Between the Grid, Dirt, F1 and Rally games, it can be challenging to tell which Codemasters franchise is up next. 2020 sees the release of Dirt 5, and after spending time with it it’s safe to say it’s probably our favorite of the bunch. Here’s our take on the PS4 version.
It’s been quite a while since Dirt 4 was released, but Codemasters has been quite generous in sharing updates on the sequel, which is why we haven’t been feeling Dirt-deprived in recent months. The wait in between releases (about three years) also makes Dirt 5 feel much more like a jump forward to the series when you compare it to games that are getting annual releases that can feel more like incremental updates rather than new games.
I think part of the reason I had forgotten how much fun the Dirt series can be lies with the existence of the Dirt Rally games, which are excellent simulations of rally racing but a bit too hardcore for me and my limited skillset (and/or patience). The core Dirt games, however, are much more about arcade-style fun, over the top adrenaline rushes and a flashy presentation.
Fun is the key word there, and out of all the Codemasters franchises out there in raceland, it’s most pronounced in this one. No matter which game mode you pick, putting the pedal to the metal and slamming your car into the side of an opponent’s car as you head into a corner with just a little too much speed feels great. That fun factor even applies to ‘solo’ events like gymkhana, where you perform over the top stunts with your car in especially designed arenas – events that you can expand upon endlessly using the included level editor as well.
If you factor in that there are 10 locations to explore that together offer up over 70 different routes and events, then you also know you’re not going to feel short on content either. Is this a flawless racing experience then? No, but it’s certainly one of the best in recent years and definitely the most fun I’ve had with a racing game in ages. I found the campaign/career mode to be a bit underwhelming, because even though Codemasters announced they were hiring voice talents of Troy “Joel Miller” Baker and Nolan “Nathan Drake” North, the actual gameplay experience isn’t the kind of narrative experience that pushes it far ahead of the likes of – for instance – Grid 2. You still just go out and win races, have rivals and rake in sponsorship cash – it’s familiar territory.
Luckily, Dirt 5 has that “pick up and play” appeal to it that makes for a game that doesn’t have to rely on its career mode. Arcade mode is where you’ll likely spend a lot of time in the long run, with a host of tracks and event customization at your fingertips. Additional vehicles are available as well, but the way to unlock them is through the career mode so I eventually just settled for whatever I had unlocked after an initial playthrough of the campaign – in part because there’s so much more content to unlock and even generate yourself, with a solid and easy to use editor for self-made tracks. Most people will probably spend more time racing on tracks by others than they will crafting their own stuff, but either way Dirt 5 looks like it will have tremendous lasting appeal.
Although Dirt 5 will receive next gen updates when the new consoles arrive, it also looks beautiful on current generation consoles. A few visual glitches need to be ironed out but there should be a launch day patch coming, so hopefully players won’t see the flickering, missing textures and funky shadow effects that we saw. It didn’t ruin the fun, but it was certainly hard to ignore. Luckily the performance is excellent, even allowing for four-way split screen action in local multiplayer, which is another highlight that the game offers.
It’s a shame that technical issues were there in the pre-release version and the campaign isn’t as refreshing as the rest of the game, but incredibly fun gameplay across a wide variety of locations and modes makes this a must-have arcade racer, especially if you have the ability to play together with friends locally (or online).