Codemasters is not making any new friends in the simulator social circle with Dirt 5, but it's surely pitching the Dirt series into new racing territories. One that is fun, engaging and easy to pick up.
Whether it’s sending the rear end sideways on slippery frozen tracks or wishing you brought night vision goggles to navigate through the dark of night, Dirt 5 is surely going to be a joyous way to blow off some steam. It’s a completely new formula for the Dirt franchise. Where you see none of the technical stuff that happens in and around a car. The hardest decision you’ll ever make in Dirt 5 is which sticker should be on what side of the car.
Although it removes some of Dirt series’ charm, it trades in for something new - Arcade racing. And while that might not bode well with some enthusiast revheads, once you’re in the driver seat, it’s easy to forget the old and embrace the new.
Starting off as an inexperienced racer in career mode, you’re pretty much following a flowchart of races that branch off and unlock new races as you progress. Gone are the long rally races of old, replaced with checkpoint based races across 10 gorgeous locations. Many of which are aesthetically identifiable due to their attractive design and location geography.
Twisty bends, stone-filled stretches and muddy ditches. Dirt 5 keeps the rally vibe in check and delivers surprisingly detailed and thoroughly charted tracks. A few hours into the game and you’ll have your favourite racing tracks imprinted onto your memory. Meanwhile, the constant chatter between James Pumphrey and Nolan Sykes from Donut Media dubbed under Dirt Podcast is a really nice way to keep the interest going within the game world. It’s also a fun listen in between racing breaks when you stop to apply a fresh paint coat on your ride or customise your driver profile card.
These customisations options end there. There’s not a lot of variety here. Unlike Forza Horizon 4, the car customization is extremely limited in Dirt 5. Even with its massive library of stickers to coat the cars with, there are just weird limiting factors that truly hold you back. Need for Speed Underground 2 had more options. If it’s ditching the SIM-bit, we might as well get more to variety here.
Even cars are not a lot. Just enough to quickly force a decision before you jump into the race. While Forza Horizon is backed by a planet-sized budget from Microsoft, it’s quite evident why the Codemasters suffers from limited content.
You can pretty much get through most of the tracks in a day or two. But where it does beat Forza Horizon is in the level of detail of the tracks themselves.
You can tell when your car is skating across the frozen tracks of Roosevelt Island and when its kissing rocks across the marble mines of Italy. These tracks have a life of their own, in creativity and authenticity. Throw in a day/night cycle with a dynamic weather system, and the rally in Dirt 5 comes to life.
You can have races that speed up the game world time which can deliver an entirely different experience on the track from start to finish, even when you’re going in circles! High altitude driving in Nepal can quickly turn disastrous as the game time goes from a calm and beautiful sunset to dark, snow-slapping midnight. And just when you’re dancing through corners in what feels like a blizzard, Dirt 5 brings back the excitement to its races without ever changing the track.
Forza Horizon did have a similar weather system but Dirt 5’s focused approach on tracks is what makes the arcade racing a lot of fun here too.
That said, the type of races that go on in Dirt 5 confused me a bit. I still cannot tell the difference between Rally Raid, Landrush and Stampede. It has something to do with a lot of fender bender, drifting around corners and not being last. Although, Sprint, Gymkhana and Path Finder modes are all delightful. Sprint is rather annoying if I am being honest but it was good to have this kind of variety. Gymkhana tracks put you in a stunt area that feels like an afternoon drive for Ken Block. Path Finder is the most intriguing of them all, where you race against the clock while tackling a hardcore off-road terrain. The trick is not to be the fastest but the smartest or your vehicle will go tumbling down.
Dirt 5 is also punishing as ever. If you drift off into the barrier or brake too hard, the AI will overtake you and you’ll spend almost the entire race chasing them. Some races are easier than others. Whereas, I couldn’t get the hang of drifting on ice on the frozen track of Roosevelt Island. It’s here where I draw the line and opt for another race instead.
Online mode is best left unsaid because I couldn’t find a single online match on the Xbox Series X. Once you’ve had your share of career races, you can head over to Playgrounds and experience Gymkhana tracks made by the community. And if you’re feeling creative, you can make one too. It’s also quite snappy on the Series X to build something and then test it, and then go back to the editing room again.
Visually also the game looks gorgeous. On resolution mode, the game really comes alive with fantastic details, reflections and a steady frame-rate after the latest patch update on the Series X. We played it in 4K at 60Hz and on 2K at 120Hz on our gaming BenQ monitor. In both cases, the game looks fabulous. We recommend sticking to a bigger display since you can do 4-way local co-op here. If you’re getting into Dirt 5 solo, 120Hz is absolutely the best way to experience the game.
With 10 different locations and a dynamic weather system, Dirt 5 is every bit of a rally racer as its predecessor. Albeit, they did boot out the bits where simulator fans might flock to the title but it's still a fantastic racing game nonetheless. Wheel support for the game is not available at the time of writing but Dirt 5 has assured users that it will be coming soon with updates.
The game also sounds fantastic. Cars whizzing on stone-filled tracks and muddy water really bring the experience of racing forward. If you have a good audio system, by all means, let it rip.
Codemasters really need to give us more options to customise the cars especially when there’s a limited number of cars compared to Forza games. Where it lacks, it more than makes up for it in its moment to moment racing escapades. One that you’ll thoroughly enjoy at any time of the day.