“Dirt 4” first play review: dirty, demanding, and damn good fun

Codemasters “Dirt 4” has beautiful graphics, immersive physics, delightful sounds, and intimidating weather. This isn’t big news in a modern console-based racer. Where “Dirt 4” distinguishes itself is with a combination of accessible and advanced driving modes and an enormous variety of gameplay beyond a simple career simulation (which itself packs an immersive team management aspect). It’s not better or worse than “Forza Motorsport” or “Gran Turismo,” but it’s refreshingly different and just as charming.

“Dirt 4” introduces gamers to rallying using a watered-down version of the driving lessons that “Gran Turismo” used. Split between computer-controlled demonstrations with narration from rally co-driver Jen Horsey and a series of practice runs, the Dirt Academy teaches the basics of rallying as part of a tie-in with the Dirtfish Rally School. 

There are 27 different lessons covering everything from elementary braking to handling loose surfaces or water splashes, providing a groundwork that drivers can build on throughout the game. But the beautiful thing is that you don’t really need these lessons. I only completed the Basic Driving and Advanced Driving courses before diving into the Career mode.

Like any driving game worth its salt, Career Mode represents the meat and potatoes of “Dirt 4.” Drivers start off in borrowed R2-class Ford Fiesta and Opel Adam hatchbacks running regional races. From there, gamers can progress through the ranks, earning licenses to move into national and eventually low-, mid-, and high-level international rallies. Along the way, additional series open.

The first is Land Rush, a stadium-based circuit series where gamers can run in high-powered off-road go-karts and bruising super trucks in wheel-to-wheel races that pay serious cash. Rally Cross and eventually Historic Rally follow, giving gamers access to enough different forms of gameplay that it’s difficult to get bored.

Racing or Role Playing?

When you start “Dirt 4” for the first time, the game prompts you to create a driver. Props to Codemasters for including the option to race as a woman and for including multiple ethnicities. The driver creation, though, is only the tip of the iceberg. 

You start out as a contract driver, receiving offers from teams to compete on their behalf, where you’ll earn a healthy cut of the winnings. Before long, you’ll earn enough coin to purchase a vehicle—a simple R2 Ford Fiesta or Opel Adam—and that’s where the fun begins. With a car in hand, gamers can start their own team, choosing a name, livery colors and designs, sponsors, and then outfit that team with personnel and facilities. Oh, and you get to keep a much larger portion of the winnings.

This provides an interesting strategy element for gamers. Instead of simply thinking about how I wanted one of the high-end Ford Focus RS RX rally cross cars, I had to figure out where to spend my winnings to keep my momentum up. Was I taking too much damage during races? Maybe I should upgrade my repair facilities or engineering team. Was my car uncompetitive? Rather than buy a new one, let’s figure out how to upgrade the turbocharger. “Dirt 4’s” career mode is a racing game with a big strategy element, and I love it.

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