Codemasters game reviews: F1 2017 and DiRT 4 (PS4)

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I’m not breaking any ground by saying that 2017 has been an awesome year in gaming across the board. Whether you like shooters, “adventure” games, third-person action games, platformers, retro games, sports games or VR game, you are in luck with 2017. That brings me to racing games.

While racing or games have been around since basically the beginning of video games — 1974’s Gran Track 10 from Atari — my own experience with them has been far more limited. I’ve played my share of arcade “kart” racers, some of the futuristic racing games, and loved Mario Andretti Racing on Sega Genesis, but I’ve largely avoided the genre. I’m not a “car guy” and haven’t really followed the sport until now.

My desire for a good, proper racing game started to build after seeing the fun Xbox owners had with Forza Horizon 3 last year. As a PS4 owner, I’ve had my eye on Gran Turismo Sport since then. It’s the first racing game I jumped on this year, and while I really enjoy the driving and think the online is pristine, the overall game is missing a career mode focus I was yearning for (at least until the upcoming free DLC is added this month).

This leads me to Codemasters and their masterpieces in F1 2017 and DiRT 4 that released earlier this year. They have been a revelation both in my personal gaming habits and in my sport fandom.

F1 2017

The F1 cars handle like a dream. The act of driving them, even with just my DualShock 4, is plainly a lot of fun. The game features each of the 2017 Formula 1 cars, drivers and tracks, with an additional 12 classic cars from 1988 through 2010 for you to race with.

While the game has a variety of modes — time trials, single Grands Prix and Championship Mode — the meat of the game is in its career mode. This is where I fell in love with the game and the sport as a whole.

As a basic noob to the series, I appreciate the breadth of difficulty and length options available. The game has a sliding scale of 0-110 for computer driving difficulty, on top of a variety of driving assists that include traction control, a visible driving line, brake assist and more. This has been invaluable to me as I familiarize myself with the game. You can also race as few as 3 laps, or up to 100 percent of the actual Grand Prix’s lap time. Within the career, you can also decide how many practice sessions to include, and what kind of qualifying to include.

For my part, I started racing at just a 25 difficulty and 25% race length. That length is the shortest race that allows for pit stops, which is integral to the strategy of an actual Formula 1 race. I’m doing the full practice and qualifying weekend, as well, which gives me a chance to really get to know the track and try to improve my time.

The career mode is packed with strategy and an RPG-like progression system. For my part, I’ve signed on with the Haas racing team. As one of the lower end cars, the Haas has a lot of room to improve. Throughout the career, you decide how to develop your car and what areas to focus on. Haas has decent engine power, but a weak chassis and low downforce, so I’m focusing on those areas. From week to week, you also need to swap out engine parts and your gearbox, though you have a limited number of parts you can use before incurring a penalty.

During a race, your tire choice and pit stop timing plays a huge role in where you finish the race. Now heading into Mexico in my first career season, I’ve grown to really love all of the different moving parts in the game. I have increased the difficulty to 50, and seem to be getting results pretty much on-par with the real-life Haas drivers this season, which slightly more success — after all, fun is more important than strict realism. I love the way the game handles this sliding difficulty.

F1 2017 has my favorite single-player career mode in any sports game, ever. I’ve won two separate Grands Prix now, and am looking forward to, in a future season, becoming the first American F1 champion since Mario Andretti in 1978.

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DiRT 4

The first thing that hit me when I finally clicked on DiRT 4 is the killer soundtrack. The music is just bumping and puts me in the mood to drive fast cars through the countryside.

A recurring theme, I’ve never before played a Rally racing game, or watched Rally Racing of any kind. I bought in solely because I loved F1 and this one went on sale recently.

Driving a Rally race is a thrilling experience, and possibly even moreso than driving an F1 car at 200 miles per hour. The handling of the rally cars feels great, and the career mode is appropriately in-depth. I love buying my cars, tuning them and getting used to them as I go.

Aside from Rally mode, there are also Land Rush events, Rallycross and Historic Rally. The Land Rush and Rallycross events are much more traditional racing events, as you run in heats of 4, 6 or 8 cars to make it to the final championship event. The races are jam-packed, high speed and just plain fun.

The other big part of the game is the ability to “create” your own rally courses, run them and share them online. While the scenery doesn’t change a ton, this provides a ton of replayability to the game.

However, the further I get into DiRT 4, the more that procedural generation starts to gnaw at me. The scenery becomes a little too familiar — I feel like I’ve driven past the same log cabin dozens of times — and the roads just don’t feel like real roads. The cars are still a blast to drive, and I like getting to know each separate make and model.

I just wonder if the game would be better served by having actual rally courses — like WRC 7 — combined with the procedural generation model.