Loud, brash and in yer face, DIRT 5 is the automotive gaming equivalent of a night out in Newcastle. Everything about it is attention-grabbing, from the magenta menus to the youthful soundtrack and explosive racing action. It’s a melting pot of vehicular arcade fun, mixing elements from games such as DiRT 3, Motorstorm and GRID – yet somehow feels more than the sum of its parts.
Update 07/11: Having experienced the multiplayer offerings of Dirt 5, we’ve added our thoughts on these modes below and have now scored this review.
Before you get carried away with nostalgia for the aforementioned titles, let’s quickly go through what Dirt 5 actually is. For the most part you race around circuits made from either dirt or ice, and you do so in multiple different classes of off-road racing vehicles.
These races will make up around 70 percent of your time in Dirt 5, but there are also Rally Raid events – these are point to point races as opposed to circuits – Path Finder events where the aim is to traverse rocky terrain analogous to Overpass and there’s also Gymkhana which sees you skidding around in a time limit like an episode of Netflix’s Hyperdrive. Or a Tesco car park on a Friday night.
Event types with the names Stampeded, Land Rush, Ice Breaker and Ultra Cross are all variations on the same regular race. Some use longer tracks. Some tracks are on ice instead of gravel. But they are all races. I’m not really sure why they have different names, other than to create faux variety.
The career is where you’ll spend the bulk of your time. A concoction of the aforementioned events, it taps into the wonderfully varied car list – including the Aston Martin DBX, an electric VW ID. Buggy, a Ford F-150 Raptor pick up truck and the classic 90s Subaru Impreza rally car. The aim is to finish first, earn cash, level up XP level, all helping to unlock more events.
While it’s possible to blast your way to the end of the career mode in around four hours, completionists will want to finish every event and it’s in doing this that the rebranding of races really starts to hit home. Some time trial events or rallycross with a joker lap wouldn’t go amiss. Neither would be making use of Smash Attack events that can be found in the Playgrounds mode.
While you are progressing through each stage, the folks from the popular podcast and YouTube channel Donut Media talk you through a storyline filled with witticisms. While voice talent includes Nolan North, your rivals are too shallow and after a while, I found it difficult to care.
So the story is throwaway and some of the modes repetitive, but the venues themselves are detailed, varied and luscious. They are alive with dynamic weather, big jumps, tight hairpins, and yet there’s also enough space to rub body panels without ending up in a pileup. Tie this together with the pumping tunes, fireworks and a day/night cycle, and you feel like you are racing around a music festival.
This leads us to how the cars behave. In a word, they’re accessible. You can chuck a car in broadside on the handbrake into a tight corner and power around it with ease. The natural balance is on the safe side with mild understeer, but that’s nothing a little provocation can’t rectify.
You’re never on the edge, everything is very predictable and using a controller the way forward. A steering wheel peripheral is superfluous for Dirt 5. Which is fine, because what this game is trying to be is very clear. It’s bombastic fun on four wheels without the paraphernalia or egos required for esports.
In extreme moments, however, there is a strange sensation of the car trying to self correct a slide, like you have an elastic band in place of the steering wheel. In the Gymkhana events, where one way of scoring points is by driving quickly through tight gaps, there isn’t enough precision in the handling model. Sometimes you find yourself weaving from one side to another.
Away from driving, you can now build your own arena-based levels in Playgrounds mode. At first, it can be a little tricky to get your head around the space limitations and slightly clunky creation tools (on a console at least). I created a couple of levels and was pretty happy with myself. Uploading your creations to the world feels great… until you download and play a level created by someone else and you realise your creativity has laughable limits! The trick seems to be build upwards, and then there are some incredible results.
I think it will remain a fun aside that you may try once or twice, but I’m simply not sure how much longevity there will really be on offer. There isn’t enough incentive for you to continue playing the user-generated content after the initial experiment. It would be nice if playing these levels would help further towards some kind of goal.
What will help to elongate the experience is multiplayer. Offline, you have split-screen events making a return to the series, and there are also online races and party modes. You can ‘squad-up’ with other people to join public events, but a big omission is a lack of private lobbies at launch, something Codemasters seems to be making a habit of.
Online races are effective, but the whole system is held back by the lack of searchable lobbies. You cannot select what vehicles you want to race with or which tracks you want to hoon around, and you have to wait and find a new room after each and every online race. The same curse afflicts the party modes, but they are fun once you’ve found a game. For example, King sees you trying to keep hold of one of two crowns, earning points while trying avoid having it stolen away through your rivals making car bodily contact. Vampire and Transporter are variations on this theme. They’re enjoyable, but the options need to be expanded for a sustained community to develop.