REVIEW: Dirt 5

REVIEW: Dirt 5

Codemasters is a name long synonymous with racing games; since 1998’s game-changing Colin McRae Rally and its sequel in 2000, they have been at the forefront of the rally sub-genre. Following the formula for almost a decade, Codemasaters made the decision to change up their tried and tested franchise, branching out to include more than the OG rally experience.  

In 2007, Colin McRae: Dirt was born, bringing a much-needed hit of adrenaline to a stagnant series. Alongside the regular point-to-point rally, there was a host of interdisciplinary racing modes to get your teeth into, including Gymkhana, off-road circuit racing, rally cross, and more. It also features a “modern” aesthetic, complete with a star-studded list of rock and indie music to appeal to a new generation of racing game enthusiasts. Now, the fifth installment of the Dirt franchise been released just as we see the switch over to the new generation of consoles with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S. So how does the latest effort fare for this new batch of hardware?

Dirt 5 brings many of the past off-road rally experiences seen in the previous games in the series but has a host of new features as well. For instance, this entry features Ice Racing, Stadium Super, and an insanely fun uphill rock bouncer mode that has the player speeding up sheer vertical cliffs and jumps. Altogether, there are twelve different racing types, with a rather healthy variety of vehicles, both modern and classic. Each of the vehicle classes handles in the expected way; for example, the smaller rally cars are lighter than the hefty trucks, feeling quicker and more precise. But each class is fun to play with. Except, that is, for the tiny oval drift cars, which are almost completely uncontrollable and frustrating to the point of controller smashing. 

When booting up the game, the player is met with a racing podcast that buffers the loading and pre/post-gameplay sections of the game. Two racing commentators give a quasi-narrative account of the career journey, offering advice when starting new modes. At first, this is fine as background noise, but it does become tiresome after a while, so the choice to skip these sections is appreciated. However, there is a hollowness when venturing into the career game mode, which isn’t helped by an over-enthusiastic faux podcast blasting out of the speakers. 

In Dirt 5, there are five different game modes: Career, Arcade, Time Trial, Playgrounds and Multiplayer, all doing exactly what they say on the tin. They don’t waste time with tutorials, which was great for pacing, but doesn’t give you enough time to acclimate to what is going on or what the goals are for game progression. While the urge to win each race is still there, the progression system does not make it clear what is required to achieve new ranks and rewards, leaving a flat feeling when moving on to the next group of races.

The career mode, which will arguably be your most-played mode, offers a linear journey with different locations and racing styles, allowing you to earn in-game currency and level up as you go along. The problem is this mode is so simple that you often feel as though you have skipped something or missed something in the menu. The menus and colours of the game are all so in your face that the actual user experience feels a little shallow in comparison, which is a shame as the gameplay is great fun. It is very much a case of style over substance. 

The multiplayer needs a lot of work, and hopefully will be patched to include more options and customisation in the future. This mode is a simple case of getting thrown into a random lobby on a random track, and I found it hard to find a game more times than not. Once in a multiplayer game, it was the same as a single-player race, just with added shouting and people driving the wrong way up the track. 

One huge positive when discussing Dirt 5, and arguably the most impressive aspect of the game, is the game’s graphics. Running on Xbox One, it looked stunning. The lighting and weather effects are simply the best I’ve seen on a game of this type running on the outgoing generation of console. We are talking jaw-dropping. The water ripples on the puddles, the sun kissing the horizon as you traverse another deathly hairpin on a hillside—all breath-taking. It is easy to imagine this game will fry the retinas when let loose on the newer consoles. I expect big things if this is what is achievable when running on older hardware. 

I do have some minor quibbles with the graphical performance, as all those pretty pixels and polygons come at an expense. There is a massive amount of lag when racing on the more open circuits, especially when there are more than three vehicles on screen at any one time. It isn’t game breaking, but it is quite distracting, occurring more often than one would like. There is an option for a smoother running experience without the sparkly graphics, but I want to see things realised in all the stunningly rendered glory possible. So, the slowdown is my penance for such aesthetic pleasure.

There are also a frustrating number of in-game bugs, often leading to game crashes. Random track resetting, clipping, and end of level freezes were common during the many hours I spent on the game, and happened pretty much every session I had. There is also what I can only assume is a sound bug, and when driving on muddy surfaces there is a horrible flapping sound from the car engine that reverberates enough to make your teeth hurt. This effect is reduced slightly when not using headphones, but it is still dreadful. 

Overall, Dirt 5 is a mixed bag; it’s a graphically exquisite experience with a flawed progression system and a lack of in-game rewards. However, it does excel in core gameplay and is enormously fun with a gentle learning curve and a great variety of race modes. If you are in the market for a fun and great-looking rally racing game that does away with all the “simulator” gubbins, Dirt 5 is well worth a look—foibles and all. 

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