I have a love/hate relationship with racing games which have released this generation on consoles. A lot of them focus on ‘simulation’, having you manage everything from your crew members to adjusting all the statistics of your vehicle, yet others opt for an ‘open-world’ where you drive around looking for events or races to participate within. However, I’m more a fan of the pick-up-and-play arcade racing games, so when I saw that Dirt 5 was going to be very arcade-like, I simply had to try it out!
Dirt 5 is developed by Codemasters Cheshire, a studio which was once Evolution Studios – the developers behind Driveclub and the MotorStorm series. Under the new name, they’ve released one game prior, the fun and creative OnRush which I reviewed HERE and enjoyed playing despite being a rather different take on the racing genre. As such, Dirt 5 has been built using the engine they created for OnRush, an engine which pushes every system in order to deliver a visual treat and solid performance – in most cases.
So, after spending 40 hours within the game, and then another 5 trying to fix a save-game bug (which won’t affect new buyers), what did I think of the game? Let’s find out…
*Images were taken with HDR on, so they look ‘worse’ than the actual game did on the TV*
Dirt 5, surprisingly, has a narrative ‘story’ attached to the career mode. You’re on a mission to become the new star in the world of off-road racing, competing against many advanced drivers in 1-v-1 races and over 125 career events spread across various different race types. To provide some exposition and narrative to the career, Troy Baker and Nolan North voice narration via a podcast-like interaction with you whilst your thinking of what event to participate in next.
For me, this was unnecessary and not very interesting or well-implemented. I found myself ignoring whatever they were talking about and simply picking the next event I wanted to play – it’s not even as if they talk in a cutscene-like scenario, it’s just there in the background as you pick your next race, kinda like background music only less exciting. I imagine the banter and the commentary is fun for those who have the patience to sit there and listen to what they’re saying, but I personally just wanted to race other cars.
Dirt 5 offers a variety of single and multiplayer modes, which I’ll get into in more detail within the review, as well as a ‘small’ number of cars and customisation options. I love the fact that this game is much more arcade-like than Dirt 4 (which I played whilst playing this one in order to get a grip on what had changed), but there are a number of things which felt overly simplified and dumbed down.
This isn’t all a bad thing as it makes the game much more fast-paced and exciting, but if you’re expecting the level of detail we saw within the previous game, you’re going to be disappointed.
As I just stated, Dirt 5 is an arcade racer, not a simulation – so go into the game with the expectation of ‘pick-up-and-play’. Unlike previous games, the choice of vehicles is much smaller and the customisation is all purely visual, meaning there’s actually no progression within the game outside of earning new stickers and decals. For example, once you pick an event in single-player, you can then pick from one of the valid cars within that race – sometimes as few as one (so no choice) and some may give you up to five or six based on if you’ve bought them or not. Once you’ve picked the car, you can re-paint it, apply stickers, or pick from an unlocked livery – that’s it. No tweaking of the various attributes, no buying and installing new parts, no changing visual body parts, nothing – it’s very, very basic.
At first glance, this may seem like a negative, but I kinda like it. It meant that I didn’t have to try and earn a bunch of money to buy parts and then gradually pimp out every one of my cars, and it also made picking which car to use quite easy as they all have a few stats (Performance, Handling, Power, Weight, and Torque) easily viewable when picking which one to drive. However, it also means that you can’t actually increase the power or driveability of your vehicle to give you a better chance on the harder difficulties, meaning that if you get stuck on an event then your only option is to practice a lot or simply drop the difficulty.
Aside from the non-customisable vehicles, you do actually have some control over the difficulty and overall handling of your car on the tracks via the ‘Driving Aids’ menu. The career can be adjusted from Very Easy to Very Hard as well as choosing Manual or Automatic Transmission, Anti-Lock Brakes, Traction Control, Stability Management, Auto Brake (to prevent you going 100MPH into every wall at a bend), and even a toggle for ‘Tricksteer’ help in the Gymkhana events. So, you can still technically adjust some settings to enhance your gameplay, but I would have loved a bit more control and enhancements for the individual vehicles.
The career within Dirt 5 is made up of over 130 events spread across five chapters and nine race ‘types’. These are Ultra Cross, Rally Raid, Land Rush, Stampede, Ice Breaker, Sprint, Path Finder, Gymkhana, and Throwdowns. Most of these are your standard ‘you vs everyone else’ as you go around the tracks and aim to finish in first place, but some of them are quite different. These are:
Path Finder – This mode has you traversing on your own on a track which isn’t well-marked (intentionally). You have to ‘Find’ the ‘Path’ and follow it by seeking flags and arrows as you climb steep hills and bounce all over the place in your very flimsy vehicle.
Ice Breaker – This is a mean, evil, and tricky game mode! You know how all fun kart-based games have levels where you ride over ice and it makes you slide all over the place as you try to throw shells at your opponents and laugh as they spin off the track due to the smooth frozen water surface? Well, this mode is similar – only without the weapons or ability to fall off the track. Basically, the floor is ice, the entire track has frozen over and you’re sliding all over the place trying to retain your friction as you drift around the corners. It’s fun but very hard on higher difficulties.
Sprint – As you’d expect, this isn’t a lap-based track, it’s simply going from A to B. I like these courses as they seem to be the ones with the more scenic routes.
Gymkhana – Basically, it’s an assault course in which you have to earn over a certain amount of points before the time runs out. I didn’t like these events as they were all the same, despite being laid out differently, and getting the 30k for the trophy is probably going to be something I never achieve.
Additional Career features
Each of the events you play will reward you with up to three stamps/coins/stars/things. I’m not 100% sure on what the criteria are but I believe it’s a combination of the place you’re in as you cross the finish line and the number of optional objectives you complete. Each event has three objectives (which you can pay to re-roll if you don’t like), such as going over a certain speed for a set amount of time, finishing in reverse, getting a set amount of airtime, or doing a predefined number of drifts. There’s no penalty for not doing these but it does seem to increase your rewards at the end.
Similarly, you can sign up with a sponsor (which are unlocked as you play the game). Each one has their own objectives which increase the rewards you obtain as well as unlock new stickers and decals each time you increase your sponsor’s level. Every so often, instead of getting a visual reward, you’ll get a boost in the amount of money you earn after each race, so it pays to swap out your sponsor regularly and jump on the most profitable one.
Finally, Throwdowns. Although the game has no set career structure outside of the podcast audio and the five chapter layout, you’ll gradually unlock the Throwdowns which require you to race against thirteen fictional racers in various events. These are much harder than the standard races but they do diddly-squat.
I initially completed all of them as I went through the career mode until I realised there was no trophy related to them, they don’t indicate when you’ve actually beaten them, and the only rewards I could see was some new livery options on certain cars. As such, I only did four of them and never really felt the urge to return and beat the rest.
Dirt 5 has a few ways you can jump into the dirty action with your friends starting with a four-player split-screen mode within the career and Arcade modes! It’s been a while since I’ve seen this within a console AND PC game, but it’s there for people who want to play together locally. I’ve not personally tried this as I don’t have anyone else to play with due to the lockdown, but I’ve heard good things about it. Alternately, you can play the online multiplayer and face off against people from around the world. Again, I’ve not tried this mode but that’s because of a reason I’ll talk about in a minute.
Even though I’ve not been able to play any of these, the Online Multiplayer isn’t just a set of races, it contains various game modes to experience. There’s Vampire, which has one car try and ‘bite’ the others before sunrise, King is the opposite as you have to hit the car with the ‘crown’ and steal it for as long as you can, and Transporter requires you to pick up an object and deliver it whilst avoiding the 11 other cars.
One of the new features for the series is the introduction of the Playgrounds, a simple to use editor for creating your own Gymkhana or smaller enclosed courses. You can practically build whatever you want as there’s a lot of items and objects you can drop and use as walls, ramps, tracks, obstacles, checkpoints, etc… I had a go at making my own track (as it was a trophy requirement) and I did a terrible job of it! I’m not very creative. But, you can also download and play other peoples creations for free so I jumped into them and had a great time, I love how original and wacky people can get!
If you’re just looking to define your own race and play it without looking through the career, this is the option for you. There are ten locations with over seventy routes to pick from, along with thirteen car classes which each have a few cars to pick from. This mode can be played on your own, against however many CPU cars you wish, or with others via local split-screen. You can even set the weather (or have it dynamic), what time of day it is, and how many laps you have to complete.
If you just want to race though, you can play any course via the Time Trial mode as well.
I played Dirt 5 on the PS4 Pro and I intend to try it out on the PS5 once mine arrives on the 19th November as Dirt 5 gives you a free upgrade to the next-gen edition on launch. I can’t comment or speculate on what that version will be like but I can say that the PS4 Pro edition looks and plays great – mostly. First things first, if you pick up the disc edition of the game – DO NOT play it on version 1.0 – upgrade to the latest edition before you do anything else. Version 1.0 is very broken and primitive, you really don’t want to see it…
On the Pro, you have two gameplay options – Performance Mode or Visual Mode. Performance targets 60fps with a lower resolution and Visual aims to give a higher resolution at 30fps. After playing each mode for many hours, I strongly recommend you play the game in the 30fps mode with the higher resolution. Don’t forget, this is the team behind the brilliant Driveclub, which was also 30fps, the game is super smooth and runs great whilst looking very clean and crisp – especially if you have a 4K TV and HDR.
Why don’t I recommend the 60fps mode – screen-tearing, lots of it. The framerate felt smooth at 60fps but it didn’t feel like it was locked, that along with the tearing which occurred all over the screen (not just at the top or bottom) made it quite off-putting and not very fun to play. I’m sure the PS5 will iron this out as I think that has two 4k/60 modes (based on visual settings) and a lower resolution at 120fps (which I’m interested in trying as my TV supports 1080p/120). But for now, I’d recommend playing at 4k/30 on the PS4 Pro as it’s a much nicer experience.
Dirt 5 has a photo mode which will let you get some pretty good shots if you play with the settings. I found it interesting how once you’ve lined up the shot, the game then proceeds to process the image and render the aperture and focal settings – presenting you with a much higher quality image than simply enabling the mode and pressing ‘share’. I may be wrong, but it reminded me of the OnRush Photo Mode so it may just be using the same mechanics that game did – seeing as it’s the same engine.
This is the first time anything like this has happened to me and it won’t happen to you as long as you upgrade to the latest version as soon as you get the game. We received the game when it was on version 1.02 – on this version I completed around 110 events out of the ~126 in the career mode. Version 1.03 then released and basically deleted my entire progress within the game, acting as if I’d not played the game. So, using various ‘questionable’ processes I found on PSNProfiles, I managed to re-download version 1.0 from PSN and then upgrade to version 1.02, blocking 1.03 from downloading.
This is why I’ve not been able to test the Multiplayer – I’ve locked the game on the version which doesn’t delete my progress. I suspect this ‘issue’ won’t happen with the next update (as 1.04 is due out very soon), but just in case, remember to back up your save before installing it.
Dirt 5 looks and plays fantastic on the PS4 Pro. As a personal preference, I’d say play it in the 30fps mode if you don’t want to experience any of the screen-tearing, but other than that I loved the visuals. What I found rather amusing was the amount of ‘dirt’ in Dirt 5, it’s a very dirty game – your vehicle may start off nice and clean but once you appear on the podium, it’ll have mud all over it which gradually appears as you drive around and spray it all over yourself. Not only that, but you also get easily scratched and dented by other drivers who seem to love bashing into you!
TL;DR – the game looks next-gen on current-gen machines!
The dynamic weather and time of day really bring the game alive. You can be driving around in the sun one minute, then it’ll start to trickle followed by a downpour of rain which makes the road slippy and swamped with puddles. similarly, you may start a race at mid-day but you’ll end it when it’s dark and hard to see, making the event much more intense and realistic. One thing I will say though is If you have epilepsy DO NOT buy this game right now. There are a few races which are part of the career that takes place at night during a thunderstorm. Basically, the screen is pitch black until it starts flashing white with lightning – it’s very, very bright if playing with HDR as well. There needs to be an option to turn this particular effect off as it could cause injury to some people.
I think I also have to mention the soundtrack, it’s brilliant. You can find out more about it HERE – it really pumps you up and matches the adrenaline-pumping gameplay perfectly.
Dirt 5 is a great arcade racer without all the depth of Dirt 4 or Dirt Rally. If you’re looking for a fast-paced racing game which you can play with friends locally, online with people, or on your own to pass the time, I guarantee you’ll love what this game has to offer. I was a little upset that there’s no detailed customisation outside of the visual aspect, but if you go into the game knowing that it’s more pick-up-and-play rather than tweaking and customising, then it shouldn’t bother you too much.
I can’t wait to see what it’s like on the PS5 with the DualSense controller!
I’m a little late in posting this review as the main benefit for buying the Amplified Edition has now expired – three-days early access to the game. However, we were provided with this edition for review so I thought I’d advise what you get if you decide to pick up this version today. The main benefit is the season pass which says you’ll have access to all post-launch content. I’m going to presume this only means the year-one content though as on Steam this is called the ‘Year 1 Upgrade’ rather than a Season Pass, so I expect they’ll be more content released at a price in around 12 months.
The ‘Season Pass’ entitles you to ‘at least’ 60 new events and 12 new cars – based on the Dirt Rally 2.0 and Grid content, this should be quite substantial.
You also get access to three new cars, three sponsors, and you’ll get the currency and experience boost DLC included – which will be why I currently have around 4m Dirt Dollars.
- - Lots of events in the career mode which'll take hours to complete
- - A nice selection of online MP modes and local splitscreen for four people
- - Visually, the game looks amazing
- - Free upgrade to the PS5 version
- - The soundtrack is brilliant
- - Not a lot of customisation
- - Due to the above, playing on harder difficulties can be quite brutal as you can't improve your vehicle
- - The 60fps mode on the PS4 Pro has a lot of screen-tearing
- - The narrative is fun to listen too but doesn't really keep you engaged enough to sit there and listen to it