Dirt 5 has had a somewhat rocky road to release. Facing multiple delays and a change in the developer, some fans might have become worried. After all, these are the types of events that can be a good warning sign of trouble in a game’s production.
Fortunately, that is not the case with this title. While Dirt 5 might be a little rough around the edges, it certainly manages to hit the mark effectively. Even with a few missed opportunities in terms of the story, it is a fun and capable arcade racer.
Unlike previous Dirt games, this new entry has a proper story mode. It isn’t just a singleplayer campaign either but an actual narrative that unfolds over time. Essentially, the player takes on the role of an up-and-coming racer battling against an established rival. Codemasters has even added some established names to play roles in the plot. This includes both Nolan North and Troy Baker, who play your opponent and mentor respectively. In between races, the pair will talk to you and provide some context to the events.
Unfortunately, the actual plot in Dirt 5 is not all that great. It kind of just exists to provide some extra motivation. There are no real cutscenes and it’s perfectly possible to blast through all the races without paying any attention. Even the addition of a podcast series to accompany the action isn’t all that important. Codemasters made a big deal of the story before the release of the game. But in all honesty, it is a throwaway element that the vast majority of players will simply not care about.
If you disregard the narrative in the campaign, the career mode largely progresses as you might expect. Players get stamps for finishing well in races and also for completing bonus challenges. Once a race is finished, you can move onto the next event in that branch. Occasionally, you’ll need to have collected a set number of stamps to move forward but it’s never much of an issue. Despite the lack of story, the career mode is actually worth playing through just for the events.
One of the main reasons that the career mode works so well is the variety of game modes. Codemasters has included plenty of different types of races for players to get stuck into. These range from more traditional point-to-point rally stages to the drift-laden Ice Breaker. All in all, the game contains a great selection of different modes for people to choose from. The campaign also does a good job of mixing them up throughout the career, meaning things always feel fresh. Some test your ability to navigate tight and twisting courses quickly while others require you to get scrappy with competitors.
Perhaps the most noticeable change in Dirt 5 compared to some of its more recent predecessors is the handling. Driving feels much more arcade-like rather than a simulator. You don’t have to be as responsive to every element of controlling the vehicles as there’s more margin for error. While driving feels less realistic it is almost certainly more fun. Dirt 5 is a game that you can pick up and play rather than spending hours perfecting a run. The game also puts more emphasis on drifting and bashing into other racers. Ultimately, Dirt 5 focuses on being great in small chunks, easy to play over multiple sessions.
In terms of multiplayer, Dirt 5 gets a lot right. It now offers the ability for several users to play together on the same console through splitscreen. Up to four players can compete together on the same console, even going through the campaign as a team. There are also more traditional multiplayer modes and a selection of returning party modes. These include Vampire, King, and Transporter, giving players access to plenty of fun race types to play online.
Unlike some other recent Dirt games, which have had a certain grittiness to them, this game is all about color. The wide array of locations all have their own unique characteristics and visual styles. Meanwhile, the dynamic weather system helps to highlight impressive effects such as lighting and reflections. This is especially evident when the rain begins to fall, creating puddles on the tracks. Although the cars themselves are not the most detailed you will see, they look great. They even show visible signs of damage and dirt, with mud spraying along the surfaces.
The sound design is equally as impressive. While the voice talents of Nolan North and Troy Baker are somewhat wasted, the soundtrack meshes well with the overall atmosphere. Combined with the vibrant visuals, it creates a fun party feeling that flows throughout the game. As you might expect, the sound effects also work well, with the booming sound of the engines accompanying the action. There are some technical issues but none are game-breaking and should be addressed in upcoming patches.
Dirt 5 is a welcome return to form for the series, which was once one of the best arcade racing franchises. This new game goes back to the roots and has the same feeling of previous entries such as Dirt 2 and 3. That’s a good thing in a field that’s crowded with good racers, as Dirt 5 manages to carve out a place for itself.
Few titles contain as much breathless fun and sheer enjoyment as this one, making it a must-buy for any fan of old school arcade racing games.
Dirt 5 is available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.