When you start Dirt 4 for the first time, you have to make a very important decision, one that defines the experience you have in front of you: "Gamer" or "Simulation"? This choice will either let you enjoy a more arcade style experience, or one that's more realistic. As this is Dirt 4 and not Dirt Rally 2, Codemasters wants to entice casual fans back to the series, those who found Dirt Rally too demanding. The developers have made sure that Dirt 4 contains exactly the same (but improved) physics engine and calculations as Dirt Rally, but they have also managed to scale down the difficulty in Gamer mode. Is it the best of both worlds then?
We've followed the WRC for several years and although we prefer rallycross today, we've still got plenty of love for the sport. We have played Codemasters' brutal simulation, Dirt Rally, pretty much daily since it was released on console just over a year ago. We have, however, never been particularly good at it and in general tend to enjoy arcade racing over simulation. Dirt Rally was difficult, unforgiving. As we start Dirt 4, we're asked to attend the game's rally school, an extensive walkthrough that takes almost an hour to complete, and during which we learn different racing techniques. It contains theoretical videos, but also exercises where we get to practice what we've learned. Weight distribution, momentum, and general terminology are fed to us in a steady stream, but once school's out we feel like a fully fledged pro.
Basically, Dirt 4 feels a lot like Dirt Rally, albeit with a couple of differences. The cars (regardless of class) feel more directly controlled, which makes the whole game easier. Don't get us wrong, there is still a challenge here, but thanks to the rally school and the ability to tailor your opponents' driving skills, it's much easier for everyone to have fun, regardless of driving style or skills. Certainly, different cars differ from one another and they behave differently based on things like length, weight, and control. It's hard to put your finger on exactly what it is, but the cars in Dirt 4 are easier to control than in Dirt Rally, yet it still doesn't feel like they're in an arcade game. We enjoyed the change, as there is more focus on the actual racing instead of calculating curves and the frustration that comes with getting it wrong. You can now tailor the challenge to your own liking, which makes for a much more enjoyable experience.
One thing that makes Dirt 4 feel more like a sequel than an upgrade is the presentation. It's not got that "dude bro Ken Block"-ish feel to it, but the menus and framing have a consistently and distinctively stylistic look. Career mode is divided into four different directions: Rally, Landrush, Rallycross, and Historical Rally. Rally and Historical Rally are exactly what they sound like; regular rally competitions with stages set in the United States, Sweden, and Australia (to name a few countries). These are fictional stages and the cars are not officially licensed from WRC as Codemasters does not own the license. The Landrush mode returns from previous games in the series, with insanely wide curves and petrol-powered monsters battling through tight turns and high jumps. Landrush is fun and there is room for more drifting than in the rally mode, and there are still opportunities to apply lessons learned in rally school.
As mentioned, Rallycross makes a return from Dirt Rally, and in addition to the inclusion of new tracks, it works in exactly the same way. It's fast, messy, and great fun in a chaotic way that reflects the sport well. As there are two cars in front of us and the dust is so thick that we can't see anything, we simply push down the pedal to the metal and shout "YOLO" and hope for the best. It offers the kind of excitement that'd be hard for any game to beat. The Rallycross mode also benefits from the ability to scale the challenge it offers.
In addition to the actual racing sections, you get the opportunity to build your very own racing team and manage sponsors, so you must hire a mechanic, public relations representative, and navigator. They come in at different levels of experience and, of course, cost accordingly. You can negotiate their fees, but giving them low wages won't keep them happy in the long run, and to run the team effectively, it is important to invest money in different areas. For example, upgrading logistics makes the relationship with sponsors 10% better and therefore the PR department will be more satisfied and perform even better as a result. It costs a lot of money to take care of everything and there is a constant balancing act between investing correctly, buying new cars, and getting upgrades. However, it adds a deeper and more complex overall feel to the career mode, rather than just going from competition to competition and piling all the money you earn into the car.