Introduction to Dirt 5:
Dirt is one of the long-running racing franchises that has gathered a dedicated fan following over the years and also managed to be fairly consistent with each of its releases. I am a big fan of the franchise and have played all the games since Dirt 2. Over the years the Dirt games have had multidisciplinary off-road games and rally focused games. Dirt Rally 1 and 2 went on a pure simulation model that perfectly fit rally racing, while on the arcade side of things the games have been a bit inconsistent and the last good one was Dirt 3. Dirt Showdown focused on wreck fest style arena racing, Dirt 4 focused on arcade rally racing both of which weren’t huge hits. With Dirt 5 the developer Codemasters have focused fully on arcade multi-disciplinary offroad racing. The game is made by Codemaster Cheshire which was formed from the members of Evolution games who made Driveclub. How does the Dirt 5 fair? Let’s see in this detailed review. Thanks to Codemasters for providing an early review code for PC.
Dirt 5 is releasing for current-gen, next-gen consoles, and PC that means there are a lot of improvements to the graphics department all over the board. The lighting, track particles, cars, weather system everything has been given a facelift from the previous games. The various track locations especially look amazing ranging from the backdrop of the Northern lights in Norway, Deserts of Arizona, Tropical forests of South Africa and Brazil, Mountain peaks of Nepal, the spring season of China, and many more. Each location feels distinct visually and conveys a great sense of globetrotting adventure. The dynamic weather effects are to the point especially the rain and blizzard. The highlight for me was the track-surfaces. The mud splurging through the tires, the tires skidding on ice, cars splashing through water, the particle build up on cars themselves all of these were noticeable visually and well done. The cars are modeled very well from their real-world counterparts though few cars felt boxy. The interior of cars hasn’t been given much focus as the exterior which is understandable considering the arcade nature of the game. One odd thing I found was that all cars seemed to have a matte finish paint which means the reflections on the car during the races weren’t that detailed, but I think that was a conscious decision by the developers in order to render the track particles build-up on the car. The water/mud/snow etc not only build-up on the bumpers/tires of the car as you race, based on how you race you could see them on various parts of the car which definitely added to the immersion.
Not everything is great though. The rock and foliage textures look really bad in most of the locations both on track and off-track which resulted in some tracks looking really flat compared to others. While the lighting for off-track environments was well done, they could certainly use more detail. I also faced some inconsistencies in the lighting, some sections of the track would appear very dark even though the weather would have been sunny/clear sky at that time. The motion blur & temporal anti-aliasing implementation wasn’t good and there was no option to turn off / select other AA modes.
Overall it definitely doesn’t feel next-gen and not up to the levels of fidelity that is presented in the current-gen Forza games but is a clear step up for the Dirt Series.
When it comes to sound it’s a hit or miss. Again the highlight here is the sounds of interaction between the car and track. With just the sound of tires, you will easily be able to tell which surface you are racing on. But when it comes to car sounds it’s a miss. Most of the car types sound the same, some engines like V8 have their distinct sound though that is also not accurate.
The voice acting on the other hand in the career mode comprises of top talents Troy Baker, Nolan North. There is also the Donut media podcast making appearances. As expected from them, the voices are excellent. I will cover this more in detail in the career section.
The soundtrack comprises of pop, ballads, and some instrumentals from various artists. Some even return from previous dirt games. While there are few toe-tapping numbers that are good to hear during races, nothing stands out of the crowd.
Let’s get into the main part, the actual racing. Dirt 5 excels at what dirt games have been doing best so far which is Off-Road racing. One main thing to note is this is not rally racing and has multiple types of events. There is a huge selection of car classes here – the 80s, 90s Rally cars, Rally GT cars, Road racing cars, Off-Road buggies, Off-Road SUVs. and more from various top manufacturers like Audi, Ford, Porsche, Lancia, Subaru, etc. When it comes to handling as I have stated before it is completely arcade. The different car classes feel distinct to handle based on their drive type, but cars in the same class feel similar to each other. Other huge factors for handling are the track and weather conditions. Every track surface affects the handling along with the current weather – Ice, gravel, mud, snow, sand, water puddles, rain, blizzard everything feels distinct to drive on. There is dynamic weather during the race, you will start sunny but the final lap will end up completely dark in a rain. While this definitely made each race interesting it felt awkward sometimes as to how the weather drastically changes within just a few minutes.
Drifting is the name of the game here, and it feels great. It’s very easy to start a drift either by braking or oversteering while coming out of drifts and maintaining speed needs some practice. Chaining of drifts on ice and using the proper racing line across multiple corners felt really satisfying. Hitting race barriers on turns is less forgiving as most of the time the car will just bounce back into the track while maintaining the speed. But if you even slightly touch any rock on the track or on the side of the track your car will almost stop or even flip sometimes like a toy which was really annoying.
When it comes to difficulty options there is an AI difficulty setting and also a couple of standard driving aids like traction, stability control, ABS. I played with all assists off and the one complaint I have is that the game felt very easy even in hard difficulty only in very hard was the AI a challenge remotely.
Dirt 5 features a choose-your-own path style Career mode where you get to choose the events to race and progress through 5 chapters. Personally, career modes have never been strong points of Dirt games and I have always played them for a few hours and moved to custom events/time trials. In Dirt 5 I was genuinely surprised at how good the career mode is. There are over 130 events/races spread over 9 countries even each with their own set of tracks. There is a good variety in types of events also – your standard Rallycross, point-to-point rally raids, boulder-conquering pathfinder events, Stampede, Sprint, Icebreaker, Gymkhana, Land rush. Normally this can result in a jack of all trades and master of none situation by trying to do too much ( one example is Crew 2) but here the developers have excelled. Each event has a style of tracks and in career mode, each has its own set of car selection associated with them. Some of my favorites were the Icebreaker where we have to fully race on ice, Pathfinder in which we have to struggle our way through boulders and rocks with no pre-made track. Now combine all this event variety with the various locations, car variety, the various track conditions/surface, the dynamic weather and we have the perfect recipe for a plethora of ever-interesting races. There are also sponsors to choose from who give their own mini-objectives. I was never bored once in the career mode and always ready to see how the next race will pan out.
Progression is where the career mode falters. You earn medals, money, sponsor reputation, experience after each race. Medals are used to progress through chapters, money to buy cars, and various cosmetics for customizing cars in the livery editor. What was disappointing is the lack of any sort of upgrade system for your cars. There isn’t even a basic upgrade system like replacing stock parts with aftermarket parts. What this means is that even though you like some car but its handling and performance are not good you will never end up using it. One good thing though is, there are no real money in-game purchases for any of the stuff.
Coming to the narrative part by the voice actors as I had mentioned above. We race as a part of AJ’s team ( AJ voiced by Troy Baker ). The story develops a form of simple rivalry between AJ and Bruno (voiced by Nolan North ) with the Donut media podcast playing the role of announcers/hosts. While the overall narrative is fairly entertaining and better than your generic broadcasters in racing games and adds a personality to the career ultimately it falls flat because it is completely disjointed from the best part of the game that is the races. You are always eager to jump to the next race instead of sitting idle in the menu and hearing to the podcasts. If Codemasters develop an open-world racing game in the future I would definitely like to see them utilize a similar narrative style as it will be perfect to hear during the cruising downtime we get in open-world racers.
Other modes in Dirt 5:
Online is basic and functional. We can matchmake solo/party, it lacks some essential options like selecting race type to matchmake. On the connection side, I didn’t have any lags/issues.
There are the standard Freeplay and time-trial modes where we can select the location, cars, track conditions, and try to beat out the online leaderboards.
Playground mode is a welcome addition that adds more replayability in Dirt 5. If you are familiar with Trackmania games you should feel at home here. It’s very easy to build new tracks and upload them. We can also browse others’ creations and play them. Presently there are only 3 arenas to choose from when creating tracks and it will be nice if they add more down the line.
There is also a 4 player split-screen for career mode and other offline races which I didn’t try because I don’t have anyone to play with at home!
PC performance and Input options:
I have a Ryzen 5 2600x, Geforce RTX 2070, 16 GB Ram. I was running the 457.09 driver version which is optimized for Dirt 5 according to Nvidia and I also installed the game on SSD. I also play on an ultrawide 2560×1080 resolution widescreen monitor. Optimization is decent but not great, I was able to maintain an average of 65-70 fps on max settings depending on the track. The performance is really not consistent with the visuals on display here. There are fewer video settings for customization here, there is no option to turn off Motion blur/change AA, no fps limit, even the resolution selector only has percentages and is weird. Initially, there was no v-sync option but it was added later in day one patch.
One issue I had was I would always get FPS drops at the start of a race for around 20 seconds then it would become normal. I also had random crashes sometimes to desktop and on many occasions, the game wouldn’t start if I had MSI afterburner running in the background so I was not able to see if there were any memory leak issues causing the crashes. The day one patch did improve the performance a little but still, some issues prevail.
On the input side, I played with the Dualshock 4 controller, Xbox One wireless controller all worked fine. The developers did inform me that there might be issues using the PS4 controller and a fix is on works but I did not face any. Wheel support is currently not proper and Codemasters have informed they will provide a full functionality & compatibility list in an update later this month.
Buy on Steam – HERE
Dirt 5 PC Review
With Dirt 5, Codemasters now offer the complete offroad package – Dirt 5 for arcade fans and the Dirt Rally 2.0 for those who want simulation. There is a large amount of content on offer here in terms of cars, race locations, online, and playground modes. Combined with the various tracks and offroad conditions make it a fun arcade racer. The career progression system is a disappointment and the inconsistencies in graphics, performance issues hamper the overall experience. For the Indian pricing of Rs 1299 on Steam for the standard edition, this is a good buy.