Codemasters and the DIRT franchise have gone hand-in-hand for years. A fun and realistic rally racing franchise that would eventually see a split. Players who were more interested in the true simulation aspect of rally racing went for the DIRT Rally series, while the traditional DIRT series would implement a sim-cade experience. Now at the end of this generation and moving onto the next, the latest title DIRT 5 is being offered for both generations. The current hardware limitations seem to have created a shell of what the next generation version of the game would be. This doesn’t include the fact that DIRT 5 is a full-on arcade racing title that can’t be touted as a rally racing game anymore, but rather the ultimate casual off-road racer.
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. Using the controller to race versus a wheel, especially in the car, is twitchy. This is best played in the third person if using a controller.
DIRT 5 offers two modes on current generation consoles for visual performance. One will have the game chugging at 30 FPS for a better visual aesthetic that include more detailed cars and backgrounds. The other focuses on achieving 60 FPS, but at a penalty. Screen tearing is abundant when playing at the high FPS model. This was on the PS4 Pro and may not be an issue on Xbox One if you have a VRR compatible television. Background textures in the high FPS are stale and flat. Codemasters has added vibrant colors to help make up for some of the stale environments. The game shines the most while racing at night as the screen tearing is less due to the lack of needing to render objects in the distance. You’ll get moments in the performance mode where the game looks and runs good, but is quickly over. The 30 FPS mode gets a bump in visual quality and may be the preferred way to race. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of what the performance mode will be on the next-gen consoles with that much sacrifice.
The vehicles themselves look strange 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 limited as you’ll get scuffs and light dents no matter how much the car is damaged. The amount of mud or snow that gets collected on the cars seems to vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, which may be due to a license agreement. This also seems tied into which visual mode you choose. It almost seems like Codemasters took the same approach that would be taken to a mobile game with its visuals as it did with DIRT 5.The soundtrack in the game is full of modern day alternative rock with some 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.
DIRT 5 offers multiplayer racing for both offline and online. Unfortunately, a plethora of issues occurred when trying to play online and matches could never be found. The game offers regular races and Party Games including Vampire, King and Transporter, but due to the lack of games and the numerous server disconnection issues, I wasn’t able to experience this. Hopefully, this is all shored up by the time the game officially releases for everyone. This also included a bug on PS4 where your saved game wouldn’t load. Bugs like this need to be quickly addressed.
DIRT 5 is a new terrain for Codemasters and it’s hard to say that it follows in the line of the previous series. This is meant for casual players to pick up and play and have fun. In this regard, it mostly works. On the surface, it feels like a love letter to off-road racing enthusiasts that like multiple ways to race outdoors. The varying locations mixed with varying weather and day-to-night transitions help things feel fresh. The AI, however, bogs down the experience. The Career Mode ends up being a repetitive experience that features a podcast that feels tacked on. Multiplayer in DIRT 5 currently is not working online, but hopefully the ability to race against other people will heighten the experience. What does well here is the Playgrounds mode, as the ability to create tracks and race on other people’s creations will leave replayability to players. DIRT 5 should have a different name or should have been branched off to its own series, considering it takes design cues from Forza Horizon in an attempt to lure players over for an off-road experience that feels similar. Codemasters at least has stuck to circuit racing, but surely an open-world DIRT is on its way sooner than later.