Just over a year ago I reviewed the latest game in Codemasters’ long running Grid series, and instead of focussing on the career mode’s lightweight story decided to look at what was important: the racing. And what amazing racing it was – fast, intense, brutal, everything a racer of its kind should be. Dirt 5 follows a similar path in its approach – make sure the racing rocks, and it does that brilliantly. But with the much hyped and always amazing Troy Baker and Nolan North leading the career mode, would Dirt 5 turn the career mode round and provide a deep, meaningful experience?
Well, no not really. But the good news is you should still buy Dirt 5, because it’s brilliant.
The first thing you should know is that this isn’t Dirt Rally. The realistic point-to-point WRC-style rallying is a far cry from Dirt 5’s loud, bright action, with Dirt 5 leaning strongly on the side of arcade racing. And that’s an important thing to remember when talking about the handling of these cars, because if you’re hoping to jump into a vehicle and feel like you’re driving a real car, you’re going to be wondering what’s going on. Dirt has been designed to let you throw cars sideways around muddy corners, do amazing looking handbrake turns on ice-covered stadium tracks and jump over huge chasms without worrying about losing control with a rogue flick of the steering. That’s not to say it’s easy, and the more you play the more you learn the nuances of the various vehicle styles, but this is a seriously accessible racer.
There’s a huge range of races to take part in, from standard multi-lap track races through to hill climbs that offer little direction to the top. Your techniques for mastering each one will vary; sometimes going full-throttle isn’t the way forward, and a little finesse is required to win. Other times your best bet is to divebomb into turn 1, use another vehicle as a brake and try to make us as many places as possible. But the AI is aggressive, don’t think you’ll be out front for the rest of the race without them trying to get back ahead of you. They’ll take wide lines into corners to switch back with a faster exit, they’ll rub against you to keep their own traction while forcing you wide and losing you several places. It feels amazing, and gives the races an incredible level of intensity and excitement.
All the while you’re keeping an eye on your race objectives, small tasks that you need to complete during a race in order to unlock tokens, needed to progress into the next stage of racing. These tasks might be to overtake a certain number of cars, collide with other cars while in mid-air, staying above a certain speed for few seconds, that sort of thing. You can reroll the challenges, useful when you get the ever-nightmarish “overtake 10 cars while drifting” challenge, but you don’t need to complete them all to move on; in fact apart from the final races of each level, you don’t even need to do well in the races. Simply completing them is enough to unlock the next race along in the chain, although the higher you score the higher your XP and sponsorship bonus, and the more you upgrade, the more liveries, patters and so on you unlock, so it certainly pays to hit the front of the pack by the time you cross the line.
Online the game works really well, although the system for getting into a game seemed odd and had me dropped out of each online session after the event ready to search for another one. I suspect a lobby system might rock up soon enough, but for now you can just enjoy some of the varied races and party modes (basically games as opposed to races) by searching for a new race each time round. Hardly the end of the world, but a mild inconvenience. But the other thing you’ll be able to play with that utilises the community is the Playgrounds mode. This lets you create your own bonkers arena setup or download one of the hundreds already created by others, and just tit about like… well, a playground. It’s a lot of fun, although how long it’ll stay fun for will depend entirely on what people do to maintain it, and whether you can get your head round the building tools to create your own cool arenas. But if nothing else it a great change of scenery from the main event.
So we’re back at a conclusion not too far removed from our Grid review. Yes the storyline isn’t the strong point here, but that’s not the point of a racing game. The fact of the matter is if you set the camera to the drivers view, grab your favourite headset and let the racing consume you you’ll have an absolute blast. Dirt 5 is an extremely good racing game with extremely fun racing in it – what else do you want from a racer?
Reviewed on PS4
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