The Dirt franchise has already delivered a number of spectacular titles with Dirt 3 giving an unparalleled community experience, and Dirt Rally 2.0 delivering realism that hadn’t been seen since Richard Burns Rally. So where exactly does the latest title fall in line with its predecessors?
Dirt 5 launched in November of 2020 and had what we’ll call a bit of a shaky start. However, aside from the lack of wheel support and intermittent game crashes after launch, the developers at Codemasters didn’t just give in. Along with quickly debugging issues, they also delivered a steady flow of new content – adding wheel support, new vehicles, and a collection of Christmas content for the holiday season.
So does it live up to the hype? Motor1.com contributing writers Christopher Smith and Matthew Crisara take a deep dive into all aspects of the game to answer that question. Smith sampled Dirt 5 on the Xbox One X with a Logitech G920 wheel combo, while Crisara hopped on the PC version armed with a Thrustmaster TS-PC rig.
Matthew Crisara, Contributing Writer
I’ll be honest, I was super excited for Dirt 5 after watching the pre-release trailer; it showed off hardcore music, big jumps, new vehicles, and dynamic racecourses. However, contrary to the belief that Eric Johnson would sprout out of my monitor and shred his best Cliffs of Dover while I sent a Baja Trophy Truck into outer Earth orbit, things weren’t as action-packed as I originally hoped.
However, as my introduction into the sim racing genre began many moons ago playing Dirt 3 on a keyboard – shhhh I know – I’d be remiss not to mention that I walked into this review with loads of confidence. As such, one clear focal point of the early title was the intuitive control system on the keyboard and controller, and thankfully that still remains in Dirt 5 – straight away, the experience was very communicative and rewarding.
Maybe it's just my inner tarmac specialist, but we sim racers have a knack for getting spoiled when it comes to vehicle dynamics in video games. Therefore, after the excellent initial experience on a gamepad, the force-feedback was rather disappointing – which took me by surprise after how successful Dirt Rally 2.0 proved to be in the realism department.
No matter though, because this game is clearly marketed away from the hardcore echelon of sim racers that tend to take things a bit too seriously. As such, the Playground mode that allows users to create racecourses themselves is one of the high points of this game; throughout the review period I found myself spending the majority of my time climbing the leaderboard on my favorite user-created stages. I also enjoy the fact that the game picks the most popular tracks and places them front and center for you to enjoy.
All things considered, Dirt 5 offers something for everyone in the sim racing genre – everything from a plug-and-play experience for the casual gamer, to a leaderboard slasher for the seasoned sim racer. It’s a tough balance to get right, but we think Codemasters has put its best foot forward with this title. Just give it a chance.
Christopher Smith, Contributing Writer
As a fan of the series, I’ve been trying to warm up to Dirt 5. If you caught my review of Dirt Rally 2.0 you’ll find gobs of sim rally praise, and I’ve kept my old Logitech Driving Force Pro steering wheel solely for the occasional dust-off of Dirt 3 on my equally dusty PlayStation 3. You will struggle to find a dirtier Dirt devotee than yours truly.
That’s why this review hits me in the feels, and though I wish I could be as welcoming as Crisara, I just can’t. There’s nothing drastically wrong – as Motor1.com’s resident console racer, I’m running it on a 4K HDR television and it looks fantastic. Frame rates are strong, the sounds are stirring, and there are few companies that can match the Codemasters magic when it comes to making mud and dust look realistic. From a purely sensory perspective, console players have nary a complaint.
We held our reviews until steering wheel support was added as an early update. That’s where things start going off the rails for me, because I couldn’t understand why Codemasters would even launch a sequel without wheel support. Make no mistake – Dirt 5 is far from being a sim racer and I never expected it to be close, but zipping around the courses using a wheel feels borderline lifeless. Perhaps it’s the vehicle physics or the lack of in-depth wheel tuning, but the steering comes through as a lazy afterthought. Since wheel support was added after the launch, perhaps it was an afterthought.
Vehicle physics could be partly to blame. Dirt 5 offers a wide range of off-roaders, from rock crawlers to pre runners and the legendary Killer B rally cars. And yet, they all drive pretty much the same. I love the insanity of throwing comet-sized rooster tails in a rally-spec Aston Martin, but when I switch to a classic Porsche 911, shouldn’t it feel a little different? Even in an arcade-themed racer where braking is optional and bouncing off corners is considered strategy? Once again, it feels lazy. And it’s so disappointing.
Gallery: Dirt 5 Review
Speaking of which, let’s talk about the events. The plethora of rapid-fire events in different categories is standard-issue Dirt, and in previous iterations, the categories had distinct flavors to the races. That’s not the case here. Like the cars, the various categories in Dirt 5 feel the same. Line up with a group of vehicles, hit the gas, bounce around courses for a few laps, and advance. Land Rush, Rally Raid, Stampede, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes laps are swapped for a point-to-point stage, and sometimes you’ll trade dirt for ice. But the lack of personality between the events makes Dirt 5 feel – dare I say it again – lazy.
Not all is lost. Path Finder is a new category, and it does have a distinct flavor with its weird tracks that literally have the gamer finding a path through crazy terrain. Dirt 5 also allows players to create their own courses and share them online, and this is absolutely fantastic. The creator is easy to use; as such, there are a gazillion user-generated courses to tackle, and most are pretty darned good. This was the highlight of my Dirt 5 experience, hammering away on user courses with a gamepad in hand, embracing arcade life to the fullest.
No, Dirt 5 isn’t bad. But it doesn’t break any new ground over previous titles and if anything, it feels too mild, too filtered. The game’s personality should shine through in the various cars and the tracks, not in shouty color commentary that gets annoying after a few minutes. If you go into this with a light heart, you’ll find some gritty, entertaining comfort. I wanted to really love this game, but at the end of the day, I struggle to even like it.