Dirt 5 Review — Refreshing the Series in a Good Way
Fasten your seat belt for a festival of drifts in mud, ice, water, and every other rough surface that you can imagine in Dirt 5.
This year was quite a busy one for all the teams at Codemasters. Earlier in July, Codemasters Birmingham launched F1 2020–arguably one of the best simulation racing of this year–and one of the best entries within the franchise. Later in August, one of Codemasters’ new acquisitions delivered its latest project: Project CARS 3. And now, the time has almost come for the launch of Dirt 5 — Codemasters’ first cross-gen title and the company’s biggest game of 2020.
Like Project CARS 3, Dirt 5 was developed with a specific purpose in mind: specifically, the development team looked to expand to a new audience with arcade controls and a lower barrier to entry. Unlike some shortcomings from Project CARS 3, Codemasters Cheshire found some exciting answers to the matter that suits Dirt’s heritage and opens up a wide variety of new options for Codemasters to expand the series’ future.
Dirt 5 isn’t that kind of game that keeps you on the tip of your couch from the very beginning. Due to nuanced controls and broader skillsets, it needs a little bit of time to start to show off all its incredible potential. Almost from Chapter 2 on, you will enjoy every race that you choose to take part in. Varied locations, a fair number of vehicles, different tracks, and dynamic weather all work together to make Dirt 5 a living, refreshing experience.
However, if you want to enjoy this game, you have to be open-minded about changes in the series — especially changes that target a bigger audience. Dirt 5 won’t be your type of game if you are seeking an experience like Dirt 4. It’s not even similar to Dirt 3 in many aspects, though you would like the game if you’ve had some good times with the third installment of the series. Simply put, launching Dirt 5 as a sequel to Dirt 4 is like announcing Forza Horizon 4 as a sequel to Forza Motorsport 7. You wouldn’t find it cool at first; but if you accept its change in direction, the game will pay off for that kindness.
Dirt 5 doesn’t go into the details of anything, and that’s the most significant difference between the new Dirt and the previous games. You can’t even upgrade your cars. But it provides a diverse playground for you to have a taste of every off-road tournament in the world that you may find exhilarating. Every racing segment in the game has its own class of cars and track conditions. As you progress more in the game, you will find some parts that host two or three kinds of car classes.
Dirt 5 has the best track design I’ve seen in a racing game since Forza Horizon 4. The game offers many different tracks located in multiple countries around the world, and each one has its own identity. Tracks are designed precisely enough that you first need to learn every corner of them before focusing on winning the race. As you can imagine, point-to-point tracks (where the race starts at point A and finishes at point B, and you never go through the same road twice) are the most challenging, and they can ruin all your efforts at the very end of the road with a sudden turn.
Not only is the selection of roads superb in Dirt 5, but also the developers have done an incredible job designing the visuals of each track. Even without ray-tracing on the current-gen consoles, the game’s world looks gorgeous enough to drive home the franchise’s graphical power.
Dynamic weather is a real beast in Dirt 5 that affects races in multiple ways. First of all, there is nothing that gets your heart pounding as much as the unexpected shifts in weather during each tournament. Secondly, the challenge dynamic can shift entirely due to environmental hazards — for example, low visibility due to a sudden sandstorm. This is the loveliest feature of the game that really took me by storm (*ba dum tss*).
In the case of vehicle variation, Dirt 5 isn’t as rich as Forza Horizon 4 or Need For Speed Heat. Each class, depending on the type, has over six cars at most — some of them only featuring a single model. If you do like each class, you will enjoy your time with Dirt 5 without worrying about the number of cars, since you wouldn’t be stuck in a single segment for a long time in the game.
This is likely the spot that the most recent series changes in Dirt 5 hurt it the most. If the game would allow you to tweak your car with new parts or adjust its various parameters, players could keep using vehicles for longer. But now that you can’t customize your car except for drawing a new livery, you could get tired of your car sooner than expected.
Another thing that adds up to the low-car availability issue is the game’s unbalanced progression system. While the skill and reputation points that you get for each race seem reasonable, the money you earn after winning each competition appears to be too high, and it generates some problems in the game. More often than not, you already have the money to buy the best and fastest car in a specific class even before unlocking it. More importantly, when you have the best car in a class, why should you spend money on a lower-tier vehicle of the same group when you can win more easily with what you already have?
The AI of your opponents in Dirt 5 is precisely the same as the name of the difficulty level. If you choose “Very Hard,” then get yourself ready for a competition that would be really hard to win. Even with its initial unbalanced phase before the first update, it was challenging to win most of the game’s races in the highest difficulty level, though some tournaments like Pathfinder were so easy to beat — and they still are.
Technically, the developers still have a lot on their plate before the game could be considered “polished.” During my playthrough, I faced significant frame drops in crowded scenes, even though I’d set the performance level to “Better Frame Rates.” On top of that, I couldn’t test out Photo Mode due to a bug that threw me out of the game every time that I attempted to capture a shot using the feature.
That being said, the visuals in Dirt 5 are still incredible. Sometimes, regardless of my position, I just stared at the mud on the ground and its realistic physics every time a car passed over it. As mentioned previously, the game doesn’t have any ray tracing effect yet on the current-gen consoles, but reflections on the ice and water are stunning. Even the outside of the tracks have a gorgeous design at every location. As I said before, Dirt 5 feels like a living experience, and that’s a brilliant achievement. Alongside that, the sound design of Dirt 5 and the taste in music of its developers are fantastic. You can find any kind of rock music from various bands worldwide in the game’s soundtrack, and it feels exciting when those music tracks are combined with the roars of the in-game car engines.
As may know, Troy Baker and Nolan North both are voice acting two characters in Dirt 5. They represent an off-road-focused radio show that provides some info about each racing tournament and some funny pieces of advice on how to win. For me, it was a little bit disappointing how they are incorporated into the game as I had my fingers crossed for a bigger storyline starring Baker and North, but the radio idea isn’t that bad after all — just a bit underwhelming.
Putting it all together, Dirt 5 is a content-rich, diverse arcade racing game that is unlike anything else among racing titles this year. Codemasters’ new direction in the Dirt franchise might not be what veteran off-road enthusiasts would’ve expected. Still, Dirt 5 accomplishes its mission of expanding to a broader audience with engaging arcade-y gameplay, and sets the series off on an exciting new path.