So let’s go back in my time machine to the year 1999. Me and my brother had just gotten our first Playstation. Well it was my brothers really so instead of Crash Bandicoot and Metal Gear Solid we got Fifa 1998 and Colin McRae Rally. Now it’s the latter that really impressed me.

I spent many an hour blasting around the rally courses around the world trying to beat the times set by my brother (years before online leaderboards became a thing!) I would never have known that 18 years later I’d be picking up a controller and returning to the franchise with the latest stellar entry DiRT 4!

Now I’m not one for racing sims normally. In fact just before I got the game I was explaining to my friends that I prefer more “gamey” racers like Burnout or Need for Speed. So when I switched on DiRT I was pleasantly surprised to see the first option being game style. Would I prefer arcade or sim? Well that was an easy choice! I set my game to arcade and was told it would be more forgiving that sim mode with the cars handling less realistically. This made power sliding around corners a breeze, which in real life would be a disaster during a rally! So with the arcade settings the vehicles handle similarly to more playful racers with cornering and acceleration being made more responsive and crashes being much more forgiving. On my first rally I crashed out on the second to last corner and smashed into a sturdy tree. The damage? My bonnet was crumpled and I had mildly damaged shock absorbers… I’ll take it! I went on to win the championship. So I decided to switch to sim controls and the change is quite drastic. Corners I was just tapping the brakes for before suddenly needed me to stamp on the brake pedal and even then my performance was sloppy at best! Lets just say trees were my new brakes and my team of mechanics hated me for all the damage I did to their precious car…

What made me happy was earning enough money during my shambolic early days to purchase my own car. Doing so allows you to create your own racing team. So welcome to the wonderful world of international rally Saint Walker! (What? I like comics.) Making your own team provides a few benefits most obviously being more money in the bank as you’re no longer being paid as an employee but now as owner. You do gain a lot but it comes with a fair amount of responsibility. First of is firing and hiring, you have to maintain a well structured team of engineers and background staff and each wants a certain cut of the team profits. I found during my time that most people can be given around 2 percent and they’ll take the job! The real expenditure comes from facilities! I spent 120 grand on a RD department just to develop new shock absorbers (I thought better ones might not break as often… I was wrong) I also liked hiring a PR manager to sweet talk potential sponsors to bring more money to the team. Getting your team sponsor’s also means that before each leg of a championship you’re given challenges to please them. Things like “place first in at least 1 stage” or “only be recovered 3 times” some of these are easy though I often struggled with the “Have the fastest lap time” challenges since I’m great at getting to first place but not amazing at holding off the faster racers without getting a little bit…shunty. Got even worse during the rally stages and I was often switching sponsors as I was displeasing my backers more often than not.

So since rally wasn’t working so well for me I took the first opportunity I had to change disciplines and moved into the high-octane world of buggy racing! Now this surprised me as it totally changed the way the game played. Going from rally to a 9 car lapped race would throw anyone but even the controls feel different being much lighter and more responsive. Touches of realism like this were what kept me playing even when I was made to do the same races twice in a row as each time there was one variable either weather or in some cases more aggressive opponents who seemed to take pleasure in ruining my race! Similarly taking to the mud tracks in the trucks made it feel like another new experience with them handling like a cross between the buggies and the rally cars. This gave me a lot to learn and have fun with so I didn’t get bogged down in one style of racing which is normally my downfall when it comes to any racing game, as I get bored easily!

I’ll be honest the dirt track sections of the game were better for me not just for the gameplay. It feels like Codemasters have put more effort into these sections graphically as well. During my rallying career I noticed that most of the tracks look great…up close. The further you get from the actually road the worse things start to look and its not even subtle. As I blasted around the hills of Wales I noticed that everything was bland and green which yes might be what Wales looks like but it could have been a little bit broken up! While the dirt tracks have enough going on to keep you satisfied during your 4 or 5 laps with the stands appearing to be buzzing with activity and even things going on in the distance like hot air balloons and even planes going by. This might seem a little pedantic and probably didn’t need mentioning but I’m a critic and its my job so let me be me!

Overall DiRT 4 is an excellent racer with enough in it to satisfy any kind of gamer from casuals who just want to pretend at being a pro all the way to those who want so much realism they’re disappointed that dust isn’t flooding the room as they blast around! Either way you can find something that will make you happy you picked it up and will keep you playing for many dusty, gravelly, mud soaked, exhaust popping hours!

DiRT 4 gets a very muddy 9/10 from me!