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?

Justin Towell

Justin was a GamesRadar staffer for 10 years but is now a freelancer, musician and videographer. He's big on retro, Sega and racing games (especially retro Sega racing games) and currently also writes for Play Magazine, Traxion.gg, PC Gamer and TopTenReviews, as well as running his own YouTube channel. Having learned to love all platforms equally after Sega left the hardware industry (sniff), his favourite games include Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams, Zelda BotW, Sea of Thieves, Sega Rally Championship and Treasure Island Dizzy.