Dirt 5 is an off-road racing game developed and published by Codemasters, releasing on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on November 6, 2020. This fourteenth release in the Colin McRae Rally/Dirt series next released on Xbox Series X|S on November 10 and finally on PS5 on November 12. This series of racing games started off as the Colin McRae Rally Series way back in 1998, named after the World Championship rally driver Colin McRae. The series had a focus on rally sport racing for a number of years until 2007 when Colin McRae: Dirt was released shortly before the unfortunate death of McRae himself.
Colin McRae: Dirt 2 was the last game to feature the champion’s name in 2009, and since then we’ve had six more games in the renamed Dirt series which includes two specific Dirt Rally games, focusing on ultra realistic and often punishingly difficult rally driving. Now, Dirt 5 has been in our gaming hands for a couple months and it’s the best in the series for me given it’s cross-section of race types in career mode and awesome audio and visual effects, especially on the Xbox Series X. If you’ve ever played any of the games in the series before, you’ll immediately feel right at home.
I first received a review copy of the game in the lead up to the launch of the Xbox Series X. Having only ever had the original Xbox One and not experienced the Xbox One S or X, i fired it up for the first time and straight away noticed a bit of screen tearing and slightly janky framerate in the introduction video. Jumping into the driver’s seat for my first race, it drove relatively smoothly but the scenery was slightly jolty, and turning corners felt ever so sluggish to the point I was sliding out often. I switched over to the Xbox Series X and the game ran fantastically, smooth as butter, and I could control the car on the first race so much better. For the first time in my years of gaming on the Xbox One, a game has started to push the limits of the seven year old console.
Don’t get me wrong, I can and still do play Dirt 5 on my original Xbox One, and I especially love just doing 1 or 2 races when my daughters are getting ready for dinner or at bath time. But there is a substantial difference in performance when I switch over to the Xbox Series X. I haven’t experienced gameplay on an Xbox One X before, so I assume there would be less of a difference in performance between playing Dirt 5 on the One X and Series X. I can only tell you about my experiences. My only gripe in the early stages was how shiny the cars are in the preview and livery sections. In-game you’re too focused on the driving to notice the shine, and the cars look really good on track. It’s just when you’re trying to think of your next purchase or unlock a new colour scheme, the excessive shine really did affect my choices with me swaying towards matte and bland colours. But the colour of your car doesn’t mean anything if you can’t drive it like a boss!
In the lead up to the release of the game, I was super excited to learn that famous game voice actors Troy Baker and Nolan North were pairing up for the Dirt 5 campaign mode, along with some YouTubers I personally hadn’t heard of before. North voices rival driver Bruno Durand and Baker voices your mentor, Alex “AJ” Janiček. Whilst I did notice their voices and loved the banter between all the characters, after a short while I noticed repeated phrases pre and post race, and jumping into the next race cuts the dialogue off. After a while, I didn’t feel the ‘story’ of the campaign was engaging enough to keep me engaged which is a shame. Instead, my motivation was to do well enough in races to get to the next bracket and next chapter.
The story mode has five chapters with a whopping 130 events to compete in. You don’t have to complete them all to progress and you could just keep going down one or a couple of paths, it’s just a matter of earning enough yellow stamps to unlock more tracks. Upon completing a race, you’ll earn experience, currency, reputation and stickers allowing you to unlock vehicle customisations. After a short while, you’ll be able to represent various brands during your career races. Each of the 20 real-world brands provide unique rewards upon completion of specific objectives. Objectives range from finishing first in a race, trading paint with other cars to maintaining a high speed for a certain amount of time or overtaking a certain number of cars.
Some of the challenges were either too difficult to achieve whilst concentrating on winning the race, while others sounded real simple but were difficult to achieve. For example, a common task I couldn’t complete was ‘overtake x number of cars’. I often shot out at the gate, or quickly got into first place after 1 or 2 turns and maintained first place for the remainder of the race, so I hardly got a chance to overtake anyone. I’d have to purposely drive slow and allow them to overtake me so I could overtake them for the challenge. Often it wasn’t worth it as I was struggling to just win a race, let alone complete challenges. I changed sponsors maybe once or twice before just sticking to one and not worrying about the rest as you need to work hard at earning enough reputation.
Gameplay wise, I especially like the variation of race types in career mode with nice different race types in total. I am an average racing player and usually struggle on rally style races. I have tried to play Dirt Rally 1 and 2 but it’s just too realistic for me. I’m the kind of racer that hits a corner at full speed and uses the opposing wall to help straighten me out. I’m not really that bad, but the progression of races in Dirt 5 actually made me a better driver. You can’t use too much handbrake/drifting on the ice breaker tracks so it teaches you traction control, and that then makes you an ace on the next hard road surface track.
I often struggled to chain together enough tricks in the returning Gymkhana mode. Gymkhana is like a mash up of freestyle tricks, first seen in Dirt 3, where you need to slide, drift, jump and bash through obstacles earning points within a time limit. The sprint races however are the devil. I have tried numerous times and my best effort is 2nd last. I just cannot get the feel of driving, unless I’m going straight, but as soon as I try to turn I’m slipping all over the place. Thankfully progress can continue in each bracket providing you can complete other races around the sprint ones.
I mentioned briefly the outstanding visuals of the game, and some of the ten locations are absolutely gorgeous. From Nepal, Arizona and China to Greece, Italy and South Africa, the locations are really cool and the change of scenery helped if I was getting a little tired of racing in a location. There were so many times where I crashed as I got distracted by the stunningly detailed scenery I was racing through. There are dynamic weather effects in the game too which added atmosphere and altered the look of locations. Playing an ice breaker track at night in the snow was especially cool, even though I am really not good at that mode.
Outside of these race modes, for the first time in the Colin McRae/Dirt franchise, Codemasters has added a Playgrounds mode. Similar to games such as Trials Rising, this playgrounds mode gives players freedom to design, create, edit and race on their own custom racing tracks and arenas. I’m not creative or patient enough to do these types of things, but browsing through the list of player-made content shows some bloody clever designs. I tried a few and they are impressively designed. Some I couldn’t complete even after a few tries, while others I finished but am ranked 80th on the leader board. Every player-made playground has it’s own global leader board so those avid competitive gamers can test their metal against the best in the world. I see playgrounds as giving longevity to the game beyond the campaign.
Overall, Dirt 5 is an excellent racing game and is awesome fun to play with various race modes to suit all types of racers. Fans of the Colin McRae/Dirt series will sit in the drivers seat with ease, but there’s enough variety in game modes and track locations that it feels like a fresh iteration. On the Xbox Series X, the graphics are insane, however I did notice a drop in overall look and performance when I played on my original Xbox One. Players who are coming from the Xbox One X may not see as big a difference, but comparing performance will be the last of your worries once you jump into some good old fashioned arcade racing. Dirt 5 is the best in the series for me and I urge racing fans to check it out.