Reader Submission #142 – The Front Wing is Too Damn High

No longer confined to select press releases and vague teaser shots, the covers have been fully removed from Codemasters’ upcoming open wheel racer Formula One 2017, but the diehards have managed to spot some oddities – and we’re praying it’s not indicative of the rest of the game’s quality. Coming off a stellar outing in F1 2016, a title many fans considered to be Codemasters magnum opus once the tire wear issues had been rectified for online play, expectations are high for what the UK crew can achieve with their next outing, yet in the preview shots that have been released by first party sources, questionable findings were discovered that really shouldn’t have made it into promotional material at the very least.

Today’s Reader Submission here at PRC comes from Australian kart racer Tyler W., who has summarized the oddities in the officially released footage quite extensively for us. Though it’s not a clear indication that Codemasters are on pace to dropping the ball a second time this year after DiRT 4 failed to impress, the Formula One series has been constructed primarily for die-hard Grand Prix fans, and the game will live and die not by it’s content, but by it’s polish.

 

Hey PRC! I’m getting in quick before the rush of emails start coming regarding this topic, but some Formula One 2017 gameplay with Max Verstappen has officially dropped, showcasing him turning laps around the short layout of Silverstone. Now, I have watched a few E3 videos of the classic cars, and it didn’t seem that bat, but now with outside views of the cars, I have some cause of concern regarding the game. And I don’t say this lightly as I’m someone who has been playing Formula One games for about as long as I have lived.

First, for some reason the 2017 RB13 has a front wing so high that Snoop Dogg would be jealous. Problem is, no way would any F1 car run a wing that high at any time, as it would have no downforce properties in order to be fast.Then, we move onto the RB6 from 2010, and it looks even worse. For some reason, the car looks to be running on the ground with the wheels looking abnormally high compared to the car itself, making it seem like a botched open wheel mod for NASCAR Racing 2003 Season. It’s like there’s a horrendously soft suspension setup on it, and it’s not realistic at all compared to how the car sets through the corner in real life. While it’s compressing, the tires are still pretty low compared to the chassis.

I might be overreacting and worried over nothing, as what Max drove may have been an earlier build, but it’s a bit scary that the game comes out next month, and there seem to be some pretty glaring model issues, on top of the horrid external V8 engine noise – almost worse than what F1 2010 had, if I’m to be completely honest. By the way, how do you screw up a model that you’ve had since 2010?

What are your thoughts?

On one hand, I’ll gladly bring up Van Halen’s Brown M&M’s tour rider clause, where if one precise detail was botched – such as the color of M&M’s in the candy dish – the rockstars had every reason to believe exponentially larger mistakes were made when assembling the stage. So inaccurate car models and ride heights could point to other issues behind the scenes with F1 2017, problems we won’t discover until we’ve actually got our hands on the game and start screwing around with it. However, past examples have shown a racing game featuring inaccurate car models does not necessarily equate to a bad game. The EA Sports NASCAR Thunder games shipped with woefully inaccurate Chevrolet Monte Carlo bodies – they were too tall, too narrow, the front clip was nowhere near close, and the headlight decals were outdated by a few years – yet those games are still considered the absolute pinnacle of officially licensed NASCAR titles save for that small blemish, and it’s just something the diehards have to deal with every time they fire up the game.

Yet I do wonder how Codemasters were able to film promo pieces knowing such glaring oddities still existed with their car models. This is a team who are fully aware that die-hards are going to scrutinize everything and everything in the weeks leading up to the game; Formula One isn’t Mario Kart, it’s consumed exclusively by those who eat, breathe, and sleep grand prix racing, so why you’d pull the trigger on promotional material knowing it would be ripped apart is pretty perplexing. In my opinion, this one’s on the marketing team for not stepping in and saying “um… guys… are you sure you want this out there?”

There’s also the chance that Max was allowed to dick around with the game for a bit prior to filming, and he’s running some nutty exploit setup he figured out because he’s talented like that. I know in testing for Project CARS 2 I’ve been running some crazy shit outside traditional setup techniques for certain cars in the garage area, and it’s received some pretty interesting reactions when people either take a look at the values or try it for themselves, so that’s a distinct possibility.

Regardless, I wouldn’t write off the game just yet – Codemasters had a stellar blueprint to build upon thanks to how phenomenal last year’s game was – but yeah, I’m not sure why the promo team gave the thumbs up to put out footage with irregularities most F1 fans can spot from a mile away.

Advertisements

Micro Machines World Series: Further Troubles at Codemasters?

While I first believed DiRT 4 was just a bit of an anomaly from Codemasters – rushed out the door before it could be polished to perfection like many were anticipating – there’s now evidence that the one-two punch of DiRT Rally and F1 2016 served to mark both the begging and end of a golden age for the UK-based development team. Though it’s not a racing simulator by any stretch of the imagination, and it barely qualifies as a game that has any sort of relevance being discussed on PRC, Codemasters’ Micro Machines World Series has been an absolute disaster from both a critical and commercial standpoint. With content regurgitated from Codemasters’ prior release Toybox Turbos, a complete lack of anything resembling a proper single player campaign mode, intrusive in-game advertisements, and most if not all online elements blatantly ripped from Overwatch, the few who dared to purchase World Series are choked at how the same company who pushed out a pair of glorious racing simulators could drop the ball this badly.

Inspired by their own series of top-down arcade racers created with Galoob’s blessing in the early 1990s, Micro Machines World Series was meant to be a nostalgia trip back to when racing games were primitive pieces of software, placing an emphasis on colorful graphics and simplistic gameplay to try and re-capture the retro magic once more, albeit with exponentially more powerful gaming consoles. Unfortunately, Codemasters have instead taken three steps backwards and basically given potential customers zero reasons to give World Series a shot.

The car collecting meta-game of Micro Machines V4 for the PlayStation 2 – which boasted 800 cars – is now non-existent, and the car count has dropped significantly even compared to their last outing in Toybox Turbos, with just twelve vehicles to select from – preposterous considering Micro Machines are synonymous with toy car collecting among children and adults alike. Incorrectly believing this obscure retro arcade racer will somehow explode to become the motorized equivalent of Team Fortress 2 or Overwatch, Codemasters have also not included any sort of single player campaign in World Series, the game forcing users to connect to the online servers for participation in ranked and unranked “playlists”, with matches against AI bots hidden away in a Skirmish mode. That’s right, despite Electronic Arts making several foolish attempts in years past to push games without any prominent single player component, and promptly receiving an enormous backlash from customers and critics alike, Codemasters have basically ignored three years of gaming history in favor of repeating the exact same mistakes.

The laughs don’t stop there, as the folks over at PlayStation Universe have continued to split hairs over the shortcomings in this budget title and brought to light numerous instances of outright laziness on the part of Codemasters. Tracks have been completely regurgitated from the unlicensed Toybox Turbos and re-sold with mere cosmetic changes that have replaced the generic toys making up the trackside objects seen throughout the levels with officially licensed Nerf products, with even the heads up display throwing the popular toy weaponry brand in your face at every given opportunity. Aaron Varshney of PlayStation Universe also notes that the entire multiplayer experience, down to the exact progression elements and random item pick-ups, have been shamelessly lifted from Blizzard’s Overwatch. I’m not exactly well-versed in the team-based first person shooter so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of Aaron’s findings, but given a large portion of his review is dedicated to drawing direct comparisons between the shooter and World Series, I can’t imagine he’s entirely incorrect, either.

As his are assertions that Codemasters designed Micro Machines primarily with the eSports community in mind. Given there’s no single player campaign to speak of, a mandatory online component despite this sort of thing landing other devs in poor standing with their own fanbases, and ranked playlists on top of ranked playlists, it’s pretty apparent that this was a clumsy attempt by Codemasters to jump into the eSports scene – foolish considering racing games have not and simply will not have the widespread mass appeal of virtual cowboys and indians, let alone a dated, top-down racer based on a line of toys from the 1980’s and 1990’s.

And that’s if the online element actually functioned as advertised, which it clearly doesn’t. YouTube user Tiametmarduk, who is otherwise known for his close relationship with Codemasters, can be seen labeling his lone video on World Series as “Online Frustration” – pretty telling of the game’s quality considering Codemasters routinely fly him out for F1 gaming-related events.

Around this time last year, we learned that a large portion of the team formerly known as Evolution Studios would be acquired by Codemasters, essentially turning the UK team into an Audioslave-like supergroup of talented racing game developers prepared to push the current roster of games over the top, as well as introduce a new IP into the mix. And while DiRT 4 could have used a bit more time in development, shipping with a couple of oddities that kept the game firmly in “almost but not quite” territory,  Micro Machines World Series is a bit terrifying, as that’s now two games where Codemasters have objectively messed up pretty badly. It’s one thing to release a hardcore rally game where the tire physics aren’t entirely up to par, but dumping a game as half-assed as Micro Machines World Series onto the marketplace that’s full of regurgitated content, ripped ideas, and poor functionality, is something a major developer should not be doing at any cost.

We’ll find out later this summer if the Formula One franchise also falls victim to the same lackluster design choices and rushed, regurgitated ideology.

DiRT 4 Crashes and Burns on Steam – Is Handling to Blame?

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.

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.

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.