Rally games have traditionally struggled with one thing in particular. Once you’ve played the selection of included courses a few times, you lose the breakneck thrill of driving by the seat of your pants on an unknown stretch of rally stage. Dirt 4, out now on Xbox One, PS4 and PC, aims to solve this with a feature called Your Stage, which can churn out a functionally infinite supply of unique stage mileage across five locations, all at the click of a button. Spoilt? Us?
In practice, it’s mostly successful. It takes several hours for you to spot repetition in the pieces that have been slotted together and the Wales location in particular feels especially organic, with its dramatic hills and valleys. Michigan by contrast is far more homogeneous, with its endless stretches of autumnal forest and soft, forgiving verges blurring into one.
Most importantly, though, Your Stage, combined with a vast array of time-of-day and weather settings, means you’ll never see the same stage twice during the lengthy career mode. Then when you’re done with that you can twiddle with the length and complexity sliders and manually generate courses to your heart’s content. Your move, Scalextric.
You’re unlikely to get bored of the game even as Your Stage runs low on surprises, because the handling model is so fantastically engaging and every car presents a unique challenge. Taking the simulation underpinnings of Dirt Rally but offering a Gamer mode that smooths the controls out for more casual players, Dirt 4 effortlessly straddles the divide between the hardcore and arcade fans of the series. It’s just exceptional fun to churn up a rally stage in this game, regardless of which setting you choose.
Rally purists will be disappointed that, owing to licensing issues, the real life stages and more recent WRC machinery that made Dirt Rally feel so authentic are no longer present. In reality, the shared quality of the handling mean the two games sit comfortably alongside each other in your collection. Dirt 4 doesn’t necessarily replace Dirt Rally, it complements it.
Besides, there are welcome new touches of authenticity elsewhere. Dirt 4’s tag line is ‘Be Fearless’ but the game does an excellent job of sowing the seeds of paranoia as you attempt to survive the rigours of rally. All manner of clunks and scraping sounds can materialise after contact with the scenery and your co-driver will comment if they don’t think the car is quite right.
The worst moment was when our erstwhile pace note delivery vector Nicky Grist commented that the engine had been misfiring and that we might notice it out on the stage. Maybe don’t mention it, Nicky, so we’re concentrating on your notes rather than cocking an ear for a funny noise as we sail off a cliff?
Rallycross also gets a much needed upgrade over Dirt Rally, with two additional tracks and more detailed spotter info to make a better use of the official FIA World Rallycross licence. There’s also the Landrush events in which you clatter around American dirt tracks in vastly overpowered trucks and buggies. A bit like that country’s national dish – greasy fast food – it’s initially delicious but gorge on it and it’ll make you feel queasy.
To summarise, Dirt 4 offers up the most convincing handling in any rally game yet, more unique rally stages than likely exist on the planet itself plus the knockabout fun of Rallycross and Landrush as an occasional palate cleanser. So ask yourself this, in the immortal words of Christina Aguilera: wanna get dirty?