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Dirt 5 PC Review

By now I think fans who play rally games have come to understand that the Dirt series has become more arcade focused as the numbers increment, with the latest entry, Dirt 5, pushing the arcade focus more so than the last four numbered titles. There are new ideas in Dirt 5, but also some changes to its focus, due to the fact that a new studio made from the death of Evolution Studios (remember Driveclub?), who were branded as Codemasters Cheshire and went to work on OnRush, have worked on this game. The team took over the role from Codemasters Southam (Dirt 4) and have moulded the game into their vision, which for people who enjoy the Dirt Rally games, will not be all that excited for, but for arcade fans, Dirt 5 can be a ton of fun to play, but losing some of its heritage might upset some long time Dirt fans.

What do I mean by that? Well if we take Dirt 4, the last entry in the numbered Dirt games, and compare how that was designed to Dirt 5, then we see a huge difference. Dirt 4 was about bringing the experience of Dirt Rally to a more casual audience. It was filled with point-to-point stages and rallycross, the same things that were part of Dirt Rally, with a few buggies and trucks thrown in for good measure. In essence, it was a rally game, and while Dirt has brought in many different elements of mud racing, one thing it always made sure to have was to keep its rally history intact; the player against the clock with the only voice being the co-driver helping navigate.

Breaking down the events that are built into the single player campaign of Dirt 5 there seems to be something missing. Gone is the pure rally events of previous games, now targeting the element of racing other cars, something similar to Sega Rally, V-Rally or Top Gear Rally from the 90s, where it was point-to-point but involved many other cars to overtake. This is not a bad thing by all means, it is just something to note because I think fans would have expected something that has been in every game before to make a return here.

Career is the main attraction for single player content, well actually this can also be played in cooperative mode with three other players in split-screen with its drop-in/drop-out feature, so they do not have to be around to continue progression, which is a fantastic inclusion. While career is not online, Dirt 5 does use Steam’s remote play feature, enabling someone to play the career cooperatively over the internet.

Something that was highlighted in the trailers after the game’s announcement was the career’s inclusion of Troy Baker and Nolan North having main roles as the characters AJ and Bruno Durand, along with Donut Media’s James Pumphrey and Nolan Sykes (YouTube car people). I was expecting a return  of Codemasters’ storytelling seen in the Toca Race Driver series after hearing about this, because those two are not exactly small players in the voice acting world, but sadly, this is more a short podcast chatter between some events that leads up to their rivalry on the track. It could easily be stripped away and nothing much would be missed, as it does not add much to the game apart from giving it that feeling that there are other people here gunning for the championship win. The player is rarely involved within this back and forth between the characters, something that could have added more importance to the career mode.

The progression in the career is following a pathway from left to right, often having a couple of races to pick between to be able to progress to the next line of races. There are a few races bunched into a season, with the next group unlocking once one of the races branching into the new group is completed. This allows people to pick the races they like to progress through the game, but for someone like me, I wanted to beat each race with first place to earn those three shiny medals for doing so – there is a tally of medals at the top to remind you that there are events to still win.

As for the racing; the best words to describe it would be that it is tuned for accessibility and arcade fun. The handling is the simplest it has been for the series, rather lacking depth and never feeling that “on the edge” moment that Dirt Rally gives you. This handling model is made for people who do not have to worry about how the vehicles will grip the gravel, tarmac, dirt and mud. The only time where the handling model changes drastically is in the ice and snow events where the surface causes severe understeer and loss of grip, as one would probably expect from such troublesome weather. Jumping from rally cars to trucks does feel different, but it is not enough where you have to adjust the play style; keep flat-out and slide around corners.

Across the career mode expect to be driving vehicles from multiple disciplines – 90s and 80s Rally, Classic and Modern Rally, Rally Cross, Rally GT, Cross Raid, Rock Bouncer, Formula Off Road, Pre Runners, Unlimited, Super Lites and lastly, Sprint, the most frustrating class of the entire game where the vehicles have ridiculous horse power and rear wings, and love to control like trash, constantly turning to the left when abusing the acceleration. It is a class that takes time to get used to, and it seems I am not the only person, as comments on Steam feel that this class has issues with its handling, hell, even the AI has trouble as they smash all over the track and its barriers in hilarious manner.

AI drivers come across as sterile. Vehicles stick very close to the racing line, like on-rails, and rarely move off it unless it’s an Ice Breaker event. They do not seem to have an awareness for the player or other opponents, so contact often happens. Contact actually is not that bad, because there is a sense that the game wants you to bash some cars around a bit, as damage has no impact on the car, and only limited visual damage modelling is represented in the game.

Thankfully the track design makes the races with the AI fun. Each location, be it New York, Rio de Janeiro, Greece, Norway, and the others, have solid foundations for good racing. What makes the repeated visits to these locations exciting are Dirt 5‘s dynamic weather and time of day. The dynamic weather system is done to the extreme, where in a race, which can be anywhere between 2-6 minutes long, could be sunny, then switch to heavy rain or snow storm in an instant. Adding this variable to the frozen lakes of Norway or the bamboo forest of China, and how the visuals change to the weather, the mud becomes sloppy, the dirt sticks to the cars, or in the extreme cases when lightning storms blast in the snow, are quite a beauty to behold – it is exaggerated, but it fits right with this pure arcade design that Dirt 5 has going for it. This is something I would imagine I would be playing in the arcades at the local fairground back in the late 90s, except this is much prettier.

Dirt 5 is a cross-generation title, and so this means the game is on PS4, Xbox One, PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC, which adds the question, how does it look having to fit across such a scale of hardware? Simple answer, pretty great. The artistic exaggeration is what helps give Dirt 5 that impressive look. The vistas mixed with the weather is where the game shines best at showcasing the eye-candy. There are some elements, mainly the paint materials on some cars, where it makes them look more toy like than real-life, but this is looking at Dirt 5 through the lenses of other Codemasters driving games, rather than taking this game on its own merits with the rest of Dirt 5‘s bright and colourful presentation.

Performance is solid on PC, but some graphically elements can seriously cut-down the frame rate, such as global illumination, and there is also an absent of fullscreen mode, as the game runs in borderless fullscreen, which leaves the mouse on screen unless moved to the side to hide it from view. I also had a few crashes to desktop during my 15 hours with the game in various game modes. The developers have acknowledged the issues and have already issued a patch, with more coming down the line as they gather the issues from PC players. These are a few basic things that should not be happening on a PC release, which comes across as if the focus was on the consoles. With how many versions they are, this would not not surprise me if it was the case.

Outside of career is Arcade (self-explanatory quick races), Multiplayer and Playgrounds, the latter a mode I experienced a few months back with a preview build, so I will not go on much about it here. Playgrounds is a wonderful addition to the series, and I do not think anyone was expecting to be creating Trackmania inspired tracks in Dirt 5, but here we are, and has a solid set of tools to do this. Playgrounds is best described as Dirt 5‘s way of giving the player the ability to create their own challenge events using objects to build custom arenas and share them online. As with anything creative, the community will be key in keeping this alive and exciting, and with leaderboards for every creation, there is this added challenge to be the best on everyone’s fanatical fantasy courses.

Online comes with the same racing events, but also the added party modes, such as Vampire, a mode where one player is the vampire and must tag other cars to make them vampires as well, and King, a mode about keeping the crown as long as possible without touching another car, otherwise that passes the crown onto them. The person with the most points at the end is crowned king. Online lobbies remind me of the mess that was with Grid (2019), there are no private ones at the moment, supposedly coming in patch later down the line. Along with this, there does not seem to be a way to pick the race type or track to race on, rather the server will influence that for all the players.

As the next generation appears around the corner, hopefully changing up the landscape of video games, Codemasters are hoping that Dirt 5 will bring in new audiences with its colourful and often wonderfully looking dirt racing. There are some disappointments with Dirt 5 – the lack of proper rally events, the throwaway podcast story, the streamlined handling and the sterile AI. On the flip side, there are plenty of race types, the tracks and dynamic weather help keep repetition away from its career, which allows Dirt 5 to simply be a joyous arcade racer.

This is a review of the PC version, but in reality, Dirt 5 makes a good buy for people with shiny new consoles, having those people see the visual tease of what could be possible with the new hardware. Yet somehow, Dirt 5 finds its gameplay feeling at home in a 90s arcade machine, thanks to the flat handling. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but a change that fans will need to adjust to. Just please, don’t let me have to do any more Sprint events in the downloadable content that is planned in the future.

7 out of 10