Review – DIRT 5
Codemasters have earned my trust. Whatever they decide to come up with, I’m always going to look forward to playing it. They deserve this seal of approval after countless F1 games that just keep getting better and better, as well as other titles such as the criminally underappreciated gem that was Onrush. That’s why, even if DIRT 5 looked way different than its predecessors, boasting a “cooler”, more stylish coat of paint that reminded me of other unnecessary rebellious titles like Far Cry: New Dawn or RAGE 2, I knew had to give it a try. Thankfully, I definitely do not regret doing so.
Gone is any semblance of a serious rallying simulation like the previous Dirt Rally games, or even whatever previous mainline games had when it came to making them look like serious, restrained racing title. DIRT 5 goes for a goofier, more extreme sports vibe. Featuring saturated visuals, stylish Persona-esque menus, a fantastic soundtrack comprised of songs like Foals’ “In Degrees” and Jack White’s “Over and Over and Over“, over-the-top car customization options, and even a small story featuring the voices of Nolan North and Troy Baker. Of course… who else would voice someone in a game besides the only two voice actors in the entire industry?
Newcomers are very welcome in DIRT 5. If you think this game is as daunting as other rallying title like WRC or V-Rally, don’t you worry. This game manages to hit that perfect balance between arcade and simulation controls, something I’ve only previously seen in the Forza games. Physics are realistic, but not too realistic. This means that you can easily pick this game up, without previous knowledge of the series, and play it right away. You don’t even need to use the handbrake to perform drifts, if that’s what you want. Hell, you can barely brake if that’s your thing, as you can pull off some impressive moves just by pressing and letting go of the accelerator. As always, you can freely tweak the gameplay to fit your skill level, adding or removing driving aids at will.
The game’s main draw is its career mode, which doesn’t follow your standard simulation-heavy standard. It’s a pseudo-linear sequence of events, with a slight but noticeable learning curve. This details the career of a newcomer who wants to become one of big shots in this alternative racing scene. As previously mentioned, there are even some characters that interact with you every now and then, such as a mentor figure (Troy Baker) and a loudmouth rival (Nolan North). Totally unnecessary, but hey, at least it doesn’t make the game more obnoxious.
Basically, what you get by winning races, as well as completing small additional objectives in each one of them, is money and experience points. Money allows you to buy more cars (duh), while experience points unlock new liveries and decals for you to decorate your cars in the most ridiculous of ways. DIRT 5‘s progression system is stripped down and straightforward. You get a lot of money after each race, and you can even earn some extra cash by running free races in the arcade mode. It’s not hard at all to buy your dream car.
The best thing about DIRT 5 is its track design. There aren’t a lot of different countries where the races are set in, but there are tons of track variations in each country. There are races in a Rio de Janeiro national park, the Arizona desert, Greek ruins, the Himalayas, a Gymkhana event inside a Cape Town stadium, and even ice races on top of a frozen Hudson river. The zany, colorful, and carefree level design reminded me a lot of one of the most underrated racing games from the 90’s, EA’s Beetle Adventure Racing. Nothing in DIRT 5 is meant to evoke a sense of seriousness. It’s to racing games what Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is to extreme sports titles.
If these tracks aren’t ridiculous enough for your taste, don’t you worry, as DIRT 5 features a level editor as well. Well, you don’t exactly create circuits, you create “Playgrounds”. You can either make small Gymkhana arenas, with a lot of crap to run over and drift around, or checkpoint-based linear tracks. You know what that means: someone with a lot more free time and a more creative mindset will constantly come up with tracks that feel like they should be part of Fall Guys instead. I didn’t care that much about creating tracks as much as I did running on tracks created by others.
We now need to talk about DIRT 5‘s performance, and that’s where things get a little confusing. This is a cross-gen game, meaning that there will be versions for PS4 and Xbox One, as well as versions for PS5 and Xbox Series X. In this case, you never know if the next-gen versions are just rushed and up-rez iterations of their previous-gen counterparts, or if the game was created with next-gen hardware in mind. Will the current-gen titles suffer compromises in order to run on less powerful, but more lucrative, hardware?
I feel like DIRT 5, just like Watch Dogs: Legion, is a next-gen game running on current-gen hardware. It is a stupidly gorgeous game, but it clearly struggles to run as well as intended on the PS4. Codemasters was bold enough to include both a visual and performance mode in this version of the game, with the performance mode being the obvious choice, but there’s a catch. The game aims for a 60fps framerate, but it doesn’t manage to always run at said target refresh rate. Framerate hiccups are frequent and noticeable.
Even when the game manages to run at 60fps, you can notice that the frame pacing isn’t as ideal, with a lot of noticeable screen tearing. Pop-ins, minute visual glitches, and lighting issues are also commonplace, albeit in small doses. Nothing that would eventually ruin the experience. Although, it is still commendable to see such a ridiculously detailed game like DIRT 5 trying to run at 60fps on such dated hardware. Just like I’ve said in my F1 2020, the folks at Codemasters are wizards, purely and simply. I’d recommend waiting for the next-gen versions of DIRT 5 if possible, especially since you can get it for free if you’ve bought the game for current-gen systems.
DIRT 5 might have some small issues, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it. I really liked its arcade-friendly approach and overall goofier vibe. It is loud, colorful, in-your-face, and accessible, without ever forgetting about its skill-focused roots, letting veterans tinker the gameplay to their liking. Codemasters’ farewell to the current generation of consoles is a commendable effort, and I can’t wait to see what they’ll be able to pull off with more powerful hardware in the following years.
It is a phenomenal looking game, especially for PS4 standards. However, it suffers from an inconsistent framerate, even in performance mode, as well as some pop-in issues.
A beautiful blend of arcade and simulation gameplay styles. It’s not intimidating for newcomers, while veterans can tinker the amount of racing perks and simulation details to create the gameplay style that best fits their skill.
While the soundtrack, voice acting, and engine noises are excellent, the game’s sound mixing is wonky and very loud. Even at the lowest settings, DIRT 5 sounds loud and abrasive.
Even if the career mode is overly linear, the track designs are fantastic and the controls are sublime. There are tons of cars to drive and customize. The Playground creator ain’t half-bad, either.
Final Verdict: 9.0
DIRT 5 is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. PS5 and Xbox One X versions coming November 12th.
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of DIRT 5 was provided by the publisher.