As much as I enjoy racing games I've never been able to get into real life motor-sport.
I'm not sure why. I find it weird when people say they play FIFA
but don't really follow football. It feels like they're missing out on half the fun. But here I am, doing exactly that and I'll admit that with DiRT 4
it feels like I'm missing out a bit.
The game boasts official licenses for cars and tracks but nothing made me feel more out of the game than when I started my first race. In classic rally fashion I was zipping through a forest taking corners as tight as I could while someone in the passenger seat barked nonsense at me.
However, if you're like the me who started out in DiRT 4
and have no idea what the difference is between a right three and a right six but still love the style of off-road driving then there's no better place to start than DiRT 4
From the very start the game tries to understand what sort of player is holding the controller and caters to them. The first thing you need to do is decide whether you want to play in Simulation or Gamer mode. Admittedly, they could have come up with better titles for these but the intention was clear and it was obvious that I should choose Gamer.
It then runs you through a series of tutorials, from taking you though the menus to explaining the sport of rally driving. It'll tell you what a stage is (a point-to point-circuit) and let you try out rally cars, explaining when best to brake or release the throttle and carefully translating the orders that your navigator will be shouting at you.
Once the tutorial is over with you have the option to continue your education or head straight into the career mode, but it doesn't set you free at this point. You'll still be taken through how things work as and when needed, but more importantly DiRT 4
is always asking more of you.
Just when you feel like you're starting to wrap your head around the commands bellowing from the twat with a map the game'll stick you in thick fog, leaving you barely able to see a few feet in front of your bumper. It's then that you realise that rally driving is a team sport and you're no longer some boy racer in a ford escort bombing it up and down the high street.
I was starting to get into it. My mind was focusing on everything on screen as well as what was coming out of the speakers. I wasn't restarting runs because I flipped my car, I was doing so because I slightly misjudged a corner adding milliseconds to my time. I was aiming for perfection and wanted approval from my teammate.
That probably sounds weird. Sorry. But the effort Codemasters has put in to try to grab me and stick me into the world of rally driving is impressive. Nothing felt overwhelming or confusing, but it constantly tried to push me to learn and get under the skin of what would otherwise be an ok racer.
Soon enough I was confident in dropping a few of the assists. Finishing first is fun but not without the battle. If you remove a few of the helping hands that DiRT 4
has on offer then you increase the amount of in-game currency you earn during races. In all fairness, though, even when I was being treated like a six-year-old who'd never played a racer before I never felt as though the limits to my income were effecting my enjoyment so this was more of a bonus than anything else.
Money is spent on cars (of which there are over 50) and staff (of which there are significantly less). The more experienced your staff are, the quicker you'll be able to repair your motor between events or the more options you'll have for tweaking and tuning.
Currency is also used as a risk/reward during races. The more damage you do to your vehicle the more you'll have to spend to get it repaired before the next race, limiting your final reward at the finish line. Somehow this simple mechanic made me think twice about a risky overtake on a tight corner.
Basic rally driving isn't the only thing on offer in DiRT 4
. The game boasts four types of rally driving, from the sort you'd expect to Land Rush, Rally Cross and Historic Rally. Each style of gameplay feels completely different from the last and although one feels a tad less fun than the others they all feel as though they've had a lot time put into them in order for them to feel like a new game rather than what you're used to in a different setting.
Rally Cross is the highlight for me - normal track racing on a mixture of tarmac and dirt with the fun addition of the 'Joker' lap. During each race there's an extra bit of track to tackle. You only have to take it once so it's up to you to decide whether or not to do it early in order to get it over with or get some space between you and the pack before taking the scenic route.
These races are fun, challenging and complemented by excellent AI from the other drivers, who'll try and cut off your chances for overtaking at each corner and will be on your tail throughout, waiting for the smallest of slip-up to take advantage of.
Historic Rally is more of your standard rally mode with older cars, but the change in vehicle age really makes a difference. Harder to master but more satisfying, it's a step up in difficulty over the other modes. Once you start to get a handle on these cars, though, you'll find yourself pulling off manoeuvres that aren't possible in the more stable modern cars.