Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat – DiRT 5 is the most fun I’ve had with a racer this year and it’s not even close.
The feel of drifting across the snow or leaping into a cluster of cars off a muddy outcrop is unmatched anywhere. The powerful soundtrack feels immediately appropriate for just cruising through the game’s unique mix of courses, and the dirt-encrusted spoilers and splashy water effects add a gritty, down and dirty layer to the game you just can’t find in a Gran Turismo.
This is Codemasters at their absolute best. Over the years, they’ve continued to finetune, balance, tweak, and evolve the feel of these games through the collisions, accurate physics, and spectacular variety, all empowered by top of the line visuals and immaculate presentation. DiRT 5 is the sum total of all those years of work and ambition.
Editor Note 02/11 – Most of this coverage is based on a near-final Xbox One build of the game. A key patch was scheduled to go live late last week to fix various issues but didn’t emerge until earlier today. These impressions are based on a non-final build of DiRT 5 and so this article serves as an extended overview.
For our final impressions and Xbox Series X gameplay, click here.
At the heart of it, the game’s career mode, which takes you all over the world – from New York to South Africa – brilliantly captures both the wide-open space and close-quarter rallies you’d come to expect from each location. And the roster of vehicles always means you have to stay sharp and alert as no course plays the same way. Cruise control through any of these is going to get you in hot water real fast.
DiRT 5 has a fantastic range of vehicles, a series of really challenging courses, and they all work together to make each circuit feel unique. Over the top of it, you’ll get the game’s widely publicized audio commentary of Troy Baker and Nolan North, drilling down in deep detail the ins and outs of each of the courses you’re about to take on.
Career mode has some flexibility in that you don’t have to complete every course to run through to the end, though obviously the more you do, the more money you’ll earn and acclaim you’ll get. Each course has its own objectives, tasked to you by your chosen sponsor – which can be re-rolled if you find them a bit too challenging – tasking you with things like drifting to overtake opponents or jumping alongside someone to take a chunk of their paint with you. Of course that could be a gamble as you might, in theory, end up with a worse set of objectives to contend against.
As you progress through the Career Mode, you can buy new vehicles – there’s an option to buy four per course, each uniquely tailored to the conditions you’re about to ride on – and eventually you’ll be able to change your sponsors, and even take on Gymkhana style challenges to really keep things fresh over the course of the campaign.
Career mode is split into chapters, with a ‘Main Event’ race at the end. Essentially, you have to earn enough cred and points from other races in order to unlock the Main Event race, then each Main Event has its own set and conditions – finishing first or third place, for instance.
Beyond Career, there’s the option for creating your own tracks and circuits which can be played locally or shared online. These allow you to add objects you’ve unlocked over the course of play, while using familiar backdrops of places you’ve already visited. The tools are really in-depth, and there’s a lot of options available – from buses, to high incline ramps, tires and tubes. You can even place Monster Energy signs on the outskirts and add firework displays. The game is full of well-known brands.
The best part is, the tools are really user friendly. In so many games, while it’s nice to have these options, people feel intimidated by the sheer scope and scale of what’s available. The wonderful thing about DiRT 5 is you could probably smash out the most basic thing within minutes then play it, and it’s almost always a simple case of snapping objects together easily and conveniently. It even tells you how much memory you’re using in the top right of the screen just in case you’re creating something a little too ambitious. Though the game is pretty generous in that regard.
With tools as user friendly as this, it’s pretty safe to assume the ‘Discover’ mode will be well populated for months to come, and we already know DiRT 5 has an extensive post-launch roadmap as well, so you could be playing DiRT 5 well into the new generation. There’s certainly enough to keep you entertained.
From a visual point of view, however, this current gen release feels a bit lacking. The first menu screen you’ll see asks whether you want to prioritise frame rate – 60fps – or visuals – 30fps. Be prepared to see this a lot more if you’re upgrading to a next-gen console and skipped the pro editions of this gen. It’s something new for console owners to think about, for sure, but it means you can tailor your play experience to what you most prefer.
Having trialled the game on both Xbox (OG) and PS4, I can tell you that DiRT 5 does not feel entirely comfortable nor look completely at home on either. As mentioned, Xbox looks a bit ropier due to the delayed patch, but even on PS4 some textures look really rough up close, as well as at a distance. There’s a sense of blur overlaying most courses, some trees appear jagged, shadows are oddly dispersed and more than a few things actually look quite pixelated. Visually, you can tell something is off and the game feels like it’s lacking just a little bit.
Add to that the lengthy load-times, and occasionally stuttery frame rate and you can’t help feeling that maybe you should be waiting to play this on your shiny new PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series S l X. I can’t currently tell you either way as I don’t have the consoles, and unfortunately, I don’t own a PS4 Pro or XSX either, so I’m not sure if the game plays much better there.
What I can tell you is that DiRT 5 is an incredible racing game, but it’s almost certainly been optimized for newer, more powerful systems. My advice – if you can – is to wait and play on either XSX or PS5 for that all-important first impression. Rest assured, I will absolutely be playing DiRT 5 on XSX at launch to give you that comparative feel of playing the game on the two different formats.
With all that said, it doesn’t feel entirely fair to weigh up the pros and the cons of the game at this stage because I feel like I’ve only been playing half of the intended experience. Add to that a game-changing patch hit late yesterday for Xbox owners so I don’t feel we’re currently in a position to provide the coverage this game deserves, and I just haven’t spent enough time with the PS4 build – I only got it late yesterday.
Worry not, though, with an Xbox Series X landing on launch day, this is the first game I’ll be installing and revisiting to provide some final impressions. What I can comfortably tell you right now is that this is the most fun I’ve had with any racer this year and it’s my favourite entry in the DiRT series to date. Most of my issues stem from playing the game on a platform that doesn’t bring the best out of it.
If nothing else, this has made me feel even more assured about upgrading because I’m not sure my launch systems for this gen might be comfortable hosting the latest titles for too much longer.
Read our final impressions and see the game on Xbox Series X here
DiRT 5 releases from November 6th and will come to the Xbox family of consoles, PS4/PS5, PC, and Stadia.
Code kindly provided by Codemasters/Koch Media
Tested on Xbox One (OG) and PlayStation 4