The racing genre seems to be undergoing somewhat of a renaissance. In years gone by, it was the sad reality that the racing game fan had select few racing titles to choose from to feed their interests, but thankfully, as 2020 draws to a close, racing fans have a number of good quality games to choose from and even a good selection of racing disciplines within that. Dirt 5 is Codemasters’ newest offering to the gaming gods and one that fans of racing games should take note of. Lacking many of the bells and whistles one might expect from a modern title, this is still a solid offering. In some respects, although vibrant, this game lacks the personality that we have come to expect from the series, but in others, the clean, crisp simple approach allows the industry leading racing engine to breathe and stretch its legs. Dirt 5 might lack the glitz and glamour of competitors like Forza, but it’s still a fantastic racing game that is worth your time and attention.
Dirt 5 continues the series tradition of offering up a large number of off-road racing disciplines for the player to take part in. These range from classic point to point timed Rally events, to lap-based group racing, as well as more niche racing events, such as ‘stampede’ events that pit the player as much against the terrain as against other players, as well as the trick and skill-based event ‘Gymkhana’. These options create a nice variety for players to get involved in, with the added benefit of never forcing the player to take part in events that they don’t enjoy. If players have a preference for ‘Ultra Cross’ events, for example, they will be able to tailor their experience to play as much of those that they please whilst also ignoring any event type they might dislike. This creates a sense that players can mould their preferred experience from the game and never feel like they are holding themselves back because they don’t enjoy a particular event type. For a game of this nature, this is a welcome and important feature. All too many games try to funnel players down a certain path to “experience” as much of the game as possible, but Dirt 5 is confident enough in its own abilities to allow the player to pick and choose what they want to do, creating a much more valuable and engaging experience.
This sort of choose your own path approach to progression does bring with it some drawbacks. The progression of the game is led by a sort of event tree that awards XP based upon race performance and choice of race type; however, it unfortunately never feels like you are attached to anything meaningful and are instead just tasked with a number of unconnected races that allow you access to more unconnected races. The awards let the player buy better and a greater variety of cars as they progress; however, players will find that they can very quickly buy the cars they want, leaving no real purpose to collect the other cars beyond pure collecting for collection’s sake. For many, the quality of the racing engine will allow players to push beyond this, but all too often players will feel like they are merely completing races and moving onto the next one for no real reason.
Players that buy Dirt 5 will automatically get access to the upgraded version for the new consoles, which is a welcome addition…but a welcome addition that feels wrong to praise as it’s the minimum that consumers should expect. Both versions, last gen and new gen, are very pretty games but won’t blow anyone away. The nature of largely static cars on the screen, as well as environments that are only in the player’s field of view for a short time, usually offer developers a chance to stretch their legs on the graphical front, and although nice to look at, it feels like resources were diverted in other directions on this occasion. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a tip of the hat to the reality that Codemasters lack the development budget of a Forza or Gran Turismo title. The major selling point for a Codemasters racing game should be and so far is always the stellar gameplay engine and in this area the game can’t be faulted. It feels great to handle, responsive and on the new consoles runs at a buttery 120 frames per second. In short, an absolute delight to interact with.
The game also boasts a fantastic multiplayer experience. Over the years, the online aspects of Dirt games have always been the most fun, tense and exciting parts of the game, and Dirt 5 is no different. It runs well, and the variety of races on offer to the player lets them get into the weeds with their favourite disciplines from the single-player game and test their skills against the wider community. It’s early days yet, but there were occasions that matchmaking felt a little slow, like the online player base is already quite low and may end up being short lived, which is a huge shame because it’s absolutely fantastic. The online portion of Dirt 5 deserves real attention but may well go sorely unrecognised as the months drag on and players inevitably move on to something new.
As a package, Dirt 5 is a fantastic product. It runs well, looks nice, has a great visual style and variety to it, and most importantly, it’s purely and simply a huge amount of fun to play. Codemasters have created a product that is easy to come to grips with whilst simultaneously offering a high skill ceiling for those willing to put the time and effort in to master. The way in which the game delivers the player to races and moves onto the next one does, however, feel a little sterile and void of substance. Sure, it’s spruced up with music, colour and great menu design, but in all honesty, that feels like a veneer designed to hide the fact that there’s actually very little to it, meaning that it relies heavily upon the moment-to-moment gameplay with nothing around the edges. With all that said, the biggest challenge with the game is, unfortunately, something out of its own control. The online portion of the game, where most players should be aiming for, seems unlikely to garner the long-term player base that it deserves. Perhaps future iterations of this series will enjoy more success as it harnesses the marketing power of 2K after its recent acquisition, but for the moment, all we can do is try to get as much fun out of it as we can before it drifts into obscurity because this is a fantastic, if slightly frayed around the edges, offering worthy of your attention.
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, PC, Stadia.
Release Date: 6th November 2020
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Dirt 5 was provided by the publisher.