DIRT 5 is, in a word, brilliant. And, despite me already getting this version of the game at no cost for review purposes, Codemasters has earned my purchase on the Xbox Series S – the only next-gen console I’ve managed to pre-order. Bloody scalpers…
I’ve spent the last few days abusing DIRT 5’s car collection. I’ve thrown Mitsubishis around mud tracks in China. I’ve spun out a Ford Mustang on the frozen river of New York City, and I’ve used a Skoda as a makeshift battering ram. It’s all Skodas are good for anyway.
DIRT 5 offers a great variety of stuff to do with a deep career mode that I am admittedly not yet done with, online multiplayer with a slew of modes, as well as free-play and time trials. The big addition to DIRT 5 is the introduction of Playgrounds – a brand new mode where user-generated content takes centre stage. Whatever it is you’re looking for in a DIRT racing game, you’ll find it here, and then you’ll find some more, because DIRT 5 is full of stuff to do, unlock, and collect.
I took on the career mode first to get a taste for this new “narrative” career where Troy Baker and Nolan North are the stars, alongside the real-life Doughnut Podcast. I’ll tell you now – I didn’t give a hoot for it – the narrative, that is. The rest of the career mode is fantastic. The Podcast host is flat out annoying with his over-enthusiastic delivery, while Troy Baker delivers his usual lazy charm, which doesn’t work on me. Unlike Codemasters’ F1 2020, where the narrative is played out with actual cut-scenes, this is all voice-over and not all that engaging. Unless, of course, you’re a fan of the podcast in real life. I’m not. I’m here to race and trade paint, not listen to grown men trade pleasantries.
The racing is top-notch and it’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from a DIRT release. High-speed thrills, big dirty drifts, and an escape from the realism of other racers. DIRT 5 leans more towards arcade racing with its handling being quite forgiving, even encouraging you to throw caution as you go barreling around hairpins with the handbrake pulled hard. It’s satisfying and it feels great to overtake a rival by pulling off a sexy drift and splattering a heap of dirt on their windshield. It’s not so great when it happens to you, though…
I know that for many fans of racing games, the amount of cars matters. There are more than enough motors here for you to run around in, and you’ll unlock them by earning cash during races, as well as through sponsorships which can offer extra bonuses. No, you’re not getting everything handed to you on a plate, though the cash does flow freely and I never felt like I was being forced into a grind to get the cars I wanted. That being said, I am not fussy when it comes to which cars are in a game. I tend to find a handful that I feel really comfortable racing, and then just focus my time on those, rather than trying to collect them all. There just aren’t enough hours in the week for me to take on such a challenge, but I’m jealous of those who do manage it.
Career mode isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. Rather than being forced to take on races that you don’t enjoy, you’re free to choose your own path. The career screen shows the different events that are available and it’s your choice how you progress. The progression is a little similar to DriveClub, in that you get a number of stars for each race, and further races are unlocked as you collect enough of them. So you might find that you’ll have to go down a previously unexplored career route to boost your numbers up, but for the most part, I didn’t feel like I was being restricted, and it never felt like the game was pulling me along only to send me backwards.
I didn’t really get that involved in the online multiplayer – it’s just not for me. But I did get stuck into Playgrounds and this is where the longevity lies, at least for me. In Playgrounds, players can create their own maps and share them with the community. I’m a taker, not a creator, so I’m happy to let the more talented people make stuff for me to play. At the time of writing, Playgrounds already has a lot of user-generated content, with most of it being really good, too. Obviously, this will change as time goes by, but with a good rating system and the ability to add favourites, Playgrounds should remain a high-quality place to play for a long time, and that’s my hope.
Now, I really want to talk about DIRT 5’s graphics. As you’ve no doubt been able to tell in this video, DIRT 5 is a stunning game to look at. It really is, and I was blown away before I’d finished my first race. The lighting, particularly as the weather changes, is simply brilliant. As are reflections. A lot has been made about the next-gen consoles and their ray-tracing support to enable more realistic reflections and lighting. While DIRT 5 on PS4 Pro doesn’t have such support, it still manages to impress.
With DIRT 5 being a cross-gen release, we’re seeing Codemasters nudging the bar just a little bit higher, and the results are great. Sort of…
DIRT 5 ships with two different performance profiles: one that focuses on frame rate, and another that focuses on graphical fidelity. With the frame rate mode, the game pushes for 60FPS, and for the most part, it manages it well, but not without issue. While I do prefer the frame rate mode in DIRT 5, it manages it by dropping v-sync, which introduces screen tearing. It’s not unsightly by any means, and it’s not a game-breaker, but it’s noticeable. I got used to it, mind you, and the big benefits – like more responsive controls and snappier gameplay – make up for this small shortcoming.
With graphics mode enabled, you’re getting 30FPS and what looks like a higher resolution. But honestly, this is not the ideal way to play, especially after sampling the goods that frame rate mode has to offer. If I hadn’t played in frame rate mode, I probably wouldn’t have been bothered, but I just can’t trade in those extra 30 frames per second for a higher resolution or slightly fancier graphics. And honestly, I didn’t even really notice much difference between the graphics with either mode. The game looks great in both configurations, but the frame rate mode edges it out by delivering a much smoother gameplay experience and still looking great in the process.
I’ve only managed to secure an Xbox Series S console at the time of writing. The PS5s were all bought up when Sony released the pre-orders in the middle of the night, and the Xbox Series X isn’t available either. Still, Codemasters has earned my money on this occasion, because I’ll be buying DIRT 5 again on the Xbox ecosystem to get that sweet next-gen performance, and I’ll have DIRT 5 ready for PS5 whenever I can get my hands on one. But in the meantime, the PS4 Pro version of the game is a real stunner and you shouldn’t feel too hard done by if it’s the only version you can get this year.
DIRT 5 PS4 Review
DIRT 5 is a brilliant racer and that provides an early taste of next-gen, at least on PS4 Pro. The gameplay is great arcadey fun, and there’s depth to the single-player mode that gets much deeper with the player creation kit in Playgrounds.
Dirt 5 blurs the lines between current and next-gen with DIRT 5. It’s ahead of the game and perhaps one of the best racers of this console generation, and if you’re left playing on the older machines this side of Christmas, you shouldn’t feel too hard done by – you’re still getting an exceptional racer.
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Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using PS4 Pro.