DIRT 5 is an adrenaline-fuelled rally experience like no other. It strips back the hardcore focus of its simulation counterpart in favour of accessible and fun gameplay. It’s more a combination of DIRT 2 and DIRT 3 when you consider the theme, tones and overall features of this game when compared to its predecessor, but it also makes the biggest strides forward of any DIRT game in recent history.
I’ve been playing the PC version of DIRT 5 from the comforts of home through a pre-release demo build over the past week. It features four tracks, all with dynamic weather scenarios and multiple vehicles to choose from. At first glance, it appears like a relatively small slice of the full game – but once I begin to replay each of the different events, I realize how much depth there actually is. The dynamic conditions in DIRT 5 are totally unpredictable. One minute I’m racing through Brazilian favelas on a scorching hot Summer’s day, the next I’m fighting a turbulent Winter snowstorm during the darkness of night in a scenic Scandinavian town.
DIRT 5 features all four seasons of the year and combines them with dynamic weather conditions and a progressive time-of-day cycle to make each race come to life in new and exciting ways. The result of this is impressive, and it applies to all ten locations in DIRT 5, which include: Roosevelt Island (New York), Guilin (China), Lofoten Islands (Norway), Rio De Janeiro (Brazil), Arizona (USA), Meteora (Greece), Cape Town (South Africa), Dades Gorge (Morocco), Carrara Marble Mine (Italy) and Namchee Bazaar (Nepal). Each of these environments are designed to take your breath away and they each feature multiple track variations. They’re all visually spectacular and fun to drive on, with unique surface types like snow, ice and mud always providing a new challenge. Plus, they all feature dynamic weather timelines, though some tracks like the New York East River is only frozen in Winter and therefore will not have a Summer variant. Makes sense.
Meanwhile, the blizzardy conditions of Norway not only make it more difficult to control your vehicle, but it significantly impacts visibility. The race becomes progressively harder unless the weather is in your favour and it clears up. That’s the beauty of dynamic cycles, it could go either way and there’s no predicting it. Another standout of each environment is their bespoke colour palettes. They’re all unique and easily identifiable from one another. From the hustle and bustle of Rio with its tricky corners and obstacles to the high-altitude tracks found in Greece. During the Summer, the Meteora region offers bright blue skies. In Autumn, the trees begin turning brown as Winter sends in snow before the bright and colourful atmosphere of a refreshing Spring race.
The weather in DIRT 5 operates in a similar manner to the real-world. Puddles grow based on how much rain is falling. If it gets sunny, they’ll evaporate overtime. The same is true of snow, which is dependent on the location. Arizona at its coldest might only get a dusting of snow, it’s a desert after all, whereas in Norway, that Winter snowfall can be incredibly thick. A clear blue sky will have only a few clouds dotted around, whereas a storm creates big, angry and dark clouds. Each environment also tackles the conditions in different ways. For example, Namchee Bazaar in Nepal is another high-altitude region, but this one has ice and snow engraved into it – and blizzardy weather is frequent, making this the perfect area to slide around.
As for the vehicles you’ll be using to take on these environments, DIRT 5 has plenty to appease your driving appetite. Here’s all the classes featured in the game, along with an example of the types of rides present in each:
The Rock Bouncer class is essential for Pathfinder events, which feature throughout DIRT 5’s Career Mode. These vehicles feature lots of suspension, grip and power to take these challenges head on. You’ll face them in areas like Morocco, where you’ll find rugged track types with lots of verticality and jumps. It should be immediately obvious why such specialist cars are required for these types of events.
DIRT 5’s linear-branching Career Mode features 130 events across eight types of races, including traditional circuit and point-to-point races, various challenges that pit you against mother nature, classic time trials and the aforementioned Pathfinders. There’s also Throwdown events, which are unlocked by meeting key criteria in the Career. These one-off specials are all about driving finesse and style, featuring duels and unique challenges. Players can compete in the events which standout to them and along the way, they’ll earn Stamps and Cash. The former is used to unlock new races whilst the latter allows you to buy new cars.
The Career mode also features Podcasts which are essential to moving the game’s storyline forward. You’ll also meet some notable faces along the way, including Alex ‘AJ’ Janiček and Bruno Durand, who are voiced by the iconic Troy Baker and Nolan North, respectively. If you only care purely about the on-track experience, then this aspect of the game can be mostly ignored as none of it is forced upon you. But what should be of interest to everyone are the new Sponsors. They help pay your bills, give you reputation in your career and feature real-world brands such as Sparko, Goodyear and Pepsi. Sponsors also come with various objectives to complete, including long-term and short-term challenges. Switching between sponsors too frequently will cause you to lose rep, but for the sakes of replay-ability, each sponsor can be ranked up to unlock additional pay-outs, as well as more customization options such as exclusive liveries and unique parts.
Speaking of liveries, DIRT 5 also features a fully fleshed-out Livery Editor that allows aspiring artists to customize their vehicles with various colours and paint finishes, as well as rotatable, scalable textures and badges which can be applied to the car. Liveries can be shared with friends and the wider DIRT 5 community, as can images that are captured using the new Photo Mode. Apply frames and filters, increase the brightness and make it your own.
There’s also an Arcade Mode in DIRT 5 which is a one-stop shop for creating custom events. Pick the location and track, choose the associated vehicle class, pick a season, designate the time-of-day and weather conditions, adjust the laps, and fine-tune the opponent difficulty. You can even change the rate of which time passes to really show off those dynamic track changes. One minute in the game can match real-life time, or it can be sped up to 120x to showcase a series of different scenarios.
DIRT 5 also includes four Time Trial leaderboards with shared conditions to ensure the laps are fair and balanced amongst everyone. These include a combination of wet and dry tracks. Players also appear on a global leaderboard with filtering options that show the best times from either your friends or everyone in the community. Codemasters are also planning several multiplayer modes for the game, which it says will be detailed in September.
With DIRT 5, Codemasters is eager to create a solid all-around experience whilst paying homage to the games gone by. Speaking to the developers on Discord, they told me they’re “pleased and proud to be a part of this long-standing franchise.” They had quite a few notable aspirations for this game, including split-screen support, which they believe is a big deal as a next-generation title. Simply put, not everyone can pick up the new hardware at launch, so this allows you to instead go to a friend’s house and try it out.
Codemasters is made up of many racing game fans who’ve worked on several franchises within the genre, which leads to healthy, but heated discussions of what games do well and don’t – including their own. This included taking feedback from DIRT 4 on what worked well in that title and didn’t. It had a mixed reception overall, especially with its choice of handling models. To me, DIRT 5 is almost like a combination of Forza Horizon 4 and ONRUSH, two of my personal favourite racing games from recent years. The colourful excitement of off-road racing of the former and the exotic, lush environments of the latter; it feels like they’ve come together to form DIRT 5. It’s no surprise that the development team comprises of former ONRUSH developers.
But it’s also clear that Codemasters were inspired by the industry overall. The involvement of Troy Baker and Nolan North shows that the team were eager to create an overarching narrative for DIRT 5, and when they approached the iconic duo and allowed them to review the game and see it in-action, they were “super impressed and blown away, dying to be a part of it,” according to Robert Karp, Development Director on DIRT 5. Meanwhile, the developers were similarly blown away by the voice talent duo’s professionalism and skills. Codemasters also went to much effort to create deep and meaningful backstory for these characters.
DIRT 5 is also a more relaxed game compared to the more challenging and hardcore DIRT Rally 2. Sure, they’re both off-road racers which means there’s undoubtedly some crossover between both titles, and skills learned from one can be applied to other, but otherwise, they’re completely different, especially in terms of colour pallets, gameplay and accessibility. For the more pristine rally driver, your best bet is DIRT Rally 2, but for the rest of us, DIRT 5 has the perfect balance of realism and convenience. It’s easy to pick up and play, but it’s hard to master, whilst the assists can be dialled to make the gameplay exactly how you want it.
There’s also a vibrant soundtrack that you’ll get to hear whilst playing DIRT 5. Karp explains that the development team has “different backgrounds and tastes,” so they setup a music review group to listen to various tracks, score them and then form a playlist of the best ones. The final cut includes popular songs from well-known artists, and the demo I played features only a taste of them – but so far, I dig it.
It’s hard to write about DIRT 5 without mentioning the fact that this title is being built with next-generation platforms in-mind. The team says it is working closely with Microsoft and Sony on their new consoles and they’re very excited about both. Karp mentions that being a part of Inside Xbox was a great experience and it provided the game with an early positive reception. Whilst there was a lot of discussion around 4K and 120FPS support for DIRT 5, the finer technical details are still being worked on. The current plan is to include an option for 120FPS, but it may not be locked to native 4K resolution.
At the beginning of DIRT 5’s development, the team didn’t know about the capabilities and power of these next-generation platforms, so the technical aspect of the game has evolved as development progressed. Regardless of this, Karp believes they’ll both be fantastic machines and mentions that Microsoft’s Smart Delivery initiative, which DIRT 5 supports, is “fantastic, it shows the company cares about its players.” Whether you play DIRT 5 on Xbox One, Xbox One X or Xbox Series X, you’ll have the best version of the game for that system. Karp also commented on the fast loading times that both Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 offer, as well as the latter’s DualSense controller. He says the haptic feedback will be terrific for games like DIRT 5 with their different terrains and vehicle types. When asked about VR support, Karp said there’s no plans for it.
There are also no plans for cross-play between Xbox, PlayStation and PC at launch, but Xbox One and Series X players will be able to play with each other, as will PS4 and PS5 users. Codemasters is also cooking up a live update service plan for DIRT 5 that will add new content and community-requested features, with “nothing off the table,” according to Karp. Players can expect new Career Mode content and cars to come after launch, and in August, the developer plans on revealing a new feature designed to keep players engaged and occupied with new content.
Overall, there’s a lot of potential in DIRT 5 and undoubtedly, the demo I played was only a small teaser of the full experience. Considering how dynamic and unexpected the game is setup to be, this could turn out to be one of the best games released this year. Only time will tell of course, but so far, the arcade racing experience in DIRT 5 is unmatched. The environments are beautiful, the tracks offer a mixture of complexity and fun, whilst the AI is challenging – but also not too hard. I found them surprisingly well balanced and I’m sure these aspects of the game will only continue to get better leading up to its release on October 9, 2020. Until then, Codemasters still has much details to reveal about the game, so buckle up and get ready for the ride.
Alan is the co-founder and co-owner of FullThrottle Media. As someone who enjoys spending all his free time playing video games, he delivers the latest in news stories, reviews, and feature articles to the website, as well as videos on his YouTube channel and livestreams over on Mixer.