Dudes, it’s great to be back slinging dirt and thrashing up the terrain in DIRT 5, the latest entry in Codemasters seminal rally racing series. Last time out DIRT lost its mojo and gave a conservative performance with a dry presentation and a neutered sense of style – but don’t fret, DIRT 5 has been guzzling the Monster Energy and pumping itself with testosterone and guile again, so now it’s back on form and it’s so blindingly cool and indulgent you will quickly forget that DIRT hasn’t been this good since the third entry way back in 2011.
As you might be able to tell already, DIRT 5 throws you back to the Americanised presentation that fuelled DIRT 2 and DIRT 3. This time a pair of cool guys, voiced by Troy Baker and Nolan North, host the DIRT Podcast as members of a fictional organisation dubbed Donut Media, throwing banter and bad jokes back and forth as they introduce you to each of DIRT 5’s event types. Don’t be surprised if the attitude of these two goofs wanes on you the more you listen to them as they are indicative of Codies trying too hard to be cool and trendy, but they’re no worse than DJ Atomica from Burnout Paradise so they can be forgiven and they do a serviceable job of introducing you to the world of DIRT 5.
DIRT 5’s career mode sees you making progress through a series of increasingly difficult tiers dotted with a range of diverse and invigorating event types and locations. When you complete one tier you complete a chapter and move onto the next one where you might receive an invite to a Showdown event, which has you racing one-on-one or competing in a special scenario against multiple racers. When you complete an event you are rewarded with currency that can go towards buying a more competitive vehicle, or aid you in purchasing sponsorships and liveries to adorn your car with. Additional money and levelling can come with complete side objectives too, such as pulling off drifts and other manoeuvres during races.
On the event front you get; standard three-lap rallycross races known as Ultra Cross; Rally Raid, a point-to-point multi-terrain vehicular skirmishes to the finish line; Stampedes whip you about in gas guzzling trucks over hilly terrain patched with puddles and sweeping with swirls of dust; Ice Breakers have you racing on icy circuits for joyous slip and slide action; Pathfinder is about navigating the route and crossing the finish line in the fastest time; Sprint has you either racing around short circuits in 5 laps or racing around short circuits in 5 laps whilst driving unwieldy sprint cars; Landrush is about rushing to the finish line while dealing with unpredictable terrain and weather. Lastly, Gymkhana returns from DIRT 3 and has you performing jumps, running down foam boards and drifting and performing donuts to wrack up points. This mixture of events does an excellent job of keeping the career fresh and challenging, with each of them selling the brilliance and grittiness of close and filthy racing. Actual rallying is disappointingly left out of this one, but you won’t miss it because you will be caked in too much DIRT to care.
Locations are impressively diverse too, taking you to Italy, Brazil, China, Morocco, and Norway and due to the impressively varied terrain and weather effects, no two races will be quite the same. It’s a testament to the evolution of the DIRT series that Codies has pulled out all the stops in making the ultimate DIRT experience this time out because when you’re trying fend off a surging pack of brazen four-wheeled matadors behind you while the sky is lashing thunder up in the night sky, and the weather obscures the view in front of you – that’s when DIRT becomes as much of a horror show as a rivetingly immersive racing game. There are so many pretty visuals to savour, like rain peppering down in tropical-like climes while the sun beams, or when sandstorms kick up in front of you, forging a dusty smog – it’s truly outstanding and jaw dropping witnessing the sheer visual horsepower going on in DIRT 5. And this isn’t even the next-gen version.
Outside of Career you can create and share your own circuits courtesy of Playgrounds, allowing you to access assets from the game as well as to play others’ creations – a great layer of creativity and fun next to the satisfying Career that should entertain those with an eye for track design. Split screen and online multiplayer is available too, accompanied by a suite of fun online and party games to keep the carnage and frolics flowing.
Where DIRT 5 really does become a success on track is within the act of driving, of course. The vehicle handling is sublime, suitably twitchy and always makes you feel in control of whatever vehicle you drive – save for those dang sprint cars because they are a nightmare to keep straight – but DIRT 5 does a tremendous job of making every vehicle immersive to drive and every terrain type feel differently through the game’s handling model. Driving on ice is a highlight because you will feel the vehicle slide away outside of your exact control and the level of grip is as shaky as it should feel through the controller. DIRT 5 makes no bones about its arcade nature and is all the better for it.
The only real drawbacks in DIRT 5 amount to knit picks more than anything substantial. The framerate takes a hit and the game occasionally freezes, although the former can be remedied thanks to an option to switch preferences from image quality to framerate. Also the Showdown events don’t have the sense of spectacle they should – a similar issue to last year’s GRID reboot where the game throws these Showdowns at you without the build and anticipation they deserve. As hinted earlier, DIRT 5′s attitude can be a bit excessive and cooler than it thinks it is, especially with its unabashed rock soundtrack and podcast hosts.
The king is back. DIRT returns with aplomb in a triumphant new entry that packs in as much substance as it does style. Visually DIRT 5 is spectacular, one of the best looking and astounding racing games out there, managing to get up close and give FORZA‘s rear bumper a fearless bonk. On track DIRT 5 is accessibly nimble and controllably twitchy, making races a sheer spectacle and a sheer highlight at the same time featuring engaging tussles for position, only being matched by the array of exciting events on offer. Playgrounds gives avid DIRT lovers the ability to create their own tracks and share them with the community, which will undoubtedly add plenty of surprising challenges for those who want to spend time with it. DIRT 5 is superb and will quench the thirst of anybody who believes racing games have become too sim-heavy and boring. Some will lament the lack of true rallying and the ostentatious Americanised presentation but why complain when you can fully embrace the arcade richness on display here. Simply put, DIRT 5 is excellent and will leave you craving for more – now go out and there and drink it up.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.