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DiRT 4 'to be more rally oriented.' But is that what the series needs?

Just so we're all up to speed, look at this. It's a Twitter conversation between DiRT's Chief Game Designer, Paul Coleman, and a rally game fan. Significant because it confirms the next DiRT game will be rally-centric (as reported by CVG News).

Now. DiRT is a great series. I’ve said before I believe DiRT 2 is right up there as one of the best games of the last generation. Problem is, it isn’t rally-centric. Sure, it has some rally stages, but they are shorter than real rally courses, and designed with the kind of corners that could only have been conceived by a human trying to make exciting tracks (mission accomplished), instead of nature setting up a challenging and uncompromising terrain over which to test your vehicular control skills.

So the question is: What kind of game should the next DiRT be? The original moved the series away from its Colin McRae Rally roots, but by the time DiRT 2 came along, it was unrecognisable. It had become something new and superior. The Colin McRae Rally games were great back in their day, but DiRT 2 is demonstrably better. 

Why is it better? Let’s put aside the fact that it represented the moment the EGO engine really hit its stride, perfecting the formula proposed by GRID a year before. The racing in DiRT 2 is ludicrously exciting. Not really in an arcade way, even though many rally fans criticised it for being ‘too arcadey’. It’s exciting because of the flying physics objects, the speed, the jumps and the crashes. Not to mention deliciously controllable slides and handbrake turns that couple with wheel-to-wheel racing to create a game that's simply a joy to play.

DiRT 3 is just as high in quality, but its immaculate sheen of quality covers a considerable flaw. One that is invisible when you play the game in isolation, but if you look back at the series' history, you can see where this situation started to arise. On the one hand, you’ve got sensational driving physics, incredible crashes and an incredibly varied selection of race types to choose from, just like DiRT 2. But there's a reason why I rate DiRT 2 above DiRT 3, despite the latter's astonishing quality.

It's a Jack of all trades. The rally stages in it are longer, but still not meaty enough to appease long-term rally fans. The gymkhana stages make exemplary use of the game engine’s detailed physics engine, but feel like filler and demand too much skill to appeal to most gamers. Races on tarmac look great, but the asphalt means it strays too close to GRID’s territory, which meant when GRID 2 came around, it felt like an extension of DiRT 3, not a sequel to the most important racing game of the generation. DiRT's extensive base-covering is diluting not only itself, but also Codemasters' other massive racing franchise.

To cap it all off, Codemasters made the mistake of listening to the vocal minority and dressed DiRT 3 all up in a po-faced presentation style and drab weather, as if to say ‘you didn’t like the sunshine and festival vibe of DiRT 2, so you must want this’. 

DiRT Showdown was clearly a filler title to make up for the lack of GRID 2 that year, as the plan was almost certainly to stagger releases of the two titles. That should have encapsulated everything that made DiRT 2 so great, but it felt predictably cut-down and didn’t have impressive enough damage to make it a modern-day replacement for the craziness of PSone’s Destruction Derby. 

So DiRT is going to be dirty again. OK, that's fine. And it’s going back to its rally roots. Also fine. At this stage, it’s probably coming to the new generation of consoles, although the user-base for last-gen is still massive so don’t rule that out. Either way, it will be technically superb because EGO games always are.

But how many die-hard rally fans are there who buy video games? I know I’m going to upset a few people when I say this, but rallying is a niche motorsport. Of course it’s awesome, anyone can see that. It’s about cars going at 100mph through forests and occasionally flipping end over end. Of course that can make for excellent video games. But it’s also a solitary experience. And solitary experiences arguably have less going on than competitive experiences.

I firmly believe there’s no greater opponent in a video game than yourself as you’re trying to beat your own times, and Autolog’s creation proves that asynchronous multiplayer can be just as compelling as a head-to-head race. But DiRT existed in the first place to bring a competitive edge to the off-road racing template. Why? Because that makes for a better video game.

I say just let Codemasters’ talented team make the game they want to give you, instead of dictating what it should and shouldn’t be. The final product won’t then be a mish-mash of ideas that are trying to appeal to everyone. Modern racing games are now sufficiently content-rich to enable gamers to play only sections of the game they want to, so maybe next-gen DiRT will allow greater scope in that regard. We'll find out what the next DiRT game is soon enough.

But I for one would much rather have a DiRT 2… 2 that just does one thing brilliantly, and then a separate rallying game, perhaps buying up a license for a rising star in the rallying world like Jose Suarez. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking I'm a fan of cars. I'm not. I'm a fan of racing. I’m not precious about the kind of tracks or types of car in my racing games. I just want them to be fun when I play.

And we all want to play video games because they’re fun, don’t we?

17 comments

  • chisel_954 - October 6, 2014 1:17 p.m.

    Please have add the ability for race length ie: 5%-100% (real life) I do not understand why they think everyone likes to race 2:mins at a time! Real racing has ups & downs, so when you screw up you still have time to make it up. The pressure to have a perfect run kills the fun. Also the need to have the "Rewind" feature is not needed. Oh i hate that stupid....
  • Delicieuxz - June 24, 2014 11:57 a.m.

    The article-writer is a nutcase. The DiRT games after DiRT 1 are total abominations. EVERY-body wants DiRT to return to the Colin McRae roots and ditch all the awful noise. DiRT 2 is hands-down the WORST game in the DiRT series. DiRT 3 is annoying, but it's still miles superior to DiRT 2. Go make your own series to ruin, article-author - don't advocate ruining ones which other people enjoy. By advocating DiRT 2-esque vapid garbage-ware, you're attempting to permanently ruin what is yet salvage-able. Your article stinks.
  • jedisamurai - January 21, 2014 8:55 a.m.

    You can blame this one on me. I wrote Codemasters an email begging them to bring Dirt back to it's Rally Racing Roots. ( :D) I agree that Dirt 2 was...well... the best the best rally game of this generation. In fact, it's probably in my top ten racing games of all time. Despite repeated tries to like them, I found Dirt and Dirt 3 to be incredibly boring, and Showdown couldn't hold my interest either. I played the old Rally games on the Xbox to see if I still enjoyed them and discovered that I REALLY missed the old race against the clock around track after track. The only problem was that the games were too hard. I believe the games should be hard to win first place, but you should move on to the next rally even when you FINISH one of those ten minute races against the clock.
  • tristan-miller - February 18, 2014 11:05 p.m.

    used to love the 10 minute stages in rally sport challenge too, such a good all round rally game
  • Tourniquet77 - January 15, 2014 2:22 p.m.

    I remember playing Colin McRae rally on PS1. It was a hardcore rally game. I didn't have a memory card so I was trying to beat it on one try. On PS2 era the best rally game was WRC series by Evolution studios, way better than any of the Colin games at that time. But they went to make Motorstorm. Come PS3 and there was only dirt. The only thing I hate about Dirt is the races against physical opponents, that just ain't rallying, and fuck gymghana. Can't Codemasters just do an honest rally game, that concentrates on the amazing rally physics of the Dirt rally stages. On Dirts so far, rallying is a curiosity.
  • greengibbon - January 15, 2014 6:14 a.m.

    I think they really need to pick a style of racing and concentrate on it, rather than trying to be a jack of all trades. I felt the same about Grid 2. Far too much jumping between various race types (in Grid, mostly horrible street races) without giving me a chance to settle down and properly get to grips with it. I'm a big WRC fan, so if they go for longer, more realistic point-to-point races, that sounds great to me.
  • KNITEpanda - January 14, 2014 8:13 p.m.

    I LOVED the real races behind Dirt 3, but I sincerely hope there is still a nod to Gymkhana, infection and the other mini games. Those were beyond fun to just dick around with friends.
  • KNITEpanda - January 14, 2014 8:11 p.m.

    Noticed a typo btw. Looks like you forgot to delete the old words you were going to use before changing the sentence. Second Paragraph from the bottom: "Modern racing games are now sufficiently content-rich to enable allow for gamers to play..."
  • GR_JustinTowell - January 15, 2014 2:04 a.m.

    Great spot, fixed. We'll make a sub of you yet ;) Er... unless you already are a sub, in which case... hard to switch off, ain't it?
  • Trg564 - January 14, 2014 3:01 p.m.

    The thing I preferred about DiRT 2 over DiRT 3 is that 2 just felt more fun, with the festival menu screen, the music and the banter between racers. If they can get that, as well as the rally aspect, into a new DiRT game, I'd be up for it.
  • FoxdenRacing - January 14, 2014 11:01 a.m.

    Why not both? Other than there being a fixed set of resources available for track design, why does it have to be one [shorter tracks designed to be a great game] or the other [long point-to-points along tracks designed to be authentic]? At the end of the day, both styles are about one thing: sublime car control on some of the most unwelcoming surfaces in the world; ditch Gymkhana, give it some color, personality, and life, and relish in the best of both worlds.
  • RareHero - January 14, 2014 10:31 a.m.

    DiRT does need to return to rallying, and it's exactly for one of the reasons you mentioned already Justin: rallying is more niche today than ever before. It's underrepresented in the games industry. Go back 15 years and you'd have your pick. Colin McRae was more of a simulator, the most realistic rally game on consoles. Sega Rally was old-school arcade perfection. V-Rally was some kind of awkward in between that didn't really work but hey, that's the beauty of choice. Point is that there were at least four or five rally titles that were all at least slightly different. Now there's one, and if you live in North America you will never get it. Nobody does rallying better than Codies, and for us fans this is our best hope. It's not that the dune buggy or trophy truck races weren't fun necessarily. It's that, being a rally fan, all I want to do is rally - and any opportunity I'm given to do rally, I will always take that over anything else. So the rest of the game's disciplines (besides hill climb and rallycross because I consider them still a part of rally) were completely irrelevant to me. They've had they're fun cashing in on action sports and the Ken Block fad. Now it's time for them to stop trying to please everybody. I don't want DiRT 4 to be a jack of all trades, I want it to be all about one thing, done as perfectly as possible.
  • Estbarul - January 14, 2014 9:39 a.m.

    Yeah I want games to be fun, but I really want a game to be hard, to be a fresh experience, and if it's kind of a racing sim, it's going to be a game of time, time to master tracks, races, cars, weather conditions, pressure. That is what pre DIRT rally games had, and that is what a lot of us want now. I think the best solution is to make 2 separate franchises, 1 for only-fun arcady people like you (no aim to offense), and other for people who only wants rallying, but again, that isn't much of a win situation because of the $$$, so an alternate release between those 2 couldn't that bad either.
  • GrandTheftAuto - January 14, 2014 9:36 a.m.

    I really disagree. Hell yes the series needs to be more rally oriented, that stupid gymkhana shit ruined it, and that they even used the name "Coling McRae" for it was sad. Well it didn't exactly ruin it per se, it was still a lot of fun. BUT they could have made it a LOT better if it was more rally focused, well because it's a RALLY GAME!
  • KNITEpanda - January 14, 2014 8:11 p.m.

    It was under Ken Blocks name, not Colin McRae.
  • GrandTheftAuto - January 15, 2014 8:42 a.m.

    DiRT 2 was under Colin McRae's name while DiRT 3 was under none.

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