Codemasters’ Dirt Series (originally part of Colin McRae’s Rally series) is humorously hailed as ‘Dark Souls on Gravel’ for Racing games these days. While the previous entries of the series were more geared towards Rally veterans, with its spin-off sister franchise Dirt Rally running parallelly, Codemasters’ new Dirt entry puts more emphasis on off-road racing and ranges broader types of events and more car classes. It is also a bit more forgiving than its sinister sisters.
2017’s Dirt 4 is still a very good ‘rally-racing’ game. One that features procedurally generated terrains that even hold up to this date. However, with their cross-gen title Dirt 5, Codemasters Chesire (originally known as Evolution) is taking a ‘handcrafted approach’ featuring over 10 locations and 70 tracks. Foundationally, it takes inspiration from the noteworthy entries of the series- Dirt 2 and Dirt 3. There’s a prominent addition of new events, cars, and Playground mode. With next-gen consoles on the horizon, how does this cross-gen title stack on the base consoles of the current generation? Let’s get into it.
Building the Legacy
In DIRT 5’s Career Mode, you have to build your racing legacy under the mentorship from fan-favorite rally star Alex “AJ” Janicek (played by Troy Baker aka Joel Miller from TLoU) and have tense showdowns with the sport’s undisputed king Bruno Durand (played by Nolan North aka Nathan Drake from Uncharted Series). Both are fictional characters with improvised backstories. Adding to that is Donut Media’s podcasts featuring Nolan Sykes and James Pumphrey.
Despite its stellar voice-over cast, Dirt 5‘s podcasts remain a mere distraction. No offense to these guys, they’ve done an incredible job but my hands were itching to burn some rubber the whole time I listened to these podcasts. They’re not bad or anything but there’s barely any task at hand while you listen to them. All I wanted to do was win more races, collect more stamps (each event has 3 stamps in total), and go head-to-head with hotshot racers in stellar throwdowns.
By winning more events you will earn more ‘dirty’ cash- allowing you to buy new rides. The same applies to stamps, the more stamps you collect more events you will unlock. Each race/event has pre-requisite events that you will need to participate in to unlock them. After a certain amount of stamps, you will have access to a particular throwdown. In total, there are over 375 stamps to collect and 14 or so throwdowns to conquer. Your ultimate goal is to be the ‘off-road king’ of racing.
Events like Stampede, On-Rush, Gymkhana, and Land Rush make a return in Dirt 5. The new additions to Dirt’s stellar catalog are Pathfinder and Ice-breaker events. While I loved the first I found the latter tremendously challenging at times.
Pathfinder features tricky terrains, (kinda similar to terrains you will find in Uncharted 4’s Madagascar chapter). In your dune buggy, you will have to navigate through these terrains filled with uneasy and rocky paths- difficult but insanely fun. In ice-breakers, you will be skidding on frozen rivers – drifting is the key here. There are also sprint events in which you will be driving insanely fast drag racing cars and complete laps while leaning to the left.
However, the best addition here is the new Playground mode. Here you can create your tracks and publish them online. You can also view and rate the Playgrounds built by other players. The most popular and liked Playgrounds are generally a blast to play. Some of the tracks are so insane that it can give GTA V a run for their money. Besides the online multiplayer (needs Subscription on Consoles), I’m really looking forward to Dirt’s promising Playground Mode in the upcoming months.
Besides the introduction of new events and modes, the lineup of new cars in Dirt 5 is no less than impressive. Dirt now features cars ranging from ’80, the ’90s, and modern rally cars to exotic cars like Aston Martin V8 Vantage. I especially loved the new addition of Porsches, with Porsche 959 Rally Edition being one of my favorites.
From Blazing Sun to Blinding Snowstorms
The most outstanding feature of Dirt 5 is its range of locations and dynamic weather system. Adding to that are Dirt’s spectacular picturesque locations. Dirt 5 features 10 global locations – New York, Arizona, China, Norway, Greece, Brazil, South Africa, Italy, Morocco, and Nepal. Each location features different terrains and distinct seasonal-cycles. Tropical locations like China and Brazil feature muddy terrains while places like New York and Nepal’s Himalayan Region features frozen rivers and snowy terrains.
The seasonal cycles greatly affect the handling and visibility in all the locations. The dynamic weather system changes the experience of each lap that you take. For instance, if you begin the race at sun-fall, the second lap may feature lower visibility and the third may bring in rain, thunderstorm, or hailstorm. Similarly, drought terrains like Morocco feature blazing sunlight and windy sandstorms. Each terrain poses a different set of challenges, adapting to the change and going with the suitable ride becomes the game-changer here.
Balancing Visuals and Performance
If compared to 2019’s Dirt Rally 2.0, Dirt 5 seems to fall short in terms of visuals and performance. While Rally 2.0 featured stellar volumetric lighting and shadowing effects along with appreciable shiny reflections, it also managed to hit 60 fps throughout. Sadly, that’s not the case with Dirt 5. Especially in muddy terrains of Brazil, Dirt seems to struggle with proper lighting and refections. Even in the garage, most of the Cars seem to lack the reflective quality, as if all the cars have a ‘matte’ finish on them.
For better performance, Dirt 5 does feature a 60 fps on base PS4 but the toll on reflections and anti-aliasing quite significant. As per my preference, I chose to stick with the 30 fps mode as the visuals and performance were more stable. On the better side, Dirt 5’s photo mode and soundtracks do make up for most of its shortcomings.
The photo-mode features variable shutter-speeds, grids, auto-focus, filters, and several other tools. As for the soundtracks, I gotta say that they’ve got all my jams. However, I didn’t find much of a difference in the game’s effects in comparison to its predecessors.
Codemasters Cheshire’s Dirt 5 is a stellar off-road racing title, thanks to its dynamic weather system and stellar locations featuring challenging terrains. The new addition of events and a broader range of cars makes it appealing to a larger audience than the previous entries. The new Playground Mode provides a great new creative tool to mess with and greatly boasts its replayability. However, on the visuals side, it seems to be holding back on current-gen consoles. Hopefully, things will get better when the next-gen arrives.