The end of any year is usually bookended with a racing game that drifts into view, hugs the release date schedule corner and grabs a spot on the podium by sheer virtue of it not being a AAA sandbox shooter experience. This year that analogy is thrown at Dirt 5, the latest entry in the series that Codemasters has finally returned to after a lengthy absence. You know we’re living in a strange era when three years between racing game sequels is considered the right amount of breathing room and yes I’m looking directly at you Milestone SRL.
Anyway, if you’ve been a fan of racing that prioritises mud in your face, then you’re most likely well-acquainted with games like Dirt Rally. Codemasters has produced two of those games, and long story short, they’re the pinnacle of authentic rallycross action with a merciless learning curve that doesn’t suffer fools lightly.
Dirt 5 on the other hand? It’s the fun dude on the racing grid, the life of the party that everyone gravitates to instead of Daddy Dirt Rally. There’s no angry Scottish navigator yelling in your ear from the sidelines, the laws of physics have been gently bent to favour a more forgiving style of racing and the focus on both style and substance takes precedence over the idea of setting the fastest time from point to point in a race.
Make no mistake, Dirt 5 doesn’t exactly anything new that hasn’t been done in the last few years by big names such as Forza Horizon 4 or up-and-comer contenders like Gravel, but I’ll say this much: Hot damn is this game a whole lot of fun. At this point in the history of the universe, Codemasters has pretty much established itself as the studio to go to when it comes to cracking out racing games. It’s the equivalent of Hollywood casting Jason Statham in any movie that requires a hard-punching action-junkie with no time for nonsense and I am totally down for that.
Because when the end result is a racing game that excels at transmitting that certain intangible feeling of fun around every single corner that you throw your car around with reckless abandon, that’s just pure petrol-power pedigree on display. Dirt 5 just feels brilliant to play, whether it be on a gymkhana arena that asks you to use your car to whip out a massive high score or through more bonkers events like trying to navigate Cape Town’s Lion’s Head route at lethal speeds during sunset.
There’s enough range to tinker with your cars in the gameplay settings garage, but Codemasters has created a default driving system that just works the second you wrap your hands around the controller. Get in, put the pedal to the metal, and go for gold. There’s also a wealth of activities to take part in, a staggering number of courses, and even more evidence that nobody can put together a vibrant racing track like Codemasters can. A special mention to the Brooklyn Bridge track, where you engage in V8 ballet on a lake of ice that can totally handle a dozen cars slamming into one another over several laps.
It’s a good thing as well, as the career mode is a bit on the vanilla side and is a pure points progression affair. You’ll hook up with a sponsor, earn cash competing in races, and tackle a wide variety of different driving disciplines along the way and branch off into the specialties that tickle your particular fancy. Voice actors Troy Baker and Nolan North also pop into your ear between races, sadly as a manager and a heel rival throwing quips at one another and not as the engine sounds of a Volkswagen rally car which would have been one heck of a credit to leave on their respective resumes. Shame, maybe in another lifetime.
Outside of career mode, Arcade mode has plenty to offer with its vast selection of unlocked tracks and customisation options, but you’ll need to hammer away at career mode if you want to unlock extra vehicles which have a high price tag attached to them. Playground mode is especially interesting, a creation option that allows you to set your own tracks up and create devilish corkscrew corners leading into long straights and more.
I’ve played with it a little bit, and while my imagination may be lacking when it comes to creating anything more than a fancy donut, I’m curious to see what other people come up with in the weeks and months after Dirt 5 launches. It’s an intuitive mode and easy to use, so there should be a few interesting courses on offer soon. Or bastard-hard ones, knowing how the internet operates.
Visually, I’d say that Dirt 5 is on the cusp of next-gen. On PS4 it runs A-OK, easily delivering a stable experience on the track. On the higher end and next-gen systems that the game will also be available on, those visuals will receive a further bump up. I can’t accurately comment about the 120 frames per second mode that you can run the game through on Xbox Series X as I don’t have a display capable of that right now, but I will say that I prefer to play the game with frame rate prioritised over quality mode that adds a few extra bells and whistles to the presentation.
There’s nothing that we haven’t seen before graphically in Dirt 5 when you break it down, and I’d even mention that Forza Horizon 4 easily trumps it despite it being a few years older, but what is there is gorgeous to look at. Muddy tracks splatter across your vehicle, the cloud storms you can kick up behind you will have the cars on your rear cursing your name, and everything flows together like a dream.
Last Updated: November 2, 2020