Game Review: Dirt 4 – Steam

Title Dirt 4
Platform: Steam / Windows
Available on OS: Windows
Genre:racer, sim racer, faux sim racer, driving, rally, rally x
Date completed: Late 2020
Game number:10 of 1005 steam games (< 1%)

Summary review: An orphan in the genre that doesn’t quite fit in, I consider it a “diamond in the rough” even if no one else does.
Graphics: The graphics are dated now but then high frame rate is important so it may not matter. It works flawlessly in 5120×1440 resolution, which is really what I care about anyway.
Music: The musical score is acceptable given how much it ends up playing. At some point you might want to turn it off and play music in the back ground. But it’s not terrible.
Controls: I started with a gamepad and eventually “graduated” to a Logitech G920 force feedback wheel. See review for more details.
Replayability: Since I’m still playing after 200+ hours I’m going to say it’s quite high.
Total score: 95 / 100 – A faux sim I already have 200 hours in and still play on occasion. Not the festival atmosphere of prior Dirt games nor the serious sim style of the Dirt Rally games, it falls some place in the middle which is exactly what I was looking for.


Pre-amble: this turned into a much longer review than I thought possible. Sorry in advance for the length.

Introduction

I think I’ve started and abandoned the review for this game two or three times now and I’m not sure why. I guess the Dirt subreddit has made me over sensitive about descriptions of this game so I end up with paragraphs that are entirely too long and seemingly defensive.

I actually completed this game more than a year ago, in late 2020. I started playing it as I had with Dirt 2 using a gamepad but started to feel like something was missing so I started to look into options for a proper steering wheel and pedals. I was only thinking about it at the time as I hardly wanted to spend a bunch of money and realize I had lost interest and had this expensive accessory collecting dust.

So I started this game on relatively easy difficulty, automatic transmission, using the third person camera and an Xbox One gamepad. Then “graduated” to what appeared to be the best option for a wheel: a Logitech G920 wheel/pedal set for about $300 new (this is the PC+Xbox version of the apparently famous

So I started this game on relatively easy difficulty, automatic transmission, using the third person camera and an Xbox One gamepad. Then “graduated” to what appeared to be the best option for a wheel: a Logitech G920 wheel/pedal set for about $300 new (this is the PC+Xbox version of the apparently famous in the price range G29, which is PC+PlayStation).

They seemed to be the same as far as specs go. Just one worked with Xbox and the other worked with PlayStation. And the G29 was never in stock.

I bought the G920 without he optional gear shifter and played like that for a quite a while. The shifter was an extra $60 and I didn’t know how committed I was yet and at the time I was automatic transmission only anyway. This game and wheel supports Force Feedback, which really adds some depth and immersion to the experience (the wheel vibrating and fighting against you as you slide around a corner on a dirt road, for instance).

I mention all this to try and make it clear how I came in to this game and escalated the conditions of playing it. It also demonstrates a little bit of the flexibility of this game.

This G920, by the way, is considered the lowest end of all the options by the “real” wheel-based race sim drivers. I rationalized the cost by convincing myself I could eventually move on to other games that the wheel supported.

The Premise

The basics of this game are similar to the prior Dirt games: you play a “character” starting out on the lowest level racing circuit. There’s a tutorial with a co-driver that walks you through all the basics of driving in the game, when to accelerate out of a turn, the best way to approach a hairpin on tarmac and so forth. It it is quite evident from the start this is not the fun, festive, x-games oriented sort of theme of the prior Dirt games: this is a much more serious “git good” sort of game.

Upon either skipping or completing the tutorial you’re thrown into your first event: use a really terrible car to get to the other end of an almost straight dirt track as fast as possible, with some generated times for AI racers.

Over the course of the game you accumulate a team manager, a PR promoter and a number of different mechanics with different skill level grades.

I thought at first perhaps I would be able to gain experience points and “level up” my team of mechanics and so forth and bring them along with me. But unless I’m missing something this is not the case. Instead you either fire or don’t renew your grade D mechanic for a C-rated mechanic. The only real difference is the the skill points alongside their profile. These are really just “buffs” for your car. There are no personalities or conversations.

Your goal is to earn money to upgrade various categories and continue paying your staff, upgrading to new and better staff and eventually better and better cars.

There’s a few ways to do this but the main two are racing with your team and “sponsored” races. Both options have their own advantages and disadvantages. In sponsored for instance you’re simply provided a car with no need to worry about upgrades or repairs and the car may be something you can’t yet afford to buy but you won’t necessarily earn as much even for first place at the end of it. If you stick to your own car you start to grow familiar with it as more and more miles are put on it and you can earn a lot more money from sponsors of cars you own.

That’s some flexibility

As I alluded to, I started out playing this game like I played the prior Dirt games: gamepad, third person, automatic transmission, a number of assists on. The game actually gives your a percentage difficulty rating based on these options and then during the “career” it will give you bonuses for completing an event at a specific difficulty rating.

For instance if you finish the game in one of the first person/dash camera views that’s a higher percentage of difficulty rating.

The game also has a some limited options for customizing different aspects of the car. This “tune” screen is completely optional and I completed the whole game without ever touching it (tip: may want to lower the height of the car for Spain if nothing else).

Just pick “gamer”. If you want a “sim” then “dirt rally 2” is the better option and really cheap…

There is actually a prompt at the start of the game to ask you what type of “handling” you prefer: simulation or gamer. This may be where a lot of people got the idea this is some kind of arcade game.

To me, an “arcade” game is a pick-and-play type game, like Need for Speed or Burnout. Maybe the vehicles handle a little differently but there’s not really a challenge to putting them where you want them even at high speeds.

Dirt 4 is not that however, even on “gamer” handling: you will have to concentrate on speed and tire grip to make it around a corner successfully. If two wheels aren’t touching the ground then it will probably be difficult to start turning. And that sharp left at the end of the straight away is going to take some time and effort to slow down for it turns out.

If you crash and total the car there are consequences to this. You have to go really fast but also have to know the track fairly well to know how fast you can go around those corners without crashing.

By the time I had completed the main career mode – or credits rolling if you prefer – I had completed converted to wheel, pedals, manual transmission/6 position shifter and first person camera view only. I had also started to experiment with different tuning adjustments for my cars to try and get better handling.

A plethora of event types

The game has three main discipline types: Rally, Land Rush and Rally Cross. There’s also “Historic Rally” but you can finish the game without that type of race.

The car can only be repaired at the courses with the little wrench icon. If the car is damaged on the first course it’s a damaged car until the next repair stop…

It feels like I spent the most time in Rally. This is because at the later stages of this discipline there are are 12 mile long courses and if I messed up at any point on of those courses I would start over from the beginning. Add to this some of the courses were at night, while raining and have a lot of twist and turns and you’ve got some very time consuming events. Add to this if you manage to knock out one or both headlights during a race you’re stuck driving in the dark and possibly rain for the rest of course. There’s no stop midway through to replace headlights in other words, it’s too bad for you.

The Rally events of the “Triple Crown”. Again, just take note of those repair stops. Might want to set aside a weekend.

As you can see from the screenshot, the courses themselves are quite varied for terrain and weather types. From the dirt of the Australian outback to the frozen tundra of Sweden and a few places in between, there are a lot of challenges to watch for. Oh and don’t get me started on the entirely tarmac courses of Spain. I always found those the most difficult of all.

This culminates in the final boss form of a good racing game: the Triple Crown. In this event you have to complete the laid out courses in the main three disciplines of Rally, Rally Cross and Land Rush and the game seems to throw everything it has at you because if you made it this far you’re hopefully looking for a challenge.

I-heart-Rally Cross

As I recall, there is an event called “Rally Cross” in Dirt 2, but it has very little in common with what this game calls “Rally Cross”.

In this Rally Cross, the tracks are very short, the turns are very sharp, the surfaces are always a mix of dirt/gravel and pavement and there’s a special lap called the “joker lap”. I don’t think I had even heard of a “joker lap” before I came across this game: it’s an extra section of course every racer must take at least once over the course of the five or however many laps required. There are also three AI cars on the course with you trying to bump into you and spin you out.

A sample Rally Cross course with joker section.

To the game’s credit, it does give you 10 chances to practice a course before doing the real race. I would usually do one practice where I did nothing but joker laps, a second practice where I did the minimum joker and the rest regular course laps and final practice where I did a random mix of the two just trying to learn the course. So that’s three practice sessions of six laps each before I even start the real event. This probably contributed to my success in the Rally Cross events.

It’s also probably how I started to learn so much more about highspeed hair pin turns and the “Scandinavian flick” (search YouTube for this for some entertainment).

The interesting thing is after finishing the Rally Cross discipline I went back to do some Rally courses and was utilizing those cornering skills without even really thinking about it.

I think I really had the most fun with Rally Cross in this game. Not because Rally is bad but because learning the courses, speeding around the hairpins and beating the AI is so satisfying.

Land Rush and Historic Rally

Land rush returns from the prior Dirt games. It is actually a lot of fun but for me just not as engaging as the other disciplines. It’s more of thing I can do to mix it up if I’m starting to get sick of one race type or another after a long play session.

Historic rally, as the name implies, is basically the same as Rally but with some really old cars including the famous “Group B” types like the For Escort Mk II and 1964 MINI Cooper S.

It seemed to like a different play style for basically the same thing I had done. Except paying attention to front while versus rear wheel drive was a lot more important.

The game can be completed without this event type so it it really is optional and a question of whether or not you find this the idea fun or not

The famous “randomly generated” track system

Perhaps the most noteworthy of all features unique to Dirt 4 (at least in the Dirt franchise) is the randomly generated track system.

In Rally, the first time a particular class of race is or discipline is started the game will generate course at random. The course will have a different length, be have more or fewer sharp turns and elevation changes and the time of day and whether will vary. The early stages of Historic rally will be much shorter and simpler than the final stages for instances but this is what will happen.

In fact, there is a section of the game where you can create a custom championship and actually generate courses with given parameters for length, complexity, time of day and weather. I think this was supposed to give the game a longer life and increase the replayaibility factor over time.

Generating a new rally course

The Dirt fanbase seems to have turned on this game largely based upon the random track generator and indeed there has been nothing of its kind in a dirt game since then (there’s only been three dirt games since Dirt 4 but you get the idea).

It is true the courses start to seem the same after a while even if they are randomly generated and it is true the courses aren’t nearly as interesting as they would be if a team of professionals painstakingly designed each and every Rally course with care. But I also don’t mind the randomly generated courses in the career mode. I’ve never felt that much need personally to create custom championships with newly generated tracks. Maybe that’s just me.

I do wish they had included an actual track editor for the community to make courses. I think that would have been fun and probably would have saved this game.

Oh, and the cars

Sometimes, in racing games, there is an extensive list of actual cars to choose from and race, which should probably be mention in a review at some point.

To me at least the goal of this game is to win first place in lots of races to earn money to be able to buy the top of the top cars: the R5s. For whatever reason the Hyundai R5 is only available as DLC for Dirt 4. I don’t know if there’s really anything extraordinarily special about this car in particular or if the developers just couldn’t get permission to put it in the game in time so they sold it later. Whatever case may be, I had a really, really good time racing my beloved Hyundai R5 over the rally tracks of this game. Especially right after I had done all that Rally Cross I was actually accelerating for down hill hairpins in Wales courses rather than slowing down. And making it too. It was a lot of fun at the peak of my skills and the peak race classes, the R5. And this was before I started to tune the engine.

The pinnacle of Dirt 4: The R5s

As you might expect you start career mode with a really bad car and try and finish races as best you can. There are other expenses to contend with besides cars, such as upgrades and paying your staff of mechanics.

I really like how the different makes and models of cars handle so differently. A Ford is going to be different from a Mitsubishi, for instance even if they are comparable in specifications.

Depending on difficulty rating, it may or may not be necessary to worry about the cost of repairs and upgrades. Truthfully I don’t know if I really noticed that much difference between a C rated part and an A rated part but I always worked towards upgrading everything to an A rating anyway.

As for tuning I mostly just used trial-and-error to try and find somethign worked for me. I still have no idea what an “anti-roll bar” is but if the car seems to control better with it all the way on the firm side than that’s where I’m putting it.

Speaking of which, it is possible to save a particular tune configuration for recall later, you just can’t apply a tune configuration from one car to another and there’s an arbitrary limit on how many configurations can be saved at once. There also limits on what conditions the game will let you recall a particular tune configuration, which can be frustrating sometimes.

There are two places to acquire cars for your use: through a dealership where you pay retail price for a new car and through the “classifieds” where you by used cars. Some cars are only available through classifieds but not all cars are always listed in classifieds. I’m not sure why the game does this as it seems arbitrary and just there to frustrate the player.

If more money is needed there is always the option to replay the first race of the game over and over to “grind” for money.

Daily, Weekly and Monthly events: the adventure continues

In the “competitive” section of this game are the community events, including day, week and month long events to participate in (there’s also “owners club” which is just a daily for owners of a specific vehicle).

Since the developer has apparently stopped bothering with this game the leader boards have long since been taken over by cheaters (multi-minute courses completed in 2 seconds) but it still adds some variety to the game and something to do after completing the career mode.

I have only completed the month long event – or maybe I should say the event you have a month to complete – a few times. There is a monetary reward provided for doing so, which can be used back in career mode. The thing about the month long event is that totaling a car on the third course means you’re out of that event for the rest of the month. No retry in that mode.

Also some other modes

There are a few things I haven’t gone into yet but this review is getting a little lengthy.

There is a “joyride” section that gives you some scenarios to complete with different vehicle types. For instance make it around the course nocking over targets in the allotted time. Or run through green targets to gain time while avoid time-subtracting red targets on the dirt fish course. I didn’t find these events that fun for whatever reason so I never made it that far.

There’s also the previously mentioned “freeplay” where a custom championship can be put together with as many or as few simple/complex/short/long tracks across the different locales can be put into the place.

There’s also the career mode itself. When I first started playing the game I found the navigation system for career mode infuriating to no end. I did eventually get used it but it took a long time and even now I think it is very poorly designed.

There’s also a car customization screen where you can pick your car color scheme as well as sign up for sponsors that will eventually want to pay you for your mad driving skills. You can choose where and how prominently these different corporate logos are displayed on your car as you like. If this makes the slightest difference in the game I never noticed it.

Now some negatives…

The opening of this game is the complete opposite of how you want to launch player into a new racing game: a really terrible car that’s hard to control down a really boring, uninteresting course.

In fact the whole game is largely like that: it doesn’t seem made to keep the player’s attention or really communicate what to expect later in the game. After the long jumps and fireworks of Dirt 2 and Dirt 3 the opening of this game especially just leaves a lot to be desired as far as setting expectations.

There is one variation of one discipline I didn’t mention: in Land Rush there is a special class called the Speedcar Xtreme. I hate this vehicle. I hate everything about it. I some how managed to make it through the championship in first place and there are mercifully few events with this vehicle type and it doesn’t show up in the Triple Crown but it is just…the worst.

The career mode navigation is actually really bad and confusing. In fact just about everything about how career mode works is pretty bad. It’s ultimately functional and gets you to the racing as it’s supposed to, but it’s really bad.

Conclusion

I came up with my own term for Dirt 4: it’s a “faux sim” or a “sim with training wheels”.

It can be played in a relatively casual way by turning down the difficulty and turning on all the assists. Or if you start to really get into it you can slowly move up the difficulty to manual transmission, tuning vehicles, using a first person camera and investing in a wheel/pedal/shifter.

If you’re already into games like Project Cars 2 or Dirt Rally 2 you already know what you want. If you play games like Need for Speed and are starting to think you’re ready for the “next level” of realism this might be a place to start. Because this game is going to be child’s play relative to “real” sims like Project Cars 2. But Dirt 4 could be used to test and see if you are interested enough for a more realistic sort of racing game.

If you jump from Burnout to Dirt Rally 2 you might find yourself way over your head for expectations and the style of play. Dirt 4 could be that in-between title, the “gateway” to bigger and better racing games if you will.

Dirt subreddit, where Dirt 4 is largely ignored
Dirt subreddit wiki with tips on driving, wheel setup etc


Metadata

Method of control used Xbox One Gamepad, G920 wheel/shifter/pedals
Controllable via both one analog stick or digital four-way (“HAT”) n/a
Hardware requirements: Relatively low as it was released in 2014
Supports 21:9 aspect ratio screens?in 5120×1440 it works wonderfully
PCs tried on ~2019 era core i7 laptop/nVidia GPU
Works with 4:3 screens n/a
Initial setup requiredOther than setting up my wheel/pedals, nothing to setup
Time to complete~80 hours from start to credits roll
Steam UID421020

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