Friday, November 20, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

DIRT 5 Box art While I’ve played a few of the DIRT series entries here and there, I never really spent much substantial time with any of the iterations over the years. Now that the Xbox Series X has launched, I was looking for some Xbox Series X|S specific games to test out the new console and TV with, to see what all the hype was about. Luckily, DIRT 5 released just before the Series X launch and had Smart Delivery, meaning I got to get the upgraded version for my Series X, which this review is based on.

Codemasters has been around for quite some time and I’ve been a fan of their other racing games for years, so I was excited to finally dig my feet into DIRT 5 for the first time, unsure what to really expect other than some pretty visuals. On paper there’s plenty to do here, from a decently sized career across many different race types and weather patterns, split-screen and online races, and even a track editor where you can race endless maps made by the community.

The career is where you’ll spend the majority of your time, rising from a no-body to a star within the sport, under the coaching from another icon. I was also quite surprised to learn that voice over icons Nolan North and Troy Baker lent their talents to part of the campaign as well, adding a professional touch to the whole experience in the world of off-road racing.

Your racing career will span the globe across ten different locations, from Brazil, Greece, Nepal, Norway, China, Italy, Morocco, South Africa, Arizona and Roosevelt Island. Across these locations are multiple routes for each area, plus a handful of different race types as well. Each area has its own distinct look and feel, but my favorites were the uphill one-way races where the terrain is your biggest competition. Even more impressive was the dynamic weather where you can be racing in clear conditions one moment, then be in a near whiteout blizzard or a dust storm that makes it near impossible to see.

While DIRT 5 doesn’t have an extensive car list, each category has a handful of different makes and models to choose from, and while you can add stickers and paintjobs with the livery editor, it’s nowhere near as expansive that we’ve become accustomed to in other pinnacle racers. Vehicles will range in types from trucks, buggies, GT, rally and even 900bhp sprint cars.

What I will say about the career mode is that it’s quite short and not all that challenging overall. Having to restart the odd race here and there because of a mess up on my part, I breezed through the campaign without much worry, even in the last handful of events. What I did enjoy is the option of what pathway you want to go through the campaign. For example, once you finish the opening race there are two choices of race you want to do next. Maybe one is an uphill race and the other a gymkhana. Complete that race and then that branches out further to other selections, so you can aim your career in a way for the events you want to partake in, or avoid others (like how I generally avoided the Gymkana events). There’s nothing stopping you from going back and racing the other choices should you wish, and you might actually do so once you win the final race. I really appreciated being able to focus on the events I enjoyed and avoid the ones I didn’t.

As you win races and move onto the finals of circuits, you’ll earn new sponsors, experience, money and fans. Each race will also have a few optional objectives to strive towards as well. Given that DIRT 5 is primarily an arcade racer, many of these goals are ‘get X seconds of air”, “trade paint while drifting” alongside the typical “stay in first place for X seconds, “overtake X opponents”, etc. These aren’t mandatory, but will give you a slight bonus upon race completion for doing so. You’ll also choose sponsors, of which each will also have their own objective list to be met if you want to rank up and earn new rewards like stickers and decals for popular brands.

I was kind of surprised to see DIRT 5 cater more towards the arcade experience this time around, which is fine, but if you’re looking for an authentic rally experience, realistic driving or even tuning or visual upgrades for the vehicles, you won’t find those here. There’s not even any qualifying races, you simply need to start in last each time and manage to win each race in first. Most racing games take time to learn how its handling and drifting works, and I never really had any issues here, even in my first few races. The controls feel well done and drifting isn’t too complicated to perform exactly how you intend, other than the ice track races of course.

Money comes so quickly that you won’t ever have an issue affording any car you want in each class. This poses a small problem though, as you can basically buy all of the best cars for each class quite early on, and since there’s nothing else to upgrade or purchase, once you’ve done so, money becomes essentially worthless.

The dynamic weather system in DIRT 5 is what really impressed the most. You’ll be racing no problem, then all of a sudden things can change almost instantly. Maybe the clouds open up and a downpour drenches the tracks, or a whiteout blizzard comes out of nowhere and makes it near impossible to see. In particular, the mud in DIRT 5 is absolutely astounding. Zooming through a mud patch will leave your bumper and back of the vehicle dirty, but looks completely realistic.

When you’re done with the campaign and done all you can do, this is where Playgrounds comes in. Here is where you can create any track you could possibly come up with, share it with everyone else and of course, race on other people’s creations. Not only can you make standard race courses, but Gymkhana events, Time Attacks and Smash Attack’s as well. People have some amazing creativity, as I’ve played some completely wild tracks people have created, so be sure to check them out as there’s endless creations, complete with leaderboards.

There is also of course online multiplayer as well for those that want to race the competition online or with friends. Up to 12 players can compete but there’s also four player split screen, which is somewhat of a rarity these days. If you want something different, there are even a handful of different objective based modes as well, so there’s plenty of variety for your friends to enjoy.

For those that want even more content for DIRT 5, there’s an Amplified Edition that gets you a few extras: All of the post-launch DLC, 3 exclusive vehicles (Ariel Nomad Tactical, Audi TT Safari and VW Beetle Rallycross), 3 sponsors with objectives, rewards and liveries on top of some currency and XP boosts. The difference between this and the base game is about $17, but you’ll need to determine if the cost difference is worth it to you for those cars.

While I was able to play DIRT 5 on my Xbox One, I waited until I had my Series X in hand to start my racing career, which this review is based upon. There are multiple visual options, allowing for fidelity, resolution or framerate. Having tried them all, I absolutely stuck with the framerate mode as it was incredibly impressive. Having just got a new TV as well that supports 120hz, framerate mode makes DIRT 5 feel silky smooth if you are able to enable the 120fps and I encountered no hiccups, even when the weather got crazy. As for the game’s aesthetic, it’s bright and colorful and has a simple joyous feeling to it.

The audio is done quite well also. Yes, it’s going to get bonus points for having Nolan North and Troy Baker included for voicing in the game, though it would have been cool if they had a larger role to play. Each vehicle class sounds unique as you rev their engines and drift corners, you can hear mud slinging up the side of your car and rain hitting the windshield if you race in cockpit view. The soundtrack is serviceable and has a few decent tracks, thankfully I never had to mute it or put my own playlist on out of annoyance.

While previous DIRT fans might not be so sure about its arcade direction this time around, for everyone else, it’s an accessible and fun racing game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. If you happened to get one of the new consoles, playing DIRT 5 in framerate mode is how you can showcase what your new TV can or can’t do. While there’s not much length to the career mode, Playgrounds allows you to create or play anyone else’s track, adding longevity, even if the overall package is a little light on substance.

**DIRT 5 was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.1 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.3 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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