COVID-19 has made it an absolute ball-ache to do anything this year, least not develop a game, but Codemasters has somehow managed to do just that. And not only that. They’ve managed to create a cross-generation game, releasing on both current and next-gen hardware, which plays to each of the console’s strengths. The fact that this game exists is a credit to the hardworking team and I’m pleased to say that it’s an absolute banger to boot!
You’ll make no mistake, this is a Dirt game. Dirt is a series that has built its own identity over the years, particularly now that Dirt Rally has branched off, and Dirt 5 doesn’t deviate from that at all. The core Dirt series is now deeply-rooted in its arcade style of racing, favouring fun-to-race over any kind of realism. But despite being typically Dirt there are essences of other Codemasters games packed in for good measure. The DNA of Onrush is felt throughout Dirt 5 although the racing action never quite teeters into the chaos that came with it. The menus, career and garage all feel incredibly familiar too. It’s by no means a bad thing, Codemasters know their shit, it’s more reassurance that you know you’re in good hands.
When booting up Dirt 5 you’ll be presented with the various game options and this time around there’s a bit for everyone. Career mode will likely be your first port of call and whilst it’s fairly traditional in its presentation there are some welcomed changes.
Progression through the career is your standard affair. Each event has three attainable stamps which can be collected by placing in pole positions or completing in-event objectives such as x amount of drifts, x seconds of airtime. What does deviate slightly from the norm, however, is how you approach these events. Events are tethered together in something akin to a skill tree. Completing a certain event will unlock the neighbouring linked events allowing you to craft your path to the final showdown. This means you can pick and choose your favourite events which is great because it allows you to dodge those fucking dreadful sprint cars. They defy all logic and shouldn’t exist!
Most of the event types are much of a muchness — race quickly on either a point to point track or complete laps of a circuit. But a couple of modes stray from this formula. Gymkhana makes a return to the series and pits you in a mini playground for you to hoon around in. Drift, spin, smash and jump your way to a high score and the coveted event stamps. Pathfinder steers away from the “floor it to win it” mechanic and instead pits you against a mountainous track which needs to be carefully navigated. Each steep incline needs to be approached with a certain amount of tact and snaking up these unsteady terrains makes for a nice change of pace. The career events are also all single events so there is no “Grand Prix” thrown into the mix. The career mode lends itself to a nice “pick-up-and-play” experience so if you’ve only got a handful of minutes to kill, it’s ideal.
The other shift in the career mode is how it’s presented. The Donut Media podcast is played between events and it’s during these episodes where you’ll meet AJ – the laid-back protagonist, of sorts, and Bruno – the narcissistic prick who bears a striking resemblance to a certain US president. Whilst you wouldn’t play Dirt 5 for its story, this is a neat little way of including narrative to an otherwise run of the mill career mode. Obviously, it’s tinged with cringe but that’s part of its charm.
Career mode is joined by arcade mode which includes the standard free play and time trials options. Dirt 5 also features a full online mode with upto 12 players. You’ll see the standard race modes featured here alongside fan favourite party-games; King, Vampire and Transporter. If local multiplayer is more your jam there’s an option for that too! Split-screen is back and allows up to 4 players to race through the career together from the comfort of their, admittedly large, sofa. Okay, it’s not ideal for the current social distancing measures in place but once they’re eased it’ll be perfect for grabbing some beers with your mates and getting down and dirty with one another.
The other ace up Dirt’s sleeve is the newly added playgrounds mode. Playgrounds is where you’ll be able to flex your creativity by creating your very own levels and share them for others to play. Playgrounds mode bears similarities to Trials level creator allowing you to place checkpoints and all kinds of ramps, fencing, platforms and props. It’s ridiculously easy to create your levels too and this down to the simplified and intuitive control scheme they’ve implemented. Within a few minutes, you can have your level up in the cloud for people to race on.
Should you prefer playing creations rather than creating your own, you can do just that! Playgrounds features a full library of user creations which can be filtered by their game modes – gymkhana, gate crasher or smash attack – alongside other tags. The tools on offer are simple yet incredibly robust so I expect to see some very cool creations in the coming months.
There’s been a bit of controversy surrounding Dirt 5’s visuals which has mainly been orchestrated by fanboys so their opinion is null by proxy. But, whilst I can’t comment specifically on the next-gen visuals, it’s a damn fine looking game on the base PS4 and works incredibly well too. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the option to prioritise visuals or frame rate is present — an option that I assumed was reserved for next-gen hardware. Both the cars and tracks look great. Cars are modelled beautifully and get caked in mud as you rally around the tracks. The sound design is also on point with the sound of different terrains being a standout – in particular the slushy sounds on the game’s new ice tracks. The licensed soundtrack is also packed with certified bangers and sounds incredible blasting through the in-game speakers dotted around the track.
But there is some unfortunate jank in the trank. The issues in Dirt range from incredible minor to somewhat significant but despite their severity they never fully take away from the experience. Lighting is a bit odd in places particularly after it’s been raining. Distant atmospherics also appear a tad glitchy on some of the tracks in certain times of day and weathers. There is due to be a day one patch which fixes a handful of issues including the sky turning “blue-screen-of-death” blue so hopefully, these will be patched up too. The biggest issue, however, is that the game occasionally comes to a complete stop for a few seconds during races. I can count on one hand how many times this happened and it tends to be during the open throws of a race so whilst it’s less than ideal, it doesn’t cause too much of a fuss. It’s still worth noting though.
There’s a decent variety of tracks and locations in the game too and this is amplified by the dynamic time of day and weather. Races can start in the blistering sunshine but by the final lap, you’ll be splashing through water-soaked terrain. The terrain is also varied from snow, asphalt, ice and dirt, naturally. Each terrain type changes the handling of your vehicle too which spices things up a bit when the snow starts falling on a previously dry track.
The list of vehicles on offer is also plentiful. All from licensed manufacturers including Ford, Porsche, Aston Martin, Audi, Skoda and plenty more. There are also a bunch of concept vehicles thrown in for extra measure. Each of the vehicles allows for custom paint jobs including changing the body paint, adding liveries and vinyls. There are also some predesigned assets which unlock as your progress through the game.
It wouldn’t be a racing game without a photo mode so you’ll be pleased to know Dirt 5 comes packed with one. A good one at that. The usual tools are present — camera control, rolling zooming, depth of field etc. Filters are also present but one nice touch is the ability to place a spotlight on the track which adds a bit more dynamism to your shots.
All said and done Dirt 5 is another Dirt game with a few extra bells and whistles on top. It plays well, it looks great and offers up a few new ways to play. It’s a little rough around the edges in places but there’s nothing too significant to detract from the overall experience. And if for whatever reason you aren’t jumping into next-gen you’ll not feel short-changed by playing this on current-gen hardware.