Review: DIRT 5 (PS5)

Codemasters has decided to make its DIRT 5 title cross-generation with the previous generation releasing a few weeks ago. The free upgrade to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X meant that Codemasters could truly display how the off-road racing title was meant to be experienced. The previous generation version of the game left much to be desired. On the PlayStation 5, DIRT 5 takes full advantage of the DualSense Controller and gives players visual options, including a 120hz mode, for players to enjoy. It makes you wonder why Codemasters bothered with the previous generation version in the first place, but thankfully the new hardware severely improves the experience of DIRT 5.

DIRT 5 isn’t just about rally, but rather is a true appreciation for all forms of off-road racing. There are quite a few classes of vehicles here along with a ton of varying terrain and conditions. Players can expect to race on a combination of asphalt, dry dirt, mud, snow and even ice. Each has a distinct handling characteristic as the vehicles will handle slightly different depending on the conditions. There are plenty of licensed cars in the game both old and new. Yes, the famous Group B cars are represented, as well. Cross Raid cars contain crossover vehicles such as the Volkswagen Toureg while there are separate classes for rally-inspired classes. Classic Rally, ’80s Rally, ’90s Rally and Modern Rally classes will bring the noteworthy Fords, Mitsubishis and Subarus for fan enjoyment. Other generic classes include a Rock Climber, Formula Off-Road, Unlimited, Super-Lites and much more. Sprint Cars even make their debut as players will be sliding around ovals in first gear fighting traction to try to win races. Codemasters attempts to shake things up with the variety of car classes here.

There are over 70 different routes spread across 10 different countries in DIRT 5. With the combination of different elements and also the inclusion of a day-to-night transition, Codemasters attempts to make things seem fresh the more the game is played. Players will traverse to places like China, Norway, Brazil, Arizona and much more to give different racing environments. The ability to race on ice at Roosevelt Island is a neat concept as it adds more difficulty. The Sprint Cars in Arizona are the most difficult cars to race with. DIRT 5 even includes the Gymkhana in the Career Mode. This is basically a playground for racers to achieve tricks such as donuts and grabbing air within a confined space before the timer ends. I do wish this was more spread out, however, as it seems the scaling of the area is small in comparison to what I could accomplish.

Further adding to the Gymkhana aspect, Codemasters has gone even further and created a Playgrounds Mode. This adds infinite replayability to the DIRT 5 with the ability to create, share and download. Some of the tracks I’ve played that were already loaded on the server were extremely well done and difficult offering multiple paths and tight corridors as players race for the fastest times. Some did seem to be long in terms of laps. This mode will continue to grow and the ability to create a course isn’t overwhelming but has enough depth to provide a variety of options and creativity. Playgrounds is something every racing game needs.

Codemasters has banked on the meat and potatoes of DIRT 5 being the new Career Mode. Offering something new, the Career Mode takes a narrative approach but in the lightest of ways. The mode includes a podcast from Donut Media that also includes actors Troy Baker and Nolan North. They try to clue you in on opponents and races throughout the Career and overall the podcast is literally just that. It’s a perfectly-replicated podcast that features chemistry and banter that’s well done. It’s the Career Mode itself that ends up shortsighted. Much like DIRT 5 as a whole, the game is inviting on the surface, but starts to lose its muster the more you play. The podcast kind of takes a backseat after a while. It would be different if there was more to do within the mode in terms of going through screens so you could multi-task, but you’ll will just be sitting at the menu waiting for the podcast to finish when you could actually be playing the game.

Career Mode is touted as “Choose Your Own Path,” and by this, it ends up being a linear branching element of repetitive racing. Some choices still come down to choosing the same vehicle class but just in different locations. You race to earn rep and money and accomplish goals such as catching air or drifting while making contact with someone. You can backtrack and play other races. The result is a repetitive grind as you win more money to purchase new cars. Yes, you can dress the cars up with decals and paint schemes that can be unlocked, as well. The mix of race types and vehicle combinations feels designed to make the Career feel fresh, but unfortunately, the racing leaves a lot to be desired.

You’ll be racing against more than one opponent in the game, unlike a traditional rally setup. Everything is some sort of auto-cross at its base. The AI is atrocious in DIRT 5. Codemasters has stated that changes will be coming soon for this, but racing the AI isn’t that fun. The rubberbanding isn’t a killer, but it takes the fun out of it. If you’re racing with a pack of other racers at the line, it feels predetermined. The AI does not do any time of drifting or power sliding. They literally take corners like a normal car no matter the conditions. You’ll see the AI shuffle between spots, but I have also witnessed it run directly into an object just because that was the path it was taking. The AI will also just sprint by you at times and it doesn’t make sense. If you bump into an AI car, it doesn’t move, so this can be taken to your advantage. On the opposite side, if the AI runs into you, most likely it will knock you out of the way. It also doesn’t recognize you’re there and cars will even land on you over jumps. I can assume racing against a human opponent, like in the available split-screen option in Career Mode, would be an improvement. This feels like an outdated setup.

While DIRT 5 is truly an arcade experience, it still does have that DIRT handling model that is fun, even if the AI ruins it. Being able to drift is not only fun but easy to pull off. All the vehicles feel weighty enough, but there isn’t a huge difference in the vehicle classes outside of speed in terms of how they handle. Yes, there’s differentiation when racing on different surfaces such as snow or ice, but even going through puddles of water doesn’t affect the feel of the car like it does in Forza.

The soundtrack in the game is full of modern day alternative rock with hip-hop sprinkled in. Music will also be played throughout the race, but can be disabled in the options. Doing so opens the door for mundane engine sounds. While each vehicle class sounds different, it isn’t something that will blow you away like the F1 series or even previous DIRT titles. The voice acting from all the actors in the game is, however, top notch. It’s worth noting that the 3D Surround Sound from the PS5 is noticeable here. You will drive by speakers while racing and the positional audio does stand out.

The implementation of the DualSense Controller with Haptic Feedback not only makes playing the game more fun, it opens a window as to what racing games will feel like on the PlayStation 5 going forward. I reviewed the Logitech G923 Racing Wheel a few months ago and thought it was ahead of its time. Now that I have experienced Haptic Feedback on the controller, this same level of realism will be seen using that wheel going forward. The controller vibration not only responds to engine vibration and shift changes, but also the G-forces. So when the weight of the car moves to one side, the vibration on the controller will lean more towards that direction. The R2/L2 buttons, which are used for gas and breaking, are also pressure-sensitive. It completely reconstructs the driving feel of the game where it doesn’t come off as dull as the previous generation version.

While the visuals were underwhelming on the PS4 version of the game, that’s no doubt ratified with the PS5 version. DIRT 5 offers three modes of visuals for next-gen goers. First off, this is one of the few launch titles that support 120hz out the door and I was able to test this. The visuals, no doubt, tank here in order to achieve the 120 FPS. Thankfully, most of the game is in motion and is ridiculously smooth at 120 FPS. Environment distance, textures and even the cars get sacrificed here. It’s worth experimenting with especially with the in-car view. This was also tested on the LG Nano85, which offers AMD Freesync. I’m not sure if this assisted, but unlike the previous version, there was no screen tearing to be seen.

The two other visual modes that are available are Resolution and Image Quality. The Resolution Mode feels like the sweet spot as you are provided 4K resolution with 60 FPS in most cases. The environment, especially at a distance, looks fantastic. Effects like mud and dirt and even the tiniest details offered excellent quality. The Image Quality provided more of a boost while dropping in frame rates. Environment lighting and further visual effects were given the full treatment here, but it isn’t as smooth as Resolution Mode. The vehicles still look strange, however, as Codemasters has added an overabundance of reflection on the vehicle models, which makes them seem more like toys rather than cars. The damage modeling is improved, as you’ll get scuffs and light dents no matter how much the car is damaged. There seems to be more dirt and snow buildup on these cars, as well.

DIRT 5 offers multiplayer racing for both offline and online. The issues that occurred with the previous generation launch are resolved, but the issue lies with the limited amount of online features. Racing itself didn’t improve the experience. With what races there were, there were no connectivity issues. The main issue is that the online community isn’t abundant. There are several times that I just raced the same race against 3-4 people. There were no races in Party Mode available either. So leaning on a multiplayer experience to improve upon the dull AI didn’t result in a positive.

Closing Comments:

DIRT 5 on PlayStation 5 is the best way to experience Codemasters’ new title. While this DIRT is still different in its design than all the other previous incarnations, it’s much more enjoyable on PS5 and Xbox Series X. The visual options provide a different experience to play with and the racing is completely different when using the DualSense Controller. The game is a one-to-one swap in terms of game modes, however, so the redundancy still exists. The last-generation version of DIRT 5 truly feels like a beta in comparison to this product. The game was designed with the PS5 hardware in mind and shouldn’t have seen a release on the PS4. This is an excellent way to experience what the PS5 is capable of; especially if you have a 4K 120hz television.