Reviews

DiRT 5 Review: A pop punk, mud-running fever dream

If the DiRT Rally series is the down-to-earth, serious simulator sibling, then DiRT 5 is its louder, fun-loving arcade kin. From the time you first fire it up, you’re assaulted with bright, pop art-like visuals and an absolutely banging soundtrack that lets you know just what DiRT 5 has in store for you: fun.

Everything feels perfectly crafted to bring you that vibe in a way that evokes the glory days of Tony Hawk Pro Skater. Each track location has a bright, thematic logo. Each class of car it’s own appropriate badge. Even the events themselves have fun-to-the-point-of-obnoxious logo designs, and I love it all. My god, its art style is so good. If anyone could ever be accused of crafting a game, visually, just for me, then it’s Codemasters with this one.

DiRT 5 brings a solid stable of rally bred stock cars and off-road monsters to the mud-soaked table. From the iconic Subaru WRXs and Mitsubishi Evos of the 90s to the raw mud-running muscle of modern-day off-road karts, there’s more than enough makes and models to tickle anyone’s fancy. Once purchased you’re then free to customise your new wheels with a variety of visual options, though sadly no performance modifications exist.

Each vehicle has two indicators to give you an idea of what’s in store for you when you jump out on the track: performance (power, essentially) and handling. Of these two stats, handling seems to be far more impactful as it impacts your ability to turn at high speeds and do those all-important drifts around corners. Performance, however, seems to a little bit hit and miss – especially when taking on AI cars in career mode. The AI will power past you early on with their B-tier performance cars, while your measly little S-tier model will take several corners to claw back the gap.

While cars may look and sound great, they truly don’t even come close to the spectacle that is the tracks in DiRT 5. From dense jungles to snowy mountains, pouring rain to blizzards, the tracks are an absolute joy to race on and I found myself smiling constantly as I threw the car into corners. People crowd all around the track and cheer you as you roar past, chucking mud up everywhere from your tires as they scramble for traction. The excellent soundtrack pumps from speakers positioned trackside, adding to that immersion and feeling of speed. The layouts may be a little uninspired but the combination of awe-inspiring scenery, jaw-dropping weather effects and visuals and the willingness of the devs to just embrace fun makes the tracks in DiRT 5 a blast to race on.

Race on them you will, because while the tracks are each excellent, there is sadly just not that many of them. You won’t be too far into your career mode grind before repeats and reverse layouts start to pop up. Thankfully, outside of career mode is the option to either build your own racing arena or play on that of another thanks to the Playgrounds game mode. Different to traditional tracks, those in Playgrounds focus on using props to craft fun tracks to burn around — think Trackmania or Halo Forge. Each of these tracks has a timed scoreboard and you’ll be able to challenge your friends to master your track and beat your time to keep replayability high. This doesn’t help the career mode much though, and you’ll unfortunately be stuck playing similar events over and over in a Groundhog Day-like fashion.

To say that DiRT 5 has a career mode is to be somewhat generous. There is such an option, and some story sprinkled lightly around within, but most of it is just spoken at you while you wait to choose your next event. In fact, the story blends so meaninglessly into the background of ramblings between who I assumed to be Donut Media reps that I didn’t even notice it was the story until almost halfway through the campaign. Even then, I often found myself skipping through the story as I was eager to jump into the next race.

Most races early on in your career will go a little like this: you begin at the back of the grid and by the end of the first turn you’re already half a second clear of your nearest rival. As you progress further into your career you’ll find the AI does get a little bit stronger, as they’re able to keep up with you for longer periods in the race. This does cause one small problem, though: how are cars with ostensibly worse stats so easily able to catch the player car? Obviously there’s some AI-boosting shenanigans going on here, but the game does little to justify their performance increase that it can become a little off-putting to see the AI going toe-to-toe with you all of a sudden, and is sure to frustrate some drivers.

Finally, there were a few other frustrations that this reviewer hit along the way that will hopefully be resolved in the day 1 patch. First off was the instability – the game would crash every 2 or 3 races without fail (that’s about 10-15 minutes). This is obviously incredibly annoying to deal with, but workable. The far worse issue came in the form of an audio bug that muted the game entirely. The audio bug manifested itself after a crash during the in-game benchmarking tool, and has been completely gone ever since. As mentioned, it’s highly likely these will be resolved come day 1, but worth mentioning all the same.

Next-gen upgrades

We have also been getting dirty on Xbox Series X, where DiRT 5 is optimised as advertised, and we haven’t experienced any of the technical issues plaguing the PC build that Hamish has detailed. Even then, DiRT 5 is a distinctly cross-gen game. Often it’s the racer at launch that blows socks off with pure fidelity and a substantial leap in realism, but Codemasters has left that for Microsoft’s upgraded version of Forza Horizon 4. You’ll be dazzled coming from a base console, but I’m pressed to see a visual difference between the Xbox One X and Xbox Series X versions. Still, it is a seamless transition playing across both consoles, with the simplicity of Smart Delivery.

What the next-gen version offers is a choice of frame rate with an image mode or frame rate mode, which both target 4K 60FPS, as well as a buttery smooth 120FPS glimpse of the future at 1440p. The latter is pleasing to the eye, and while it’s not locked, you won’t notice any frame drops in motion. However, it’s offset by reduced image assets that take away any semblance of next-gen wow factor. You’ll also need a HDMI 2.1 TV to take full advantage, while slightly older TVs will permit 120FPS at 1080p — it’s an enthusiast option that isn’t easily accessible for the mainstream this early in the generation.

I settled on the middle ground, with the 60FPS frame rate mode a nice balance between mostly consistent frames with minimal tradeoff in image quality — although there is noticeably more pop-in. The next-gen version is a small step, rather than a giant leap, but with a free upgrade on Xbox Series X/S or PS5, it offers a nice performance boost.

-Ben Salter

 

At the end of the day and despite its flaws, DiRT 5 is fun; a lot of fun, in fact. Even after churning through hours of races, enduring near constant game crashes and even being deprived of that rocking soundtrack, I still had a blast. If you’re after a fun little splash around in the mud while listening to some excellent pop punk and rock, then you’ll love what’s on offer here. If the Forza Horizon games are the festival of speed, then surely DiRT 5 is the festival of fun.

 

# out of 10

The good

  • Fun. So much fun.
  • Amazing weather and track effects.
  • Excellent soundtrack.

The bad

  • Repetitive.
  • Handling model leaves a bit to be desired.
  • Ice/Sprint races are terrible.

 

DiRt 5 was primarily reviewed using a promotional code on Windows PC, supported by a promotional code on Xbox Series X, all as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.

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About the author

Hamish Lindsay

Avid reader and general geek, justifying the time I spend playing games by writing about them. I try not to discriminate by genre, but I remember story more than gameplay. I’ve been playing League for longer than Akali and I’m still Silver. Fallout 3 and MGS3 may be the pinnacle of gaming.