Review: Dirt 4 — Quality gameplay meets muddy visuals

The DiRT titles have been one of Codemasters’ flagship franchises for almost a decade now, with Colin McRae: DiRT launching in the middle of June 2007. After three successful main entries, the series branched out with both DiRT Showdown and the somewhat recent DiRT Rally. The two both took the series in very different directions—Showdown focused more on extreme fun, and Rally focused on providing a tight simulation experience.

That ended up leaving some fans out in the cold, but the original numbered titles weren’t done. Codemasters announced DiRT 4 back in January, and it tries to—and succeeds at—providing a quality experience for both fans of simulation racing titles and the first three DiRT games. That sadly doesn’t result in a quality Xbox One version of the game, but the core gameplay remains fast-paced, exciting, and most importantly, fun.

The way DiRT 4 works for both simulation and arcade rally racing fans is done through the amount of customization it gives you. Right off the bat you’re presented with two vastly different handling styles: gamer and simulation. The gamer style will be far more familiar to you if you’re into the older DiRT titles, and simulation is significantly closer to Rally. You can also go on to customize difficulty to your liking, kicking it up to the highest setting on simulation mode for the best possible challenge. It’s nice to get this level of control over how the game plays, and it should be noted that the gamer setting isn’t an easy mode. It’ll still put up a challenge regardless of your choice, so don’t feel bad about choosing it over simulation.

There’s also some pretty decent modes—some of them ones you would expect, like a career mode or multiplayer options, but some of the most exciting fun can be found in Joyride, which finally returns from 2011’s DiRT 3. Joyride lets you go through various objective-based trials, which are part of either the heart-pounding and clock-ticking Time Attack mode, or Smash Attack, which has you breaking as many of the objective items as possible before the time runs out. They’re great fun, and absolutely worth looking into. Additionally, you can freely drive around the course used for both modes with any car in the game, even if you haven’t unlocked it yet. It’s definitely a good idea to play around with a car there before purchasing it, and learning the course layout will certainly help with both of the Attack modes.

Additionally, there’s a great deal of variety in the cars you can purchase and use. There’s various classes of cars from various eras, ranging from modern beasts to classic rally cars from days gone by. These cars feel absolutely fantastic to drive, regardless of if you’re playing on gamer or simulation. It’s obvious that Codemasters put a good deal of work into how these cars feel, and they’re absolutely great.

While on the topic of purchasing cars, it’s worth noting that you can even sell some of your own after you’re done with them. The amount of money you’ll get for each one is influenced by a variety of factors like accidents. It’s a nice touch.

Each car does look fantastic on the outside as well, but that’s where praise for DiRT 4’s graphics both begins and ends, at least on the Xbox One. Environments are incredibly muddy, and the colors are all washed out. The visuals are often so poor that it appears similar to what you’d expect from a mobile game, with water often looking flat and texture-less. To call it disappointing would be a massive understatement, and it’s one of the few times that bad graphics have actually made my experience with a game worse.

As previously mentioned, the cars themselves look fine on the outside, especially when put alongside the game’s terrible-looking environments. It’s jarring for sure, and gets even worse when you switch to viewing the game through your driver’s own eyes. The view from the driver’s seat is far from a pretty one: the inside of your car looks more like a foam model than anything else, and the already muddy environments somehow manage to look even worse from this point of view. It’s truly hideous.

If you had any hope of getting immersed in the game during simulation mode, this will kill any and all hope of that. Forza Motorsport this is not. While graphics don’t necessarily make a game good or fun, a good simulation balances both visuals and gameplay to create just that: a simulation. The Forza games have shown that the Xbox One is already capable of handling some great looking racing games, and it’s a genuine shame that Codemasters either couldn’t or simply didn’t care enough to improve the Xbox One version of the game.

With that being said, there is some light at the end of the tunnel: the game performs perfectly, maintaining a smooth 60 FPS at all times. Severe graphical cuts might have been needed to hit that target, but it’s been hit nonetheless. Additionally, Codemasters have stated that they will likely maximize the game’s performance on the upcoming Project Scorpio, and that hitting 4K resolution at 60 FPS is theoretically possible. Project Scorpio is an incredibly powerful console aimed at people who care about visuals, so odds are you’ll be picking one up if DiRT 4’s current visuals bug you as much as they bug me.

At the end of the day, DiRT 4 is a very good game at its core. It provides solid options for people who are into both arcade racing and simulations, even if you might not be getting immersed into the latter until Project Scorpio releases. The cars are fantastic and there’s plenty of them to choose from, with a good deal of variety across eras. Everything feels just right gameplay wise, meaning that DiRT 4 is worth a look at the very least. It’s definitely a good game to celebrate the franchise’s tenth anniversary.

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