The straight DIRT series has been skidding more and more towards arcade-styled play in every iteration, and that trend continues in DIRT 5. Hey, you want a sim? That’s what DIRT Rally 2.0 is for!
We for one are grateful for our new DIRTy overlord, and for the sheer fun that it delivers in vehicular form.
The first thing that strikes is the look of the game. Candy colours from the menus even extend to in-game, giving an ever so slight cartoony look to proceedings. We’re not talking Wacky Races, perhaps “hyperreal” would be a better way to describe it?
Speaking of looks, you can opt for either a 60 frames per second mode with the loss of some graphical aceness, or go for a nailed-down 30FPS and revel in the graphical beauty. We preferred the latter, especially when the rain hit…
Ah, the weather! Codemasters absorbed racing maestros Evolution Studios – think early WRC games, MotorStorm, DriveClub – and this is their first fang around the DIRT track. We’ve encountered various conditions in previous series entries, but here it borders on bonkers. You can have a bright, sunny day and a track that’s drier than a dead dingo’s donger, but all heavenly hell could then break out, with torrential rain pelting at the windscreen, wipers struggling to keep up and a track turning to mud in seconds. Or try skating around an ice track in a full-on blizzard. It’s pretty incredible stuff, and adds an extra level of challenge in coping with specific conditions.
Not only is there a bunch of welcome variety in weather and also day/night cycling, there’s plenty to be encountered in the various modes at play in DIRT 5. Solo players should dive into the career mode, which takes an Out Run-styled branching map and introduces players to the various challenges on hand. Dislike any of them? Take the other branch – simple! Real world car buffs James and Nolan from Donut Media keep the whole thing together commentary-wiser, in what is pretty classic racing game stuff – hoon, score various amounts of bonus depending upon your final placement, sample different cars and disciplines, gather sponsors, upgrade any of nine classes of car… But it’s great fun, and this mainly comes down to…
Handling! Car games are made or broken by their car handling physics, and beyond all the abundant shininess, this is why DIRT 5 is so good – it handles like a dream. You feel the terrain that you’re on, but want to hit that hairpin hard and flip around it with a handbrake turn? BAM! It just works, and feels as natural as driving can feel when clutching a plastic game controller rather than a leather-clad chunk of MOMO.
Difficulty-wise, DIRT 5 is wonderfully nonpartisan. Got a functional left thumb and two pointer fingers? Then you can feel non-sucky as you maraud with the level set to “Very Easy” and all assists set to stun. Dial them back though, or opt for “Very Hard”, and the need for more serious skill kicks in – do it easy or do it really hard, it rocks to have options. Our only niggle of any substance is that no matter which difficulty you go for, the AI can be a bit, well, on rails, with some seriously questionable rubber-banding at times. Codemasters have promised that this will be attended to in an imminent update, so yay.
“Difficulty-wise, DIRT 5 is wonderfully nonpartisan.”
Meanwhile, if some 70 or so routes through ten locales – but no Australia (that’s a bloody outrage, it is!) – aren’t enough for you, jump into Playgrounds. Here you can build your own tracks, from simple drag strips to insanely compact affairs with turns that are tighter than SpongeBob’s boss, Mr Krabs. Happy with it? Upload it, and let others enjoy or curse your name.
There’s something about couch-based multiplayer that really works with racing games, and here you can split one telly for up to four players, controllers permitting. If you’re stuck on your lonesome online multiplayer options abound, too.
Offering decent, scalable challenge and trackloads (yeah, we meant that) of fun, DIRT 5 is one of the best track-based arcade rally experiences that you could ask for. Let’s face it, you can never have too many great racing games.
DIRT 5 is available now on PS4 and Xbox Series X|S/One, November 12 on PS5.