It’s hard to believe how long-running the Dirt series has become. It’s has been spun-off and reinvented more than once but now the series appears to be facing another identity crisis. Dirt 5 lands at the tail-end of the generation and Codemasters have taken a leaner approach. What lands is a game that feels very quick-fire but the sense of variety seems to suffer.
The bulk of Dirt 5‘s racing is in the career mode. It’s presented swiftly with the Nolan and Jake from Donut Media talking you through the progression. Progression which is, let’s be honest, fairly bland. Races lead to branching paths with the idea being that you can cast a wide net or stick to a speciality. The problem being that the large majority of Dirt 5‘s races being fairly short over a number of laps.
It’s all off-road and you’re almost always facing a full field of 11 other competitors. Even the rare occasions when you’re facing something point-to-point, you’ve got a full grid to tackle. The only time you’re racing the clock is in Pathfinder events. These feel like makeshift hill climbs and they do make an interesting change of pace. I found them way too late in the ladder and do feel the career lacks a variety of race types.
Compared to the predecessor, gone are the traditional rally stages and rallycross events. You do get Sprint races which introduce the sprint cars. One thing you don’t lack is a variety of vehicles. There’s plenty of rally cars, SUV’s and sports cars. It does take liberties with what’s expected from an off-road vehicle but it does lead to some interesting match-ups. They’re not all winners to drive, though. Sprint Cars especially feel tricky to handle. They’re all designed to turn inwards and live on oval tracks. Putting the power down seems to send them sideways very easily and it’s easily the vehicle I’ve least enjoyed.
In terms of handling, Dirt 5 is firmly an arcade experience. Vehicle ratings are kept fairly simple and the driving assists don’t dive too deeply. Drifting feels easy to accomplish and damage appears to be only cosmetic. There’s plenty of room to bump and batter your way to the front. There’s nothing really complex about it but there is a good feel on offer. Events are quickly dealt with and you’re swiftly into the next. This pacing really helps soften the repetition and I dare say the AI on Normal difficulty is fairly lenient. Career mode probably takes a leisurely weekend to complete but, to the game’s credit, there is other things to dive into.
One of these things is the Playground. This is effectively Dirt 5‘s course creator. It still feels hamstrung by the main game’s shortage of race types but I’ve seen plenty of creativity from the community. Some of the courses have been nicely created and it’s the kind of tool that could give this instalment some much needed longevity. It seems easy enough to work with and there’s hope that post-release, we can see some interesting creations. Online feels also fairly standard. Much like career, you have the usual race modes. When you’ve had your fill of the main course, this is where you could find a new challenge.
Dirt 5’s presentation has a very festival feel. Track days feel lively with plenty of activity. It feels almost like a sequel to Dirt Showdown with the fly-bys, balloons and confetti. Conditions change frequently and the weather effects are really well done. Codemasters have become fairly adept at creating beautiful racers and this is no exception. Puddles show off nice reflections and the mud kicked up by the roaring hoard coats the vehicles realistically.
When you start Dirt 5, you’re given the option to prioritise frame-rate or image quality. Both options do what they say on the tin. The former looks to maintain 60 frames-per-second and it does tend to succeed. You see where the compromises are made. It can be quite jarring to switch between the two with the difference in frame-rate very clear to see. Focusing on image quality gets you a sharper, more detailed image but the 30 frames-per-second mark is hit more out of hope than expectation. I was fine with it but you definitely see what was lost in translation. It’s a very good looking game regardless and it does make me wonder what a Playstation 5 can do to this.
Sound is also handled expertly. I find the blaring music at events can overpower and the soundtrack isn’t especially my cup of tea. It does help add to the party atmosphere. Hearing your car dip into puddles, switch surfaces and swap paint with other races. There’s a nice roar from the crowd as you pass and it really helps present a grand occasion. It’s Dirt 5’s strongest aspect and Codemasters have managed to nail it.
Overall, Codemasters have delivered a fun but fairly slimmed down effort. Gone is the event variety of the previous games in favour of more straight-forward racing. It’s no longer a smorgasbord of off-road racing and feels more repetitive. To the game’s credit, the career is very quick-fire and does a lot with it’s presentation. It’s firmly in the arcade camp but it remains fun to thrash around.
+ The career mode has a swift pace to it.
+ Handling is accessible and feels consistent.
+ Some really enjoyable track design.
- Soundtrack can be a bit overbearing.
- Feels a little uninspired in spots.