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DiRT 4

Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: Codemasters
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Racing/ Online


Graphics & Sound:

My personal favorite racing franchise is back, and not a moment too soon. 2015ís DiRT Rally had an authenticity to it that ultimately felt like a double-edged sword; its depth went hand-in-hand with its incredibly unforgiving nature. Not a knock against that game; I stand by the glowing praise I heaped upon it in my original review and still recommend that as many people as possible give it a shot. However, I canít deny that I missed the intoxicating diversity and instant accessibility of the core franchise. And as much as I love the original three (four if you count Showdown), itís time for Codemasters to take it to the current generation. DiRT 4 is the franchise at its very best; a must-own for anyone with a flexible aptitude for racing games.

I remember being blown away by DiRT 2ís visuals back in 2009. I still kind of am; every time I slam into a pool of muddy water, Iím floored (and horrified) by how realistically the resultant deluge is applied to and removed from the windshield. DiRT 4 is a naturally beautiful game, but it doesnít provide you with too many of those jaw-on-the-floor moments. Instead, its visual design is mostly in service to the gameplay, and thatís ultimately for the best. Surfaces play a huge role in DiRT 4ís gameplay, and knowing how to identify them makes all the difference when youíre trying to maintain that perfect line.

Sound design also has its share of important gameplay benefits. In DiRT 4, your vehicles speak to you. They tell you when things are and arenít okay, and they use a very specific language to communicate these points. If you donít know going in, youíll eventually learn what certain limits sound like. If youíre gunning the throttle too hard and redlining the engine, youíll hear a fluttering stutter and instantly know you need to ease off. If youíve failed to establish traction, youíll hear that, too. Youíll feel a flat tire before you hear it, but thereís no mistaking that, either. Co-drivers deliver their instructions in a speedy, precise cadence Ė exactly as they should. All in all, DiRT 4ís sound design is superb where it counts the most, and serviceable in the areas where it matters less.


Gameplay:

DiRT 4 continues the seriesí trend of keeping its racing action wonderfully diverse. Perhaps itís not quite true that itís got something for everybody, but it comes incredibly close. In fact, the only people I can see not enjoying DiRT 4 are individuals who absolutely hate racing games. Everything on offer is top class, and itís integrated into the omnipresent Career Mode in a way that fosters a natural sense of progression Ė and Iím not simply talking about earning new cars and establishing the perfect team.

DiRTís roots and history under the Colin McRae moniker inform an emphasis on rallying, and so it is with DiRT 4. Itís the franchiseís bread and butter, and considering the fact that it hit some rather dizzying highs in DiRT Rally, it would be a missed opportunity to leave it alone. For the uninitiated, Rally is a very specific, challenging style of racing in which the clock is your mortal enemy. Itís a non-circuitous sprint that pits the driver against numerous hazards, both natural and artificial. The lay of the land and design of each track do their best to slow you down, and your relationship with your vehicle is put through the wringer. Factors such as variable surfaces and camber ensure that youíre always on your feet, collaborating with your co-driver to properly anticipate and execute. The resulting thrill is one that no other discipline can replicate, and DiRT 4 delivers it in spades.

DiRTís most casual elements over the years (DiRT 3ís Gymkhana and pretty much all of Showdown) have been culled from the herd, but mainstay classics like Rallycross and Land Rush are still around to inject some horseplay and liven up the proceedings a bit. Where thereís a certain professional dignity to Rally events, Rallycross and Land Rush eschew all of that for a bit of rough and tumble. Here, the clock is still your enemy, but not to the same degree as the drivers all around you. Rallycrossís closed-circuit races make contact an inevitability, which leads to some pretty funny emergent moments. Landrush is like Rallycross, but with different vehicles and a surface type that lives up to the franchiseís namesake.

DiRT 4 trims a lot of fat, but in keeping with the food metaphor, thatís where a lot of the flavor was. I donít miss the likes of Gymkhana and Gate Crasher, but I canít say the same for Trailblazer and Raid. Trailblazer was basically Rally with a lot of beautiful but deadly straightaways, and Raid was essentially a lawless rampage across the countryside. Perhaps the excision of these two classics is simply the result of Codemasters deciding to focus on what it does best, but it still smarts a bit.


Difficulty:

If DiRT Rally burned you, DiRT 4 will gladly be your ointment. One of the very first decisions youíre faced with governs the entirety of your experience from there on out. Are you a hardcore racing fan whoís into realism and technicality over all else? Or do you fancy something more forgiving and instantly enjoyable? Two modes (Simulation and Gamer) facilitate both playstyles to magnificent effect. This is a fantastic moment: Codemasters is basically telling the player "we want you to have fun on your terms instead of ours." Itís one of those exceedingly rare instances where you can have your cake and eat it, too.

DiRT 4 takes the franchiseís unrelenting passion for the genre to all new levels; it is an incredibly eager teacher, and its enthusiasm is undeniably contagious. However, I fear it lays it on thick much too quickly. While the DiRT Academy can be accessed at any time, I donít recommend that newcomers plow through it in one go. Instead, learn by doing; when it becomes apparent that youíre doing something fundamentally wrong, make the right adjustments.


Game Mechanics:

There exists a class of racing games in which steering and acceleration are the only mechanics worth mentioning. DiRT 4 does not belong to that class. But neither does it belong exclusively to the snobby tuner culture subgenre that prioritizes the time spent in menus over the time actually spent on the road. It manages to be somewhere in between the two without feeling like itís spread too thin, and for that, Codemasters is to be commended.

A good interdisciplinary racer communicates its mechanics by way of how it feels, and DiRT 4 is among the very best of them. Spend enough time with the game, learning from your mistakes at every opportunity, and before long, youíll have a good idea of how to attack each turn, survive each obstacle, and conquer the clock.

You see, different types of cars control in vastly different ways. Concepts like oversteer, understeer, throttle control, and weight transfer factor heavily into navigating the tricky landscapes that comprise DiRT 4ís tracks. Not only do you have to contend with turns of varying intensity, but you must compound that knowledge with that of what the track is actually made of. Youíll know what Iím talking about once you barrel into an acute hairpin in a rear-wheel drive vehicle. It probably wonít end well, but DiRT 4 is a veritable wellspring of teachable moments.

Immersion is often the best way to learn something new, and that includes DiRT 4ís use of co-driverís pacenotes. Rallying is such a precise and potentially dangerous discipline: its winding, technical track layouts and varying surfaces are deliberately designed to throw drivers off. Hereís where your co-driver comes in. You see, thereís a tangible difference between what your mind expects and the reality of the track; the co-driver bridges that gap with a very specific language that describes in extreme detail what the trackís next element will entail. You might think itís a garbled mess of numbers and vague adjectives at first, but spend some time with DiRT 4 and youíll soon know exactly what it all means.

I played the hell out of DiRT 2; so much, in fact, that I eventually wore myself out on the standard (but plentiful) offering of tracks to test my mettle on. DiRT 4 introduces Your Stage, a brilliant tool that effectively makes burnout and success by rote memorization a total non-issue. It takes the concepts of procedurally-generated level design and applies it to DiRTís brand of rallying with remarkable ease. You control two factors via sliders corresponding with length and complexity and let the game do the rest. Itís a watershed moment for the genre for so many reasons, and I canít wait to see what they come up with next.

Codemastersí latest may also be its greatest. While it looks, sounds, and plays fantastically, its noble intentions are capitalized upon to such a successful degree that it deserves every accolade it gets. Put simply, DiRT 4 is sublime.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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