Everything Wrong with DiRT 4 – And How to Fix It

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.

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Still Good, Just Not THAT Good: The Review of DiRT 4

I’d still yet to hang up my jacket and discard the shrink wrap from my PS4 copy of DiRT 4 as the Landrush World Championship video began playing. Unfortunately, this moment captures DiRT 4 in a nutshell; after a ridiculous amount of hype, the overwhelming positive reception stemming from the experimental science project that was DiRT Rally, and six whole years between today and the last main iteration in Codemasters’ highly successful off-roading franchise, the product that existed in our imaginations and in early teasers was exponentially better (and had much more longevity) than what will drop worldwide on June 9th – though console owners have been able to pick it up since Tuesday. While still a phenomenal rally game in its own right, and highly recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in off-road racing, Codemasters objectively dropped the ball with DiRT 4 compared to the expectations set for this release, and as a fan of the series dating back to when it once bore the namesake of a rally legend no longer with us, I can’t help but feel extraordinarily let down from a critical standpoint.

The elaborate headgear snobs crying to end no on various message boards about the game’s lack of virtual reality support, as well as those panicking about a “dudebro vibe” due to the mere inclusion of licensed music, really need to acquire some perspective given the kind of experience that awaits in DiRT 4; the artificial intelligence are woefully off-pace compared to the stout opponents seen in DiRT Rally, DiRT 4’s stage generation tool fails to produce an experience even remotely similar to what we hoped it would achieve, and the game has so little content once you start to process what’s available and when, I’m left praying for a tidal wave of post-release content when typically I speak out against such a practice. Basically everything that was pushed as new and exciting by Codemasters in the months leading up to this game instead fell flat on it’s face, and it’s a rude awakening for those eagerly anticipating the absolute definitive rally game of our generation.

However, that’s not to say DiRT 4 is a bad game by any means. With team management aspects giving some tangible sense of progression and purpose to your time within the software, light eSports elements that naturally slide into the core gameplay experience rather than date the software to that awkward period when everybody wanted on the bandwagon, a drastic departure in presentation from the previous youth-oriented dudebro culture, and a core driving model that’s still extremely satisfying – albeit a bit too easy compared to previous iterations – DiRT 4 is a game you can easily spend money on while being fully aware of all its shortcomings, and feel satisfied with your decision to do so regardless.

It just doesn’t do everything they said it would.

Disappointment sets in the moment you graduate from the introductory tier econobox racers mere minutes into career mode, and step into proper four wheel drive race cars that have graced a fair bit of the title’s promotional footage. Though the front wheel drive cars are admittedly very good from a physics standpoint, the more attractive vehicles on the roster are handed to you fairly quickly, and it’s at this precise time when DiRT 4’s metaphorical daddy issues come to light. Rumors spread like wildfire about the game supposedly being dumbed down for a larger audience upon gameplay footage first surfacing, and unfortunately I’m here to confirm that DiRT 4 is by far the easiest game of the entire franchise – and yes, that includes the Ken Block-infused titles on the Xbox 360. Codemasters promised DiRT Rally, but better in the months leading up to DiRT 4 when avid fans inquired about vehicle physics, but this just didn’t happen; the modern rally cars are literal hovercrafts that go almost anywhere you ask them to. I was extremely upset after my first few stages with the N4 spec Subaru Impreza, as even DiRT 2 and DiRT 3 provided a much more convincing feel behind the wheel with roughly the same class of cars.

The one change that I felt had been made for the better, was that threshold braking is now more important than ever, meaning you’ll need to brake a lot sooner for tricky sections that come up fast. This is something I personally enjoy, as it teaches budding sim racers to set the car on corner entry. However, the cars have so much grip everywhere else and remain stable under even the most adverse of conditions, that a lot of the time I felt as if I couldn’t go fast enough once I was on the attack, compared to how in DiRT Rally there’s a need to dial back your aggression on longer stages because the car can get away from you at a moment’s notice. This problem is compounded by a drastic reduction in the number of decently quick modern rally cars due to the WRC and other developers playing hardball on certain vehicle models, which prevented Codemasters from licensing the big guns; with R5-spec rides being top of the food chain in DiRT 4, you’ll be lucky to eclipse 170 km/h in high gear.

Obviously, as sim racing has progressed as a genre, we now know that race cars aren’t total death traps to drive like in the Richard Burns Rally or Grand Prix Legends days, but both myself and others with real world experience feel DiRT 4 is just a step too far in the other direction. In fact it’s the main point of discussion on the game’s Subreddit at the moment.

However, in my trials this doesn’t appear to pop up across every vehicle on the roster, as the historic Group B entries are every bit as insane as you’d expect them to be, with rides such as the Lancia Delta S4 requiring you to breathe on the throttle in third gear just to contain all of the ridiculous power in some sort of controlled fashion. The problem at the moment with too much grip seems isolated to just the modern cars, so if you’re extremely picky in regards to vehicle physics, I’d honestly suggest avoiding modern stuff altogether and making a beeline for the historic rally tier of career mode the second it becomes available – which is fairly early.

Sadly, the new short course off-road stuff, operating under the fictional moniker of LandRush to avoid additional licensing fees, leaves a lot to be desired – in fact I’d actually go out and call it incomplete. The LandRush content simply pales in comparison to what Codmasters have created both across the rest of DiRT 4 and in Rally back a few years ago, with the somewhat adequate buggies giving way to Pro2 and Pro4 trucks that slip & slide around as if they’re operating under a demented re-incarnation of iRacing’s old tire model. The trucks drive like absurdly stiff tin cans, and you never feel as if the tires are digging into the racing surface as they should; instead the trucks wildly wiggle and scoot around under power, to the point where non-wheel users shouldn’t even bother. Unless you actually enjoy this style of racing or want a modern throwback to Sierra’s SODA Off-Road Racing from the late 1990’s, the LandRush discipline and the vehicles within it are of such a poor quality compared to what we’re used to from Codemasters, you’re better off skipping it unless curiosity gets the best of you.

And once again, the previous three main DiRT titles did it much better; if I could yank the Stadium Truck physics from DiRT 3 and place them into DiRT 4, I certainly would without hesitation.

Had Your Stage materialized in a similar manner to what we all had in our imaginations when Codemasters first announced it to the world, I’d be fine with what they’ve done to some of the cars on the roster considering we’d have near endless tracks to drive them on, but this is instead another area where DiRT 4 drops the ball in a pretty substantial way.

Traditionally, rally games have shipped with a finite number of stages, where the development team hand-crafts multiple routes through X amount of environments, and eventually after Y hours of play, you’ve driven every track in the game – both forwards, as well as in reverse. After DiRT Rally was universally blasted for including just twelve stages in a $60 package, Codemasters set out to rectify complaint numero uno by coding a procedural generation engine into DiRT 4, therefore hoping to provide gamers with an unlimited set of stages where you’re always on your toes and driving something new, and as an added bonus, totally eradicating the memorization element out of online competitions. We were told there would be millions upon millions of route combinations, but unfortunately it appears the marketing team were operating on technicalities. Your Stage works on a technical level – you’re indeed always driving a new, unique route in both career mode and in other sessions – but the routes themselves always consist of the same preset chunks.

And there aren’t many preset chunks.

I think we all knew in the back of our minds that there’d be a catch with this procedural generation technology, but I didn’t expect to run into it so early. Less than an hour into the rally portion of the game’s campaign mode, it’s hard not to notice that the same couple of corners keep popping up throughout your events in Australia and Wales, and this eventually extends to the other three rally environments as well. It’s extremely disheartening, as you’ll begin to spot identical corners and even combinations of turns, complete with the same trackside objects and surrounding terrain very quickly, to the point where you experience this weird mixture of Deja Vu and highway amnesia as you progress through the championship. By the time I reached the pinnacle of the rally ladder, the Global Rally Series, I was seeing the same bend – complete with identical trees, spectator placement, and land geometry – two or three times per stage if not more, which is where the shots above are from.

The same segments repeat themselves for multiple times in a stage, and then stage after stage on top of that. If you’re not seeing an identical corner, you’re simply approaching that same corner in reverse, as seen in the Spain screenshot. So yes, while the math behind the procedural generation engine probably did spit out a hypothetical “millions upon millions” stage number when Codemasters were asked about it, the reality is that there’s not much variety in the chunks it uses. The technology powering Your Stage does work, albeit in a very repetitive way.

For solo play, this absolutely sucks major ass and it makes the career events blend together in the most atrocious, dull, boring manner, because there are far too many instances of “I just saw this very corner not two minutes ago and then twice on the last stage what the fuck” for anybody’s liking. When it comes to the online spectrum, however, it’s just enough to keep things exciting and reliant upon driver skill rather than some asshole memorizing every little bump and throwing the car sideways at 200 km/h because he knows there’s this weird line in sector 2 of Shepherd’s Shield that’ll catch the car just right. So I don’t really know what to say here other than it’s certainly not the revolution many had imagined, but for online racing it gets the job done.

Repetitive track design extends to the LandRush and rallycross disciplines, albeit in a different way. Despite three unique locations in California, Nevada, and Mexico, all three short course tracks were built in the shape of a horseshoe; a bunch of sweeping left hand turns followed by a slow, inner part of the track with a technical right hand corner. Rallycross fares slightly better, though the same roster of locations returns from DiRT Rally, and if you’ve sunk tons of hours into that particular game… Well… I’ve got some bad news for you. Get ready for more of the same. Codemasters had a great opportunity to recycle tracks from some of the older DiRT releases, such as Shibuya, Smelter, or the Los Angeles Coliseum, but for whatever reason, didn’t. If the FIA and Monster were anal about fictitious layouts then I can kind of understand, but the volume of circuits on both the RallyCross & LandRush fronts are severely hurting.

Thankfully, what sounds like a very dull, uninspired selection of vehicles, and locations that blend into one another due to a severe case of repetition, is tied together with a phenomenal presentation. This is arguably the best part of DiRT 4 and it’s hard not to have a big grin on your face the first time you see it under your control; the whole package looks especially slick, and no, the dudebro vibe from past entries in the franchise has not returned. Menus are now flashy without being in-your-face-radical, and some of the stuff I personally advocated for in my review of DiRT Rally a while back – a comfy service park with your car on display prior to each stage – has been implemented into DiRT 4. This extends beyond the track itself; you’re dragged to your team’s Washington headquarters to customize your livery, with the car parked out on a spare slab of tarmac, surrounded by your team personnel and matching support vehicles.

Atmosphere this rich and lively is a welcome change of pace from hardcore simulators that compete to see which one of them can bore you to death the quickest.

Obviously, with a livery editor and sponsorship acquisition screen, this can only mean one thing: DiRT 4 boasts some sort of proper career mode. It’s a bit of a magnum opus that combines elements of everything Codemasters have done dating back to Race Driver: Grid in 2007, which makes the repetitive, underwhelming content sting just a tad more. Initially starting out racing for other teams – and you can progress through career mode driving entirely for third parties if you so choose to – DiRT 4 opens up the moment you purchase your first car. Sponsorship goals, the aforementioned livery editor, and even the ability to select alternate colored logos for each sponsor return from Race Driver: Grid, while the process of hiring engineers, mechanics, co-drivers, spotters, and even a PR guy all return from DiRT Rally. The blend of the two design elements from previous Codemasters games is simply phenomenal, with the added twist of sponsorship relationships and brand loyalty making it much more than a cut and paste job.

Sticking with brands you receive earlier in your career will boost your loyalty, giving you an incentive to have certain logos on your car for the long haul rather than jumping to the best offer immediately as you would do in the original Grid. As in real life, the game doesn’t allow for conflicting brands either, so you’ll have to start making choices when competing energy drinks or tire manufacturers want to throw you a little cash. Based on whether you’ve been able to complete their assigned tasks or not, it’s also possible to fall out of good standing with the brands on the side of your car, creating this dynamic world within DiRT 4, in which there’s much more to the PR side of things than just signing the best sponsors and riding the wave of cash. As you progress into higher championships, some of their requirements get pretty insane, so there ends up being an actual challenge to retaining their respect. It’s a great little ecosystem Codemasters have got going on, and I’m very happy they made the choice to put it into DiRT 4.

Like I mentioned above, the process of building an actual team full of humans to support you returns from DiRT Rally, but this time it’s a little easier. I was able to finish the rally ladder on a skeleton crew, swapping out old mechanics for new, more efficient ones as my driver level increased. Unless you’re a seriously shit driver and are limping home a busted race car with each passing stage, there’s basically no need to hire any additional crew members – or upgrade your team’s facilities – as the bare minimum is more than enough.

However, those who do want to toss their money around, are easily free to do so, as the act of upgrading facilities, paying out contracts, signing new team members, buying cars, and of course upgrading them with better parts, guarantees you’ll always have something to spend money on – and better yet, it’ll cost a lot. This certainly isn’t MXGP3, where you have a spare $245,000 USD that’ll sit there for all eternity. Codemasters have done a good job with career mode’s logistics, as it seems the moment money comes in, money gets spent, and there are ways to royally fuck yourself if you don’t read menus and plan your journey with at least some kind of logic behind it. I hate games where money just starts to pool after X amount of progress, so it’s cool that even now having reached the end of a main career strand, I’ve still got to be careful with my funds, and there’s still tons of stuff left for me to buy as I pursue the other disciplines more thoroughly.

The shitty part about all of this depth to progression in career mode, is that the process of going out and competing in championships is ridiculously short, and it would have been nice if there were a few more environments for each of the disciplines, as this would directly inflate the game’s solo campaign length. Like I’d mentioned in the opening paragraph, I’d completed the LandRush World Championship – the final series in the discipline – only an hour or so after returning home from Wal-Mart to pick up the game. Rally fared a bit better – clocking in at around a day – but with only five locations on the calendar, it’s certainly not much of a Global rally series that awaits for the final showdown, nor is it much of an epic championship when your main rival retires out of one event, and there’s basically no time for him to even try and mount a comeback.

It also doesn’t help that the artificial intelligence in DiRT 4 is extremely poor until the very end of each career discipline. Playing on the Tough difficulty setting – the highest that’s available – I would sleepwalk through events and amass rally leads of up to two minutes in length, also sweeping the entire LandRush calendar with five straight victories, which from a gameplay standpoint just isn’t very fun. To try and bump up the difficulty, Codemasters have gone out and jacked up the inclement weather in the final events, but when every stage over the course of an entire 30-stage championship suspiciously takes place at night under heavy fog or rain, it all feels a little forced. The AI do put up a much better fight in the closing chapters, but it’s only enough to put a dent in your winning streak rather than rob you of several victory or bump you down to mid-pack. There simply needs to be an Alien or Master level difficulty, because what’s available at launch just doesn’t cut it.

LandRush and RallyCross fare a bit better, though it’s very hit or miss. Sometimes you’ll be mixing it up in the pack and surprised by the AI’s competence; other events they’re eating your dust, if they can even get that close to begin with.

I can’t say there’s a lot of extra curricular activities in DiRT 4, but what’s included is definitely much appreciated. Taking a page directly from Richard Burns Rally would be the DirtFish rally school mode, which sends you to the actual property in Washington for what’s essentially a glorified tutorial mode far more detailed than what we saw in the legendary title over a decade ago. Though I didn’t learn anything groundbreaking at DirtFish, the inclusion of such a feature for new drivers is pretty much essential, as while the handling model in DiRT 4 is significantly easier than it’s predecessors, the complexity of the terrain puts newbies in a world of hurt if they don’t know what they’re doing, and it’s fantastic that Codemasters have chosen to properly educate the masses rather than giving them crutches with flashbacks and other bogus bullshit that doesn’t encourage gamers to get good at what they’re playing.

The Gymkhana challenges from DiRT 3 return, but they’re 100% optional side-quests buried within the DirtFish compound, rather than being awkwardly placed into the primary campaign mode. Personally I loved Gymkhana in DiRT 3 and thought it was a really unique, exciting twist on performance driving, but given how many people hated it with a passion, it’s nice to see Codemasters listening to the masses and putting it off to the side as a gimmick, where many people felt it belonged.

Online racing returns with a vengeance, though I’d personally be weary of region lock bullshit on the Steam version as has been par for the course with every other Codemasters title dating back several years now. The biggest positive here is that Codies have brought back Online PvP rallying, meaning you’re no longer forced to create those clunky leagues if you want some quick point to point action, and this is something that is much appreciated considering nobody’s really sure why they took it out in their last release.

DiRT Daily, Weekly, and Monthly events return from DiRT Rally, giving you alternative ways of earning huge credit totals, with the Pro Tour mode providing ranked PvP rallies that steal from the EA Sports playbook and place you in Divisions, and then Tiers as you post good results (or suck major ass) in what’s essentially DiRT 4’s eSports mode – though they’re good about not waving the eSports name around like other developers are known for. Custom lobbies, something Assetto Corsa has taught us not to take for granted on consoles, are also functional at launch and loaded with activity from people who have just bought the game, but again, this might not be present on the Steam variant due to region lock. Yell at me if it’s not, it’s worth an article.

As far as I can tell, Career mode is seamlessly integrated with online racing, allowing you to use your campaign cars against others while earning cash, but this time the loaner cars aren’t at a massive disadvantage, so kudos to Codemasters for balancing things and not subjecting the plebs to brutal anal rape when a no-lifer enters the server.

Summarizing DiRT 4 is a very difficult task, because there are two distinct schools of thought when it comes to the title.

On one hand, it’s a game that’s certainly worthy of the DiRT 4 namesake. There’s a distinct variety in the experience that’s comparable to the previous three entries in the franchise; you’re jumping around from Baja trucks, to rallycross cars, to modern rally offerings, and then even taking in some Gymkhana for a laugh, all within the span of an hour. The driving physics are tight, the graphics jaw-dropping, there’s tons of multiplayer functionality for both competitive and leisure play, it’s got a career mode only the snobbiest of hardcore simulation nerds could get upset with (“I just want to race, I don’t have time for that sponsorship management shit”, they cry), and the whole experience is wrapped up in a beautiful presentation that fits naturally with the rest of the franchise. Codemasters have built something that is a perfect addition to the trilogy of DiRT games.

However, for all it gets right, there are very distinct blemishes. After a stellar outing in DiRT Rally, the cars now feel noticeably too simple to drive despite their claims that the hardcore handling would be here to stay. Your Stage works as a piece of technology – there’s no goofy 100 foot jumps due to a glitch in the coding – but it’s arguably more repetitive than fixed stages given the limited amount of chunks Codemasters gave it to work with, so in execution it’s something we’ll have to wait for DiRT 5 to be truly refined to the extent we’d imagined. The car roster, after the WRC and other developers have started to play hardball, leaves much to be desired; the lack of a modern “pinnacle” class, as well as generic LandRush trucks and tracks in a sea of world-renowned brands, stick out like sore thumbs. Also, five environments and a field of AI bots this pathetically average certainly aren’t enough for a world rally championship, and in a mass display of cognitive dissonance, I’m left wanting a comprehensive post-release DLC plan because of it.

But as a $60 game, weighing the pros against the cons and then back again, there is certainly still enough here to justify your purchase, and it fits naturally into the Codemasters DiRT franchise. As a racing game, and as a DiRT game, it’s phenomenal, yet it could have been so, so much better.

DiRT 4’s Suspicious Lack of Content

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.

The Dudebro Factor

Mixing a bite-sized rally experience with a festival atmosphere aimed at the millennial crowd, most sim racers share a very distinct love/hate relationship with Codemasters’ DiRT franchise. Though the three main titles in the series are traditionally loaded with content, ranging from historical rally machinery to short course off-road trucks and everything in between, the package in which it has been wrapped up with is often a difficult pill to swallow for a large portion of the community. The equivalent to your daughter’s otherwise polite and courteous boyfriend showing up on your property sporting a Fuck the Police t-shirt and reeking of marijuana, the best bits of DiRT are often overlooked by sim racers who have grown frustrated with the in-your-face atmosphere conveyed by the menus, voice-overs, and overall presentation.

For every track layout that’s genuinely fun to drive, compelling battle with a field of AI cars set to the highest difficulty, or surprisingly competent physics engine for a mass-market racer, there is unfortunately an in-game personality ripped straight out of an Energy Drink commercial, intrusive DC Shoes advertisements, or far too many infield attractions for any rallycross championship to afford. As a result, games such as DiRT 2 and DiRT 3 – while extremely solid off-road racers – are typically blasted by the sim racing community, to the point where some questioned whether DiRT 4 would retain this atmosphere, and Codemasters themselves had to confirm ahead of schedule that no, it would not.

But what if I told you that the complaints these sim racers have made when it comes to the DiRT franchise in regards to the series running wild with The Dudebro Factor, are in reality extremely hypocritical, and instead only serve to enforce the stereotype that sim racers are often elitist man-children who willingly want these games to be as boring as possible?

Let’s begin.

We’ll start with 2009’s DiRT 2, which many saw as a drastic departure from what the Colin McRae Rally series had traditionally stood for. Eschewing the traditional rally stages and officially licensed short course off road tracks in favor of fantasy layouts littered with an overwhelming array of spectators and advertisements in locations spread evenly across the globe, many hardcore rally fans rioted on message boards far and wide, proclaiming DiRT 2 to be virtually unrecognizable compared to its predecessor. It’s not that the game wasn’t a solid racing title in its own right, it just wasn’t what the actual audience of the Colin McRae series wanted out of the experience. They bought the software expecting lengthy rally championships, and instead got Travis Pastrana shouting at them as they raced buggies in Morocco.

DiRT 2 featured an abundance of real world Rally America drivers, such as Ken Block, Travis Pastrana, Tanner Foust, and even the late Dave Mirra, but many were put off by how these drivers were woven into the game’s single player campaign mode. In the middle of the race, these avatars would actively banter with you depending on the on-track situation unfolding, meaning Ken Block would launch into an angry tirade if you sent his car spinning into the barrier. Sim racers hated this element of immersion, as it was seen as not realistic for drivers to shout at each other back and forth during the course of the race. It seems nobody told them that NASCAR drivers would rely on multi-channel radios to communicate directly with other drivers during the course of a race to plan strategies, or just talk mad shit during caution periods, which means the banter between avatars Codemasters had implemented into DiRT 2 was somewhat realistic, in a sense.

These same sim racers would then fire up their PC simulators for league night, in which attendance on a TeamSpeak server that subjected them to off-topic banter between other drivers over the course of the race was mandatory. The banter they complained about in DiRT 2, they would later willingly bring upon themselves in a hardcore simulator.

Though the driver banter was scrapped for 2011’s DiRT 3, the reliance on real-world off road racing personalities was not, with Sebastien Loeb, Sebastien Ogier, Ken Block, Kris Meeke, and Liam Doran all making appearances on the roster of competitors – both in the machinery that had propelled them to stardom, as well as competing in the correct disciplines rather than bouncing around from class to class (as was seen in DiRT 2). There’s admittedly a reduction in the number of real world liveries, but what I’m trying to convey here is that the mere presence of legitimate drivers was much appreciated – it adds an extra level of immersion and fan service to the whole thing, compared to seeing the name John Smith scoot around in a fantasy Oakley livery.

Fans, however, weren’t sold. They scoffed at Ken Block’s role in the software, as at the time his results weren’t all that impressive in the 2011 World Rally Championship season, and many felt his Gymkhana stunt videos didn’t hold as much weight as raw competition results – which were lacking at the time.

Yet when the ultra-hardcore DiRT Rally dropped in 2015, and did not include any real-world drivers in the game’s primary point-to-point rally mode – instead faceless names that were either staff members or randomly generated avatars – fans complained that the game lacked authenticity. Sure, there was the proper Volkswagen livery for the VW Polo R, but it wasn’t an AI driver named Ogier behind the wheel. Sim racers took to the forums to say they wished Codemasters were able to attain licenses that would see a greater increase in authenticity, but forgot that when the DiRT series did try to implement real drivers into the software, fans bitched about that as well.

Now let’s talk about an aspect that pissed a bunch of people off; the adverts. DiRT 2, and to a lesser extent DiRT 3, loaded a bunch of intrusive Monster Energy advertisements into the scenery, to the point where even the game’s primary art style and colors had been designed with the popular energy drink brand in mind. People were absolutely sick of seeing this shit everywhere, as in 2009, most found it highly unlikely that an energy drink company would sponsor an obscure discipline of motorsports to such an extent, they would deck out the facility with giant inflatable energy drink cans.

Fast forward eight years, and Europe’s most prolific RallyCross championship is known as the FIA Monster Energy World RallyCross series, while a similar championship in North America is financially backed by Monster’s rival, Red Bull. The trackside artwork and outrageous, edgy liveries that were once deemed bizarre and cringe-worthy by sim racers is now in retrospect highly accurate, almost prophetic.

As are the tracks, and some of the concepts pioneered in the DiRT games. Though the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group ran a very prestigious off-road championship inside American football stadiums, many sim racers believed layouts that would send short course trophy trucks flying over entire sections of bleachers at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum were little more than wishful thinking. Three years later, Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Truck Series, now known as Speed Energy Formula Off-Road, did just that.

Slowly, the narrative of the DiRT series being arcade games begins to fall apart. Yes, there was a soundtrack aimed at teenagers and the setup options were merely sliders, but the game’s subject matter still remains relatively close to reality. The Monster signage may have been obnoxious at the time, and the track designs a little flamboyant for where auto racing was at in 2009, but we eventually did send cars ripping up the LA Coliseum bleachers, and Monster is now the title sponsor of a prestigious rallycross series.

One of the biggest complaints about DiRT 3 back when it first came out was the inclusion of a dedicated YouTube button in the game’s replay mode, which the game aggressively pushed for you to experiment with via voice-overs shouting silly one-liners at the conclusion of each event, such as “sweet run homie, you should put that on YouTube!” The phrase became a meme of sorts both on the official Codemasters forums as well as other sim racing message boards, because at the time it was seen as a completely useless feature that almost nobody would bother making use of. The functionality was also limited to thirty second clips, so even if the feature did boast solid upload times and minimal loss in quality, external third party recording software did a much better job at capturing your best on-track exploits.

Sim racers scoffed at this feature, and the annoying “put that on YouTube, bro” dialogue that came along with it. Eight years later, they’re putting everything on YouTube, and the PlayStation 4 has what’s essentially a YouTube button directly on the controller. DiRT 3 was blasted by the sim community for pioneering what has become a very large part of the sim racing ecosystem – YouTube videos.

Last, but most certainly not least, would be the dreaded Gymkhana and drift events found in DiRT 3, which aggravated sim racers not particularly well-versed in the art of going sideways. Littered throughout DiRT 3’s surprisingly lengthy career mode are non-racing events, which ask you to either smash boxes, attain points for driving sideways, or participate in freestyle events that draw inspiration from both Monster Jam, as well as Ken Block’s prolific YouTube series based around carefully choreographed automotive stunts. Though there’s a pretty good amount of courses and vehicles designed around this off-shoot mode to make it into something that’s worth learning how to master rather than a quick diversion to be forgotten about, sim racers threw wide scale temper-tantrums over events that had very little – if anything – to do with off-road racing. In fact, sim racers cried that the difficulty of these mandatory Gymkhana events prevented them from progressing through career mode, or something to that effect.

The reality couldn’t be further from the truth, and the irony was delicious.

Though the occasional Gymkhaha event did appear in Career mode, DiRT 3’s progression system did not require you to complete every single event in a linear fashion to move deeper into the game. Career mode handed you a set number of tokens for completing each event, and would open new events after X amount of tokens were attained – kind of like Super Mario 64, where new doors in the castle were opened after a set amount of Stars, and it didn’t matter how you got to that number. Most of the time, the token threshold would be achieved in a fashion that would let you outright skip Gymkhana events entirely. So aside from the tutorial level, which practically held your hand through rudimentary challenges, drift sessions and Gymkhana events were optional diversions you weren’t forced to do, and the sim racers crying that they got stuck on a Gymkhana event, are actually admitting they couldn’t complete a basic tutorial level.

The irony, of course, is the sheer number of sim racers who enjoy drifting in their simulator of choice, whether it be Assetto Corsa, rFactor, or even Live for Speed. Of course, it isn’t always the same people taking an interest in both drifting and DiRT 3, but what I find perplexing is how many people slammed what’s more or less an elaborate drift mode in DiRT 3 that was made significantly easier thanks to competing on dirt and given all-wheel drive vehicles, only to head to the Assetto Corsa forums and see that there are an awful lot of sim racers who love drifting, and shouldn’t actually be having problems with the drift challenges or the Gymkhana mode as a whole. The same sim racers who criticized DiRT 3 for implementing race types centering around drifting, are in some cases shutting down DiRT 3 and then proceeding to boot up their favorite rFactor drift mod. Codemasters were trying to give this portion of the userbase something fun to do, and were criticized for it.

With DiRT 4 on the horizon, it’s easy to leave the previous three titles in the dust, and thank Codemasters for returning to their semi-hardcore roots with an uncompromising rally simulator. Yet in looking at the two most controversial games in the series, many of the elements that were deemed to be crafted with the casual audience in mind and seen as a slap in the face to the hardcore audience, were in hindsight either realistic, reasonable additions to the overall experience, or pioneered certain concepts that would later be adopted by the entire sim racing community. If the wait for DiRT 4 this summer becomes unbearable, it’s really not a bad idea to bust out the older games for a trip down memory lane; you might be surprised what you’ll find when approaching the software with an open mind.

 

Advocating for Stagnance

Once again, the sim racing community displays their bizarre mentality which prohibits the genre from moving forward.

While racing simulators can be a traditionally dull affair, devoid of life, fancy progression systems, and interesting diversions aside from the sterile on-track experience, the men and women at Codemasters are making an effort to change that with the upcoming DiRT 4. With a portion of the team – who have grown quite large since acquiring a major slice of Evolution Studios – working hard to make the simulation physics even more realistic than the sideforce-heavy driving model in 2015’s DiRT Rally, another part of the gang are hell-bent on crafting a compelling campaign experience to go along with the ruthless rally driving sim racers are eagerly anticipating to get their hands on this summer.

Codemasters’ latest blog update details the in-depth Team Management feature which will be available in DiRT 4, adding elements not seen since 2007’s Race Driver GRID into the core gameplay experience. Not only do we anticipate DiRT 4 to be the most realistic and authentic off-road sim ever created, but users will also be able to acquire crew & staff members, sign sponsors, design their liveries with a large roster of in-game templates (akin to the original GRID), buy & sell cars, as well as develop facilities to upgrade your vehicle at a quicker rate. You’re no longer just a rally driver; you’re running your own rally team. The giant inflatable Monster Energy cans and avant garde menus of past titles that shot you right into the action will now be replaced by a comprehensive meta-game that will serve to compliment what you accomplish behind the wheel, and sure, some people will have more money than they know what to do with only a few days into owning the game, but the existence of such management features greatly helps to flesh out the world of DiRT 4.

However, this hasn’t sat well with some sim racers.

Codemasters are going above and beyond with DiRT 4, introducing several elements which serve to substantially lengthen the longevity of the game and give some sort of underlying purpose to your on-track activity, and sim racers are actively saying they would rather have a mundane simulator devoid of life and meaning. While mainstream sports games such as FIFA, NBA 2K, and Madden are praised for their pseudo Twitter feeds, extensive visual customization, financial negotiations, in-game radio shows, and even cutscenes to enhance the immersion factor, a racing game developer attempting to add genre-appropriate elements like managing a pit crew, signing sponsors, designing a livery, and keeping an eye on your finances, have been scoffed at by snobbish sim racers, who would seemingly prefer these games to be permanently stuck in 1998.

It’s a very confusing phenomenon, to say the least. In terms of raw staff size, Codemasters may possibly be the single biggest racing game developer thanks to their recent acquisition of the staff from Evolution Studios, so it’s not like the simulation elements are being cut from DiRT 4 in favor of the management meta-games – it’s merely the icing on the cake of an already impressive package thanks to a random stage generator, 50 vehicles, and three distinct racing disciplines. Yet sim racers are actively voicing that they don’t care for these features in the slightest.

It’s extremely ironic how hardcore auto racing fans, who obsess over real-world silly season sponsor announcements, draft up fantasy liveries for their favorite drivers, and use sim racing as a way to live out their childhood dreams of running a race team with their friends, actively dismiss a solid attempt by a developer to include these elements in their newest game; instead crying that these features aren’t welcome.

This is proof that the sim racing community is absolutely off the rails, and I pray to God that developers are selective in what community feedback they choose to take into account; sim racers are whining that a developer went above and beyond to create a well-rounded experience from the paddock to the podium, instead implying the genre should remain stagnant. Thank you, Codemasters, for making a very tangible effort to create a compelling experience both on and off the track. Please don’t listen to these clowns, you’re on the right track with DiRT 4.