Dirt 5 is about as Dirt as the series has ever been. It’s a day-glo, chunky fonted, tattoo flash, RAWK MUSIC playing festival of colour and noise obsessed with sending stupidly powerful vehicles sideways on a variety of surfaces in a plethora of weathers.
It’s raucous in the dude-bro way we’ve come to expect, but not really as obnoxiously as it used to be. Either that or I’m now desensitised to it. It’ll absolutely not appeal to the people who don’t like the whole pageantry and X-Games vibe that it brings to the fore, but then it really wouldn’t be a Dirt game without all that pomp and circumstance.
Codemasters have justified and cemented the single worded and numbered Dirt series as their arcade racer entry with the punishing Dirt Rally games taking up the sim side of things, so if you’re coming into this with the hope of accurate simulation of loose surfaces, inertia and damage you’re out of luck. Dirt’s handling model is firmly in realms of the daft and the furious.
It’s unashamedly old fashioned in how it handles, which is not surprising considering the development team is made up of old hands from Evolution, the dearly departed studio who gave us Motorstorm and Driveclub, as well as the criminally underrated OnRush for Codemasters (by the way, OnRush dying a miserable, unloved death is one of the greatest video game injustices in modern memory. Just so you know).
This doesn’t mean that there’s no nuance to the handling. While the assists available aren’t as extensive as, say, Forza Horizon 4 there are still ways to manage how your chosen steed decides to flip its back end out and stick to the track. The major problem I found with the game was that the difficulty was all over the place and I had to keep adjusting the AI difficulty and the assists.
For example in the Land Rush races on medium I quite easily beat the AI by a good 6 to 9 seconds which is boring as hell, so I knock it up to hard. However on the first Sprint race there’s no way on this earth you can get your single geared, banshee screaming bloody sprint car to stop going sideways long enough to build up any speed to beat your opponents on Normal with all the assists on.
I fully expect to cop grief for the difficulty complaint and be told to “git gud” but when you can play one race type and struggle to keep up with the AI at all and then play the next race with the exact same settings and win with a 5 second lead there’s something very, very wrong with it.
The wildly inconsistent difficulty isn’t helped by the AI being, if we’re being polite, boorish and mildly aggressive. If we’re not being polite they’re barging arsholes and a pain in the effing neck. While the driving physics are weighty and satisfying with the different drivetrains handling in the ways you’ve come to expect from an arcade racer (RWD cars desperately trying to let their rear end overtake their front like an excited puppy, 4WD cars sticking to the track like glue) the collisions are weirdly weightless. And when you’re on a thin track with 11 other 4X4 behemoths things get a bit scrappy and the next thing you know you’re off the track, facing the wrong way or both. It’s a little frustrating.
Luckily if you do come across an event that you don’t enjoy you can often avoid it and take a different path through the career mode to another one, plus you only need to complete an event in any placement to unlock the next in the chain.
With 9 types of events there’s enough variety to keep things interesting, though. Path Finder is all about the big chunker vehicles climbing ridiculous hills against the clock, Sprint is going around an oval faster than the other drivers, Ultra Cross is rally cross with humps, jumps, crossovers and pack racing, and we have the return of everyone’s favorite crowbarred-in, Monster Energy Drink chugging show off event Gymkhana to name a few.
The Career mode has a narrative being driven forward by a fake but real podcast that pops up in between races. Some bumf about you beating a guy who’s name I couldn’t be bothered to remember, I just know that two of the characters are played by Nolan North and Troy Baker, which probably cost a penny or two. This story stuff isn’t bad; the bods doing the podcast are likeable and funny enough, I just didn’t care. It’s nice that they made the effort to give the game some character beyond the usual Dirt trappings, mind.
As a whole package Dirt 5 is quite impressive. It has 4 player local split screen, which should absolutely be commended (although I can’t comment on how good it is because we’re in the middle of a pandemic and can’t have any friends round. Besides which I don’t have that many game pads. Or actual friends), online mode (not yet tested because it wouldn’t find a match when I tried) plus arcade time trials and a Playground mode where you can create new arena tracks to upload and play.
A special mention has to be made to the graphics which, while not especially above the quality we’ve come to expect at this point in the console cycle, has excellent aesthetic qualities and art direction . One race takes place over a sunset during a lightning storm and a blizzard and is as spectacular as it sounds. Unfortunately this is marred somewhat by the god awful tearing, which somehow got worse after a 4.1gb patch was applied. And this is in the ‘performance’ mode on an Xbox One X.
Overall Dirt 5 is pretty much exactly what you’d expect a Dirt game to be in 2020. It didn’t exactly blow me away with any originality or surprises, but it really doesn’t need to. It’s a solid arcade racer that ticks all the boxes and fits in the arcade racer shaped hole that seems to be difficult to fill these days.