Dirt 5 Review: A Blissful Racing Experience
In 2007, Codemasters turned heads with Colin McRae: Dirt, a rally-racing game that leaned more toward simulation than arcade. In the years since, the Dirt franchise has become one of the biggest brands in racing while incorporating more elements for casual gamers with each passing iteration. Codemasters is now back with the ambitious Dirt 5, proving that the developer is at the top of the game when providing an entertaining racing experience.
Dirt 5 puts you in the racing shoes of an unknown rookie who attempts to break onto the scene and find success all around the world. In order to achieve greatness, you must race, drift, and jump your way across 70 tracks in 10 different locations. There are snowy races in Norway and Scandinavia — occasionally under the Northern Lights — as well as hectic events in Greece, Italy, America, Brazil, South Africa, and China.
With dozens of events spread across the campaign, many tracks tend to resurface en route to the final showdown with Durand. The repeating events could create staleness, but Codemasters adds unique elements to keep the action fresh. Blizzards, sandstorms, and rainstorms increase the level of difficulty of various races while alternate takes on each level force you to remain vigilant in order to avoid wrecks.
Whether the races take place in the snow or mud is irrelevant; driving in Dirt 5 is completely enjoyable in every setting. The cars, jeeps, trucks, and other assorted vehicles all handle very differently and add an impressive level of complexity to each race. Codemasters also continues to show that they can make every driver feel like a world-class drifter. Channeling your inner Tanner Foust or Ken Block is as simple as mashing the drift button and gas pedal at the same time while keeping even pressure on the thumbstick.
Of course, successfully pulling off drifts and winning races can become difficult due to the distracting nature of the graphics. Dirt 5 is a truly beautiful game, even on a base model PS4, and there is a multitude of intricate details to make the game more realistic. The sunlight reflects off of standing water and ice to an impressive level while mud splatters onto the sides and rear of each vehicle, adding extra layers with each passing lap.
Each time you win a race in the Ultra Cross circuits, point-to-point Rally Raids, rock climbing Path Finder events, and Gymkhana among others, you move up the list and gain fame. Eventually, you partner with a veteran driver named AJ (Troy Baker) in order to defeat the undefeated, trash-talking Bruno Durand (Nolan North). The former motocross star-turned-driver is the best in the business, but he also has an arrogant streak the length of a drag strip.
The story has considerable promise, especially considering that Codemasters partnered with the real-world Donut Media in order to create an in-game podcast. YouTube hosts James Pumphrey and Nolan Sykes provide updates throughout the campaign and conduct interviews with both AJ and Durand. The discussions serve as the story's only driving force and completely replace cutscenes or any other storytelling devices.
Unfortunately, the story does feel a bit underwhelming. Specifically, there is no reason to dislike Durand. There are references to him being a dirty driver and brief conversations in which he insults other competitors, but those sometimes get lost when browsing the available events. The lack of cutscenes or race footage showing him in action also takes away any motivation to defeat him on the track. Durand just becomes a faceless antagonist that doesn't even surface until midway through the story.
Adding to the minor problem is that there is no fanfare prior to the "boss battle." The podcast hosts do talk about a big race coming up during an episode, but it only shows up as one of three available events on the campaign menu. You simply select a race and learn after the fact that Durand is in the other car. Once you defeat Durand and another high-profile driver, the campaign just comes to an end as the credits roll.
Fortunately, there are other ways to find entertainment after beating Durand. Codemasters added a four-player split-screen mode in the campaign for the first time ever, providing multiplayer entertainment and opportunities to level up simultaneously while revisiting some of the best races. Even adding multiple drivers to the game doesn't create issues considering that Dirt 5 is technically sound. There are no framerate problems even when prioritizing graphics over performance.
Dirt 5's story has a solid foundation and stellar voice acting, but it ultimately fails to capitalize on its potential. The driving, on the other hand, completely makes up for the lack of cutscenes or expanded story beats. Drifting around corners is endlessly enjoyable, as is overtaking another car while jumping a massive gap. Having the ability to complete the entire campaign with three other friends only adds to the experience, as does creating Gymkhana playgrounds in the playground creator.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Dirt 5 is currently available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. A PlayStation 4 code was provided by Codemasters for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on a base model PS4.