Intense speed, great controls and profound style may be what’s usually associated with the action sport genre but they’re not the most important factors. That happens to be a diverse heart thumping soundtrack that truly defines this sub-genre of game. From Stormzy’s Pop Boy to Hero The Band’s Shout, DIRT 5 is blessed with a profoundly catchy tracklist reminiscent of the 90s legends which paved the way. Games like SSX 3 and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 are the first that came to mind after the first hour with the game. Regrettably however, DIRT 5 seems to only dip it’s toes in with the musical side of things while remaining reserved elsewhere.
Allow me to elaborate
The game harkens back to an era of exceptional appreciation of exaggerated punk sensibilities which defined the 90s. Similar to SSX we’re introduced to DJs of sorts via the game’s DIRT Podcast by Donut Media. This pseudo-DJ Automica setup exudes similar energy as the titular character albeit with their own bit of modern flair thanks to the talent of Troy Baker and Nolan North – the dynamic duo of video game voice acting. Their little bits of humorous banter seemingly serve as a breather in between races instead of being one of the main driving forces to the career.
You see what made Automica so iconic was that he impacted the gameplay while DIRT Podcast by Donut Media serves more as humorous satire. Over nine hours of play all they spoke about were two racers: AJ and Bruno Durand. Both happen to be the top racers in the DIRT series but we never see their exploits, only hear about them. It’s the classic case of show, not tell. DIRT 5 offers so much exposition on these two characters who don’t impact the play in any meaningful way till the end game. What starts as an exciting backdrop to the racing action only to fade into obscurity the more you play.
Where SSX got this DJ dynamic right was by having Automica reference other racers the player directly engaged with. He referenced new routes, hidden tips and sometimes even your own characters. DIRT Podcast rarely mentions the main character during play and the two they choose to discuss don’t impact your play till the final hour of a 10 hour career mode. They’re like corporeal entities hunting the players’ experience and they shouldn’t be. Here was the chance to recreate the excitement of yesteryear with new likable characters, new challenges but instead they dropped the ball on the final pass. There are no other notable racers or characters to drive any rivalry of sorts. Not even your character has a physical form. It’s all laughable really.
That being said, this is still one of the best games I’ve played all year. Though not what it could have been, the podcast is still entertaining as hell, the music is memorable beyond belief and the gameplay, though shallow, is arguably one of the game’s strongest aspects. This is a racing game after all so you’d expect that to be a major focus. Forgoing it’s traditional roots it serves as the arcade twin to the DIRT Rally series was a good move, similar to the relationship between Forza Horizon and Forza 7. Thanks to much more forgivable controls and easier Ai it serves that role quite will in fact. Whether you’ll fancy it or not will depend on how you like your racing. For hardcore sim drivers it may seem a tad bit too shallow due to lack of mechanical damage after collisions and the Ai’s uncanny ability to rebound off walls while maintaining the same speed and control. Sometimes they even seem to have some sort of rubber banding effect reminiscent of the Mario Kart series, especially after jumps. Those able to ignore such blemishes should find a sometimes frustrating yet fun experience under the hood.
On the PC the positives continues to thanks to the possibility to use a myriad of controller options. Using a race wheel, PS4 and XBOX ONE pads as well as the keyboard is effortless. All were very responsive yet forgivable given the type of game this is. The only noticeable control omission I noticed was the lack of a rewind button. Oh but that’s more of a function than a control feature. A function which has become synonymous with Codemasters’ games. Even F1 2020 has it and that’s arguably the most simulation based focused title around. Not having it in an arcade game offers up quite the challenge in favour of some noticeable tedium.
Gameplay aside, the rest of the game consists of simple colourful neon menus and sliders. Every aspect is boiled down to their most basic so players can hop in and out of what they need to with relative ease. This ease results in no vsync, simple graphic settings, no tuning or the ability to change the language despite there being a sizable list of languages on the game’s store page. There’s no open world exploration as Forza Horizon either. Instead you have a career mode, online, arcade and playground menus. Each menu allows you to select your race preferences then jump directly into a race. The only real customization you have is the ability to design levels, set your profile card and limited visual customization of your car.
Codemasters has stated that they’ll add more PC options post launch so hopefully we’ll see more positive improvements in a patch. How positive they’ll actually be will depend on the publisher’s ability to resist the urge to gouge the players for more funds. At the time of writing the game has no microtransactions or items to purchase, however it’s steam page does list In-App Purchases as a feature. What these will be is still yet to be seen but anything more than improved audio, DLC levels, career content and cars packs will be a net negative for me.
That improved audio mentioned being arguably the most minor of these hopeful updates. Most of the audio is a perfect replication of the gas gosling car enthusiast love. It’s one and only flaw being the less than audible sound effect for cars landing after a massive jump. It doesn’t matter how good that fictional suspension is. No car should make such jumps then land a lower audible tone than the engine makes on it’s first rev.
As it stands the game is a solid undertaking with enough content to keep players engaged for hours. All of it readily accessible via a simple progression based system. Adding the Playground Mode to the mix increases that play-time even further. This trackmania-isc mode affords players the ability to create some outrageous undertakings then share them with the world. The most creative among us will find more than enough to occupy them here while the rest of us play and rate their creations.
Online and split-screen were the only two modes I was sadly unable to test myself due to the reality that comes with playing games before release. If it’s possible to do so post launch then we may revisit the game via a minor update of sorts to note any significant findings.
Visually this is a gorgeous title and easily one of the poster children of the new generation of gaming. Usually we recommend running midrange PCs because the cost to benefit on those expensive setups aren’t usually noticeable. This due to the undeniable fact that most PC players still use 1080p displays. On such a resolution there’s not much noticeable differentiation between a mid-range setup and high-end. DIRT 5 destroys that narrative.
The game demands power. Yes it’s possible to run the game on something like a GTX 1060 but the jump between that and something in the GTX 1080 range is astronomical. The game demands for advance power and it’s difficult to deny it. Thanks in part to advanced lighting, constant changes from day to night, dry to wet, it’s all a visual treat to the eyes. AMD couldn’t have picked a better time to launch their RX 6000 Series of cards because this game is easily it’s biggest system seller.
One of the best aspects about sports games is their inherent ability to improve your musical taste. Tracks like The Academic’s Superlike will cement themselves in your subconscious for life. If not then you’re dead inside and probably won’t enjoy DIRT 5’s 70+ routes across 10 beautifully rendered locations. If you do fancy the music then you’re sure to find it’s previous gen sensibilities charming. Things like an honest progression system that doesn’t rely on loot. Things like it’s humorous career. These aren’t common in modern games and as such they come off as novelty. With that I think it’s safe to say that we can recommend DIRT 5 so long as future patches improve and not detach from it.
The copy of DIRT 5 used for this review was provided by it’s publisher – Codemasters.