Feature Article

How Dirt 4 Opens Its Doors To New Drivers

Cleaning up Dirt's act.

I hate driving. Somehow, I am legally allowed to drive on real-life roads, but I absolutely despise doing so. I find it boring, stressful, and--above all--difficult.

The most recent game in the Dirt series, Dirt Rally, faced similar criticisms from some fans when it released via early access in 2015. Many praised the game for its depth and for how faithfully it recreated rally, as brutal as the sport can be. But even its biggest fans would likely admit that the game was too punishing for newcomers.

With Dirt 4, developer Codemasters is trying to make motorsport more welcoming. A deluge of assists--for example, systems that help players with braking and cornering--will immediately make less confident drivers (read: me) much more comfortable. Codemasters' senior executive producer, Clive Moody, told me this was very much in the company's thoughts during development.

"Dirt Rally was, without question, pretty uncompromising," Moody admitted. "A lot of people either couldn't get into it because they didn't have the time to put the effort into it, or they were just put off from the get-go. It just threw you in, gave you no safety net whatsoever, and it was kind of sink or swim.

"If you had the patience you could power through that and get it, but for some people it was too much. So definitely a driving factor in Dirt 4 is needing to give people a safer and more gentle entry into the world of off-road."

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To help give newer players a boost over the barrier many perceive the series to have, the very first thing Dirt 4 asks you is if you're playing "to have fun (Normal Mode)" or "to be challenged (Simulation Mode)." These modes are complement more standard variables such as difficulty levels and optional assists like anti-lock braking, traction control, and stability control.

"Normal Mode layers in some elements which just help dial out some of the things which we know people struggle with when they're getting into a rally car or an off-road car," said Moody. "Things like weight shift and how you control that, particularly on loose surfaces."

Don't be fooled: Normal Mode is still tricky. Its handling model may be softer, and a little more forgiving, but I still spun out more times than I care to admit. It just allows you some leeway if you're overzealous heading into a corner.

Dirt Rally was, without question, pretty uncompromising

Clive Moody, senior executive producer

In Simulation Mode, assists are turned off by default, the car becomes twitchier--and I get slower. And crash-ier. Simulation is for the more accomplished driver; it's for people who could actually play Dirt Rally without hitting more trees than apexes. But, with a little practice, Simulation Mode becomes manageable, even for relative novices.

"Simulation is Dirt Rally--it's the same but better because we've made some improvements," said Moody. He didn't elaborate on what those improvements were, but was quick to highlight the game's standout new feature: Your Stage.

Your Stage is essentially a track generation tool. You pick a location (in our demo, Australia was the only playable locale) and adjust the track's length and complexity, and in response Dirt 4 creates a brand-new, procedurally-generated track for you to play. They're rarely that different from one circuit to the next, but it does stave off the boredom of repeatedly playing the same roster of tracks. And more importantly, it forces you to think on your feet.

Dirt 4 kind of doesn't have an end

Clive Moody, senior executive producer

Because of this, your AI co-driver becomes vital in Your Stage. Racing into the unknown means you need to listen to your partner's clues about onrushing corners. Not only does this more closely replicate the sensation of racing on an unfamiliar rally track, it also hands you a teacher. Actually having to listen to your partner--learning to read their cues and improving because of it--is a rare thing in video games, and it works.

Separating AI difficulty, track complexity, and Normal/Simulation modes from each other, also means you can ramp up the entertainment value by racing on harder and harder tracks (improving along the way), but still get a nice gold medal at the end. This way, you keep your confidence up, even as you graduate to more complex stages or make the leap to Simulation mode. Your Stage means Dirt 4 "kind of doesn't have an end," said Moody. While patterns did start to emerge after a few hours of play, it's hard to disagree.

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Moody concluded by saying that helping less experienced players--as well as reintroducing Landrush mode and adding more off-the-track features--makes Dirt 4 a more rounded sequel to Dirt 3 than Dirt Rally ever was.

"[With Dirt Rally] there was a real danger that we alienated people that love the numbered Dirt series, just by making that much of a switch," he admitted. "Dirt 4 has a lot of stuff in it. It's not about fluff; it's all about how we add depth to the experience. So there's a lot of depth in the career in terms of the team management, hiring and firing of staff, facilities management, management of your cars and their repairs, the attrition that goes on within them. All of these things didn't really appear to that level in Dirt Rally, but they do feel very right for a numbered Dirt game because they add all that flavour, all that wrapping.

"There was a degree of experimentation with Dirt Rally, which was why we put it to early access: to establish not just the audience, but to establish that we could 100-percent nail the driving experience and get all that feedback. We're really confident now in our ability to deliver that experience."

Dirt 4 feels like a natural step forward. Retaining the depth of Dirt Rally while adding help for those who struggled is an obvious move, but an important one. Driving may be stressful, it may be difficult; but it doesn't have to be.

Dirt 4 launches for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in June 2017.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com


Oscar Dayus

Oscar is GameSpot's Staff Writer, and as the youngest member of the UK office he's usually the butt of the joke.
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Avatar image for p1p3dream

Anyone know if it will support VR like Dirt Rally did? I don't think I saw it mentioned in the article..

Avatar image for mattib

I'm a very casual gamer, a few times per week, averaging only a few hours a week. I love rally games and find DIRT Rally to be the most fun I have had with a rally game on a console. The learning curve is steep, I use a controller. I did at times feel a little frustrated but the rewards are really worth it. So much fun, especially the Gruppe B era cars like the S4 and 206.

I'm really looking forward to DIRT 4 and hope they keep it challenging while giving us casual fans a little more flexibility with level of difficulty but still keeping the soul of the game intact.


Avatar image for dixonseventy7

I might be wrong but for some reason I didn't find Dirt Rally that difficult. I remember reading reviews before I bought it and hearing how it was a great SIM. I really enjoyed Dirt Rally and some modes were more challenging than others but I still found it fun. I just hope they keep that Gymkhana crap out of D4 cause that will be a no buy otherwise.

Avatar image for deactivated-5c1c32e0b8cc8

The challenge is part of the experience that makes it great.

Avatar image for lvsolja

hey codemasters take dirt 2 & 3 mix it up and turn it up x10....add car customizationto gain way more sales

Avatar image for dudebropartyyo

Dirt Rally is still fine for number of years to come. I dont really see a reason to buy Dirt 4 if you have Dirt Rally. Look at RBR it was very relevant until Dirt Rally came out and still is.

I like rally sims (own RBR and Dirt Rally on PC) and i also like arcade\simcade style when i just want to have plain fun without pulling out my crappy Logitech Formula Feedback wheel LOL and every game provides challenges in its own ways. I still play CMR4 and WRC Evolved and still crash into trees if im driving like maniac haha.

Im enjoying WRC 6 and Sebastian Loeb Rally as well, SLR has really fun physics. Bottom line is there should be different types of rally games to suit hardcore and fun having crowd

Avatar image for deviltaz35

It's a rally game far better when it's punishing or there is no point to it. As for Dirt Rally it is really not that hard anyway. Certainly not compared to Richard Burns Rally i found anyhow.

They should just upgrade Dirt Rally instead of worrying about Dirt 4. All Dirt Rally needed was more tracks in more locations. They don't need a whole new game.

The biggest issue with Dirt Rally on console is the crappy washed out look to the graphics compared to PC. It really needs a PS4 Pro upgrade.

However codies just can't be trusted seeing they were talking about an F1 2016 pro upgrade that never happened.

Avatar image for dudebropartyyo

@deviltaz35: Why is there no point if its not punishing. Most people just like to pick up a pad and have fun. Thats the reason official WRC game and Sebastian Loeb are not full sims. There needs to be a game for everyone to enjoy. hell i still play CMR 4 when i just want to have plain fun.

Another thing with sims is the lack of content or any proper well made career mode such as in Grid Autosport or old CMR Rally 2005. I love Dirt Rally but most of the time i just want a quick session with more relaxing game. Most racing games can be punishing one way or the other.

I think they will upgrade for PS pro, i have a PC version tho.

Avatar image for deviltaz35

@dudebropartyyo: Just irritating when a great sport like Rally gets dumbed down to arcade for everybody style is all. Perhaps if they introduce a proper simulation mode into Dirt? However i have a feeling they will gouge for extra money and just release Rally 2 and Dirt 4 , 5 and 6 instead.

PC version is far better, i actually have it on Xbox , PS4 and PC , it was under $20 in sales on consoles and PC was only $15 at the time i got in early access.

I just thought they were going to keep adding more and more tracks to it and not abandon it until Rally 2.

As long as they leave Ken Block out of everything i'll be happy.

Avatar image for dudebropartyyo

@deviltaz35: Yeah i expected more content stages wise. I was wondering to my self why dont they look at CMR1 until CMR 2005 and remake some of the stages from all countries for Dirt Rally, i would love that. there were some mad stages in those games.

My friend has it on PS4 and its pretty much on par with my PC version minus few little things.

I guess we will have to wait and see what happens after Dirt 4. It wouldnt make sense not to make Dirt Rally 2 since they really went for a hardcore audience. Maybe they need Dirt 4 to sell more and even tho i hate Ken Block stuff maybe having that would increase the sales which could be invested into bigger and better Dirt Rally 2.

Avatar image for deviltaz35

@dudebropartyyo: You could be right about the Ken Block reason. PS4 is good but it does lack the high res textures is all , makes it look a bit washed out on a 65 inch tv.

It's a shame no Pro support from Codies.

I totally agree about CMR i have 2005 on the original Xbox . Still a good game.

I also got the extreme rally games for the PS2 . Great games for their time. Excellent track variety too.

Avatar image for Btwistin

Please don't diminish the complexity of the driving experience in dirt 4 that was found in dirt rally. I understand creating an experience for consumers that need a cherry topped rally racing experience but I felt the challenge quite enjoyable in dirt rally. The one thing i would suggest is to make manual shifting more responsive. If I go in to a corner and quickly want to shift from 5th to 2nd I should be able to press the correlated shift down button 3 times as fast as i can to get to the desired gear. I have noticed that the game likes to cycle through the gear box.

Avatar image for dudebropartyyo

@Btwistin: Dirt Rally is still fresh so i dont see why hardcore sim fans who dont like arcade or simcade would even bother with Dirt 4. Like i wont be buying it, Dirt Rally is good for number of years to come.

Avatar image for deviltaz35

@Btwistin: Codies always have quirks in games. They are still trying to fix F1 2016 issues. The AI in that game is still garbage. At least the Tyre issues seems now to be addressed.

Avatar image for mirage_so3

The difficulty is what makes it so much fun. Rally racing takes a lot of skill it is so much more fun than the typical "Need for speed" style games.

Avatar image for silv3rst0rm

Difficulty shouldn't only be about the assists but also the "times" you have to beat to win races!

As an example, I wouldn't want any sort of assists playing the game for me, I love rally for the handling challenge it provides!
I'd rather have the difficulty influence the time to beat that are set by AI.

So I could slowly get better driving safely 1st before driving with more audacity and aggressively.
I found it hard in Dirt Rally to get on the top3 without driving VERY recklessly on the edge of crashing!
(I do know that's how it is in real life too but it would be a little more forgiving if you'd be able to win without having to almost kill yourself on every turns right from the start!)

My 10 y.o. son can manage to win races in Forza and have fun whereas he can't play Dirt at all...
Maybe that's what Dirt4 will be about...

Avatar image for siarhei

@silv3rst0rm: Agreed. less assists, less aggressive AI is better than crutches so you can match insane AI times.

Avatar image for khjsaw


Avatar image for marcio_br

Thanks, codemasters! I mean...Dirt Rally was a great rally sim, but I was really looking for a fun rally game. Even though I've sold Dirt 2 and Dirt 3 (I kept Dirt though), I won't sell Dirt Rally...I'll keep it in a very special place and keep going back to it....when I have time.

Avatar image for sladakrobot

The sales point of Dirt Rally was that it was different to all arcade racers around and since obviously the game didnt sold as much as hoped coz it scared casual games,Codemasters wants to be sure that their next game is casual friendly

Avatar image for deviltaz35

@sladakrobot: It was also a $15 early access PC game when I got it. I think it was $30 but to encourage more testers they had a 50% off sale on steam early access the week i got it.

Avatar image for PrpleTrtleBuBum

@sladakrobot: And the cycle begins again. Start with a cool game, then release more and more casual games until it turns into trash that has nothing to do with driving or racing. Then redeem yourself by making a true racing game...

Avatar image for deviltaz35

@PrpleTrtleBuBum: lol i wish they would make a new toca touring cars game.

Avatar image for mpl911

@deviltaz35: Agreed. I loved those games. Maybe they just don't think the audience is there. I mean WRC (or rallying in general) is worldwide, but TOCA / BTCC would only be appreciated in the UK, and for normal tourers there's Project Cars / Forza, GT, etc.

Wish they'd update the TOCA series though...they were a lot of fun.

Avatar image for deviltaz35

@mpl911: Yeah i still have original Playstation with Toca. Sick of American sports games with their overblown commentary.

Avatar image for andyvecc011

gt sport has rally :o

Avatar image for deviltaz35

@andyvecc011: I think a meteor is meant to crash into the earth sometime in the next thousand years so we may get to play GT before it hits who knows.

However older GT's have Rally anyway but it was very arcade like.

Avatar image for slypher9

release a good demo and if its fun i'll buy it

Avatar image for deviltaz35

@slypher9: They don't do demos much maybe a timed version release like F1 2016 they might though.

Avatar image for openmind23

Same wall, but with a fresh coat of paint. Might be what some players would be happy with, but not me. I think "Stage" sounds interesting but not enough for me to buy.

To be really honest, I wish Codemasters would make a new IP and make something like Burnout. With all these licenced games, they are really missing out on the crashing and damage model they have and with a new franchise, they could gain a broader audience with a genre aimed more towards action and spectacle than simulation.

Just my opinion, but I think a change is needed :-)

Avatar image for marcio_br

@openmind23: I dunno man...I think it's too off from what they do, which is, racing games from real/serious franchises and stuff. Like Dirt=>offroad/rallying, Grid=>drift/gt/formula/proto, F1, so, what's left? But if you think about it, you have a point because the only arcade racing game out there is Need For Speed, I think. So, well, hell, why not?

Avatar image for JediMasterJ42

@openmind23: I disagree. I think it's nice to have a more simulation driven rally game, than another arcade style racing game like Burnout, Need for Speed, or Forza: Horizons. There are plenty of arcade style racing games, but not many simulation style racing games - regular Forza is an Xbox exclusive (is it on PC too?)- but this brings simulation driving to PS4 and PC.
I feel that EA should push out a new Burnout through one of their developers, but that Codemasters should continue with the simulation trend for those of us who like that sort of thing.

Avatar image for xcrimsonxsynx

@JediMasterJ42: Except that Codemasters has always done a good job of balancing between realism and arcade. I would like to see something like Burnout or a destruction derby style game that doesn't take itself too serious, but with their great game engines.

Avatar image for deviltaz35

@xcrimsonxsynx: Dirt series was nothing like realism . Dirt Rally is definitely closer and much more fun and engaging.