards to vehicle handling. This is not how a race car drives on a loose surface.
There was a daily challenge with the Lancia Delta S4 in Michigan a few days ago – one of my personal favorite rally cars across any rally simulator – and I honestly felt like a fish out of water. The car struggled to maintain a nice, smooth, balanced slide over the flowing crests of the Michigan trails, and upon instinctively wiggling the wheel just a tad to stabilize the car at the apex, it felt like a metaphorical hand of god was simultaneously yanking on the front axle to go where it wanted and temporarily disconnecting my wheel from the steering rack, resulting in a situation where the front would grip an insane amount for just a split second, and literally whip the rear around. Promptly destroying the vehicle and jumping into another ride, I found the Group A Subaru Impreza to be just as perplexing, if not for a different reason – the nice, flowing slides I was able to casually maintain just by being smooth and working with the weight transfer in DiRT Rally were now impossible; the car exhibited a worrying amount of understeer that wasn’t related to the differential; it’s like there was infinite rubber sidewall flex.
The 1980’s BMW M3, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, is absolutely atrocious – the car understeers when applying excessive power to the rear wheels at the apex of a tight corner, something you don’t need to be a professional rally driver to understand is extremely wrong. What should have been the best sportsman car in the game – a vehicle for budding sim racers to hone their driving skills – is instead a confusing mess of driving techniques that just don’t work when they should.
Unlike many developers in the sim racing scene, Codemasters have openly acknowledged that several cars on DiRT 4’s vehicle roster did not receive the appropriate tender love & care prior to launch, and that’s precisely why so many cars are downright unsatisfying to pilot in the current iteration of the game.
Unfortunately, Codemasters are late for the eternal science fair. Sim racers have already spent years upon years sitting around with their thumbs up their asses in the hopes that just one of their favorite developers will get their shit together – this is the kind of thing that started PRC.net in the first place – and at least according to the data, DiRT 4 is where customers have finally chosen to draw the metaphorical line as to what’s acceptable to wait for, and what they couldn’t care less about. And in all honesty, they have every right to do so. DiRT 4 was marketed as the polished, remastered, and finalized iteration of DiRT Rally – built with a proper development cycle behind it – and instead their audience have been treated to yet another season of “hurry up and wait.” That’s not something they signed up for.
It’s extremely disheartening to see a developer admit on launch day, after months of hype and promises of a grandiose, complete rally experience, that they basically had to rush through something like half the vehicles on the roster. And while the game’s lack of content is certainly one of it’s most prominent blemishes, I’m under the belief that a competent driving model would certainly assist in downplaying the repetition seen in Your Stage, or the extremely brief career strands. Avid DiRT Rally fans were certainly more than willing to put up with just twelve total stages considering the underlying driving experience was so good, so a similar feel behind the wheel with repetitive stage chunks would have done little to undermine one’s overall enjoyment of the DiRT 4 as it exists in our collective imaginations.
However, the audience has spoken. Because Codemasters were unable to rectify the glaringly obvious handling issues in time for launch – or shortly thereafter – DiRT 4 has tanked on sim racers’ platform of choice, falling to DiRT Rally levels of obscurity just weeks after launch, and multiple years after DiRT Rally was first brought on to Steam’s Early Access platform. Unless Codemasters can both fix the remaining broken cars, as well as inject new environments and races into what’s already been constructed DiRT 4 is destined to be merely a stopgap title for the inevitable DiRT 5, forcing us to embark on another round of the waiting game for the umpteenth time.