Dirt 5 is a visual tour de force, and anyone who will be picking it up on the next-gen machines is going to be in for a treat with a racer that offers you something new to look at around every corner. But scratch beneath the shiny exterior, and what’s left?
Sadly, a (very) pretty but lightweight racer which offers plenty of muddy “rallying” (and I use that word in the loosest possible way) but not much bite. There’s a broad career mode filled with voice overs from Nolan North and Troy Baker along with the hosts of the in-game podcast (James Pumphrey and Nolan Sykes), a pair of cool dudes that might appeal to some, but left me stuffing my ears with cotton wool.
The production values around the podcast and interactions with North and Baker are top notch, but I was left wondering why I was meant to care. Without the opportunity to create a character or having any visual representation for North and Baker, your left with the voice overs…and that’s about it. Codemasters spent time before launch talking about your rise from obscurity to infamy, but that doesn’t correlate to the action.
From the off you are able to get into a range of cars across the various classes without spending a penny, with these starter cars from my experience being more than good enough to win you plenty of events. There’s no sense of starting off in the lower rungs of the DIRT racing world in a beat up old banger and working your way up the ranks, catching the eyes of sponsors (and the characters of North and Baker) before breaking through to the top tier machinery. That would have been a wild ride, but instead your left with an ongoing sequence of events with the dude bros occasionally chipping in post-race with some witty comments.
The positive is that for the most part the racing itself is a great laugh…in the right vehicle. Some of the races which require hulking SUVs feel sluggish and lacking in that seat of the pants thrill you want from off-road racing. Get yourself into a proper rally car (the Skoda Fabia is a greater starter) or a Porsche 911, stick the rear end out and you feel the speed and wildness that Dirt 5 seems to keep tucked away.
You can plot your own course through the 130+ events and nine different event types, so you can pick and choose your way to the races and cars that you really enjoy. I found the career menu enjoyably bright and full of life, but soon enough lost track of the difference between an Ultra Cross event on the ice of Roosevelt Island and an Ice Breaker event at the same location. Unsurprisingly given my predilection towards the Dirt Rally side of Codemasters’ off-road stable, I found myself favouring the point-to-point Rally Raid events…or was it Stampede? A bit of curation of the events might have helped each style and location stand out from the crowd.
One event that did standout (apart from the love or hate Gymkhana stuff) was Path Finder. A truly innovative event type sees you compete by yourself against the clock in a course more suited to the Trials games than Dirt. Yet it works so well as you plot your way through the environments that have evidently been so carefully created. I wish they put you in the same life or death peril as Trials, but they are surely a standout event in the crowded career mode.
While I might have criticisms of the bloated and uninspired career mode, so much of the attraction of Dirt 5 comes to the courses themselves. Yes, the racing can at times be bland if the combination of cars and course doesn’t work, but the tracks will always stand out. My PC doesn’t have the grunt to play this at 4K, but I am so happy that I recently purchased a new 28” monitor. So much is going on in each event, from flares marking the route to jets flying overhead or going from a dry sunny start to a lightning storm in the dead of night. And that’s what you might see in just the one event.
Ultimately, I feel like Dirt 5 could have been so much more. A smattering of free-roam locales with these curated events would have been so much more interesting than the career mode you’re left with. The Playgrounds mode I checked out in August will undoubtedly grab the attention of the community, while the multiplayer races and party modes sound like they’ll be a thrill, especially in local couch play. As it is, the highs of the best singleplayer events don’t make up for those which don’t have the same level of pizazz, despite the visual splendour. It’s far from being a miss, but Dirt 5 falls short of the potential it so clearly has.
The Verdict – On Target
Platforms Available – PC, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and Series S/X
Platform Reviewed – PC
For more on our scoring policy, please read this post. Review based on code supplied by PR.