'Dirt 4' Is a Terrifying Dance with Death Once the Rain Starts Falling

'Dirt 4' is fast, invigorating, and sometimes, panic-inducing.
June 8, 2017, 8:25pm
All images courtesy of Codemasters

I enjoy racing games, but only, really, as a filthy casual, playing them semi-seriously while chilling to podcasts or streams (or their own hypnotic music in the case of Wipeout Omega Collection last week). The Dirt games, I've had something of a more complex relationship with: while I can play them on a fairly gentle difficulty level ("racer" in the parlance here), with driving aids and all, it's never quite as beginner-friendly as, say, Forza Horizon 3 can be made. You really need to pay attention to every portion of every turn, since you will wipe out and eat shit if you take them too fast, and that Forza infinite rewind is nowhere to be seen.

There's a level of focus required here that I find both bothersome (I just want to go fast through pretty places sometimes) and exhilarating. Sometimes that exhilaration is terrifying: especially when weather conditions don't cooperate.

Not long into the single player career mode, I was forced to drive through a thick fog, so bad that I could barely see a few feet in front of me. The game wanted me to barrel through, going REALLY FAST, on slippery, gravely dirt roads even when I couldn't see anything. My co-driver helpfully chirped instructions for upcoming turns, and I think the designers wanted me to get comfy with the idea of trusting those barks and their timing.

But hell no, lady. No way am I going 90 MPH in those conditions, with two tons of metal and my (virtual) life and spine on the line. What's wrong with you?

Maybe it's the constant, subtle shots of ambulances in the background while tracks are introduced, or my own EMS-influenced ideas about how terrifying and dangerous cars are, but driving fast in bad conditions presses a panic button that still gets through the "this is not real" filter in my brain, at least somewhat.

It reminds me of my most terrifying real-life driving experience, on a trip to Maui. I got caught in a bad storm, at night, while driving on the highway that circles the island. Visibility was awful. And there were no guardrails, just a several-hundred-foot drop into the ocean if I made any wrong moves. I was running out of gas, too, so I didn't feel comfortable stopping and starting, just a long, slow, horrifying crawl to the nearest town with actual lights and gas.

God.

I'm pretty impressed that Dirt 4 can get me to that place, because it's an intense, uncomfortable, fantastic thing for a game to do.

It's weird for me to engage in video game fantasies that are both completely realistic—I could, if I really wanted to, drive a very fast car, whereas I can't actually date attractive alien ladies or fly spaceships—and things I have no desire to do in real life. I never want to be locked in one of these death machines. Cars are terrifying. We should, by all accounts, be much, much more afraid of them than, say, snakes or spiders.

But it's fun to let myself get just a little bit scared, from a safe place on my couch.