DIRT 5 Playgrounds mode lets you build towering time trials and wild Gymkhana arenas

If there’s one thing I doubt many people anticipated about the DIRT franchise, back when the initial trio of numbered games hit the PS3 and Xbox 360, it’s just how wildly experimental it would become. DiRT Showdown then morphed things into a destruction derby-athon, the success (or lack of success) of that game causing a bit of an identity crisis leading to the hardcore rally sim of DiRT Rally, but then that was followed by DiRT 4’s impressive procedurally generated rally stages, and now we have DIRT 5 (now with a capital ‘i’) and its Playgrounds mode.

Simply put, it’s DIRT meets Play, Create, Share. You’re given a blank canvas, a ton of building blocks and sent on your way to create whatever the hell you want. From the brief period that we and others have had playing a pre-release version of this, it can lead to some truly wild and impressive multi-layered creations.

Anything you create or play in Playgrounds will conform to one of three game modes. Gymkhana is full of jumps, drifting and spinning, where you earn points for chaining these together and keeping your speed up. Then there’s Smash Attack, where you have to race around to find and collect objects in the quickest time, and Gate Crasher, which is a time-attack through a string of checkpoints.

Starting off with a blank canvas can be quite daunting, not least if you don’t really know which of the three modes you really want to make. Even so, it’s easy to bolt together a carcass of a level, with building blocks of different sizes and shapes. Ramps, humps, slopes, curves are available in both dirt and asphalt, with things bolting together nicely. By default they snap together and can only be placed on top of each other, and rotating blocks happens in set increments, but each of these hand-holding elements can be toggled on and off as you see fit.

It can still be quite fiddly at times – rotational snapping takes a few too many taps of the D-pad for my liking – and that’s amplified once you start to try and decorate your created arena with barriers, signs, arrows and more. The most unnecessarily tedious of them all is placing each individual points block you can crash through in Gymkhana. I’d love to be able to draw a trail of these and have them dropped in by the game instead of doing so one at a time.

Of course, some of this could come from having played on a console. The gamepad controls work well testing this on Xbox One X, but I can’t help but feel that it’s all going to be more intuitive and slick when diving into Playgrounds with a keyboard and mouse.

Still, even if you don’t really fancy creating something, you can always to just play the ones that others have created. As I already said, there were some great creations uploaded over the last week or two as press and influencers got to grips with the tools available to them.

My favourites by far were the Gate Crasher levels that build up and up and up into the sky, looping in and around themselves with inventive layouts that just left me dismayed at my own lack of patience and creativity. While I doubt I’ll really spend hours and hours creating the perfect Gymkhana course – to be honest, Gymkhana is not my favourite event anyway – I can’t wait to see what the community creates with the launch of DIRT 5 in November (now that it’s been delayed).