review dirt5

Review: Dirt 5

Dirt 5 is hitting the mud and gravel during this console transition period. The Dirt franchise has been long established. I have memories of playing Dirt 2 and how it catered to delivering a more realistic rally experience.

Codemaster’s return to the mainline Dirt series, after releasing Dirt Rally 2.0 in 2019, caught my attention this year. I felt as though there was a void this fall of a new mainline racing game. Dirt 5 felt as though it could fill that gap in my life, especially as a cross-generation game. To me, it was a racing game I could sit back, enjoy and listen to a podcast while cruising through the tracks. Though, the more I played Dirt 5, the more it left me wondering who the intended target audience is. It often walks the line between a more sim-focused racing game one moment and a bombastic arcade racer the next.

Off the Beaten Path

The bulk of Dirt 5’s content lies within its career mode. Here, you play as an aspiring racing superstar inducted into a global festival. The Career mode spans across various countries like the US, China, Italy, Brazil, South Africa, Morocco, and other locations. Throughout the Career mode, you unlock new locations with your typical racing fare. There were plenty of opportunities to race circuits in the backwoods of Norway. I got to speed down the narrow streets of Brazil. As you progress through the Career mode, which is split into five chapters, more events and new flavours of racing get added to the mix.

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A favourite of mine is the Ice Breaker events. These place the track across thick sheets of ice. I found myself drifting and fighting the elements on the East River in New York City. It doesn’t drastically bring something new to the table. Though, the sheer spectacle of hitting those turns as a flurry of snow falls from the sky against the lights adds a new layer to the gameplay experience. Naturally, as this is a Dirt game, there are many opportunities to take your vehicle offroading in some of the more rallycross-centric Path Finder events. Tight turns, steep hills and obstacles lay in wait. The different dimensions in events offer the chance to get away from the typical three-lap races.

Throughout the various events and career mode chapters, it became apparent that the franchise was shifting towards a more casual focused audience. Despite the franchise’s lineage, the scope of the game never felt as though it was highlighting a realistic perspective. Instead, Dirt 5 has opted to incentivize players to pull stunts and hit speed milestones to complete challenges. A large portion of progression is tied to completing career objectives. They could be anything from getting 100 seconds of air time during a race. Another example is trading paint with 5 cars throughout a circuit. Or maintaining the first place for a certain amount of time. These objectives typically felt more like distractions rather than encourage organic gameplay moments.

Gymkhana events are when Dirt 5 really lets the player take the reigns to complete as many tricks as possible to reach a total score. In these stunt arenas, I found myself having to drift, jump, and swerve between obstacles. Stringing together enough stunts built my total score for the object. Truthfully, these events were always my least favourite. I felt as though I was playing a different game anytime I dipped my toe in.

Nolan North and Troy Baker lend their voices as two radio hosts, interjecting in between each event. As a fan of both their voice work, I typically love getting the chance to hear them banter back as forth. In Dirt 5, however, it just doesn’t fit. The two do their best to add some levity and fill the career mode with more texture. After the first handful of matches, it became background noise. I found myself quickly skipping over their dialogue in order to get into the next race. I never found as though I was gaining anything of substance from lingering on the post-event screens, listening to their dialogue.

Going the Distance

Dirt 5 also includes additional modes, expanding the line of content awaiting players. Throwdowns, 1v1 races against a hardened AI racer, is largely forgettable. The game sets the adversaries as a formidable racer but the race is nothing too unique to the overall experience. Playgrounds, Arcade, Online are some of the additive modes included outside of the Career. I’ve never been one with enough patience to sit and meticulously craft my own track. Though from playing with the tools in Playground, it’s a fairly streamlined process. Even down to placing obstacles, the building aspects work quite well and I’m sure as time goes on, there will be plenty of user-created levels to experience. Arcade and Online are great options when I wanted to take a break from the more objective-based gameplay and hit the road.

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Dirt 5 has a fairly soft catalogue of vehicles to purchase in-game. Using currency obtained through the game, you have the opportunity to buy 63 cars, each with their own letter rank for handling and performance. When headed into the Livery, I found myself with a good amount of customizing options. It’s not overwhelming, where I could fine-tune the axles or anything, but I was able to make some downright ugly, or stunning colour selections. Though, there is a balancing issue in the game. You’re given a large sum of cash throughout the career after each event. It wasn’t uncommon that when coming across one of the 13 car classes, I was able to buy the highest performing vehicle. This led me to not have a need to pay much attention to the remaining cars.

Pedal to the Metal

Much of the review period was conducted on Xbox Series S. As Dirt 5 is a Smart Delivery title, near the tail end of my review period, Codemasters released the optimization upgrade on the console. This gave me the chance to compare how the game ran initially to how performed with the upgrade. Comparing the game to how it performed and looked was fairly minimal. Though, the scale was already high. The loading times to get into a race stagger between 2-5 seconds. Thanks to the Series S’s SSD, load times were already pretty minimal but the upgrade did shave off a few additional seconds. It’s a really fluid process to get right back into the game.

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On the Series S, Dirt 5 maintains a resolution of 1440p. While not true 4K, the environments are stunning. The game incorporates weather changes and transitions from day to night during events. There’s nothing like reaching the peak of a hill and seeing dark clouds come barreling in. I also experienced the odd sandstorm and questioned why the festival’s attendees remained in the stands as sand chaotically blew in the area. What I think Dirt 5 does best above all else is creating an interesting and gorgeous environment to race through. Dirt 5 can be played in third-person or first-person. But with so much to see, I can’t help but recommend third-person through and through.

Codemasters handle lighting in a significant fashion. There are breathtaking landscapes during almost every track. The developers knew they were on to something, so naturally, they included a Photo Mode to use. Though, I did notice that as the environments and scale of colours used draw the eyes in, the vehicles don’t stand out as much. The vehicles look flat and don’t always measure up the way the world around them does.

Final Thoughts

Dirt 5 is a content-rich title that fills the gap of a quality racer this fall season. It teeters the line between being an authentic rallycross game and a more casual, arcade-focused experience. However, Dirt 5 plays its role exceptionally well. Broadening its audience base will likely pay off. Plus, with the incorporation of the Playground mode, emphasis on community-driven content will likely see the game thrive as time goes on.

Given that it is a cross-generation game, it does not quite hit the mark of being a true “next-gen” experience. Though, performance upgrades on the Xbox Series S gave it a little extra bump to help it stand out. Getting behind the wheel, there’s a lot to take in from an environmental standpoint. Whether you’re skidding through the rain-soaked dirt or gunning it down the sun-baked backroads, Dirt 5 is an off-road experience for everyone.

[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]