DIRT 5 Review. All Hail The Playgrounds [VIDEO]

DIRT 5 is here! Well, almost here. Codemasters was kind enough to provide a review copy about a week ago so that I could go hands on with the game and dive in. I should note that the review copy I received is for the Xbox One X not the new Xbox Series X.

Does DIRT 5 live up to the hype?

Watch the video review below. For those who’d rather read instead, the written review is below the video

DIRT 5 Xbox One X review video

DIRT 5 Xbox One X Written Review

DIRT 5 screenshot of 80s rally cars

It’s official. DIRT 5 is the first major racing game of the new console generation. Not Gran Turismo, not Forza Motorsport but DIRT 5. Normally I’d be surprised by that but it’s 2020 and nothing surprises me anymore. Feel free to interpret that anyway ya want..

The real task for Codemasters is that only did they have to get DIRT 5 ready for next gen consoles, they still had to worry about current consoles and PC. That’s not easy. Did they pull it off? Well I’m going to break down the new features, graphics, physics, pros and cons, and my final thoughts. From there, you can decide for yourself.

 

DIRT 5 Career Mode

DIRT 5 is the first game in the franchise to have a narrative woven into the career mode. The story features video game voice actor veterans Nolan North as an arrogant racer named Bruno Durand and Troy Baker as the fun loving rally legend Alex “AJ” Janicek.

Providing exposition along the way are James Pumphrey and Nolan Sykes of Donut Media. In the game the pair host a podcast that informs the player about events and fills in the story between AJ and Bruno.

There is no set path a player has to take and the results are pretty much the same no matter what, which helps things feel less constrained.

I never got bored with the events and having the feeling of control over what events wanted to take on was refreshing.

There is also a really good mix of cars to choose from. There are some excellent classic and 90s cars available, lots of cool modern cars, and really fun vehicles like rock climbers and super-lites. Even more cars will come in the future by way of DLC.

That being said, there are two problems with career mode that keep it from being the stand out feature of the game.

The first is the narrative itself. When I heard that video game voice over veterans Nolan North and Troy Baker would be playing Bruno Durand and AJ respectively, I got really excited as I’m a fan of their work.

I went into this game expecting the AJ and Bruno characters to play large parts in the course of the career and they really don’t.

There are slight spoilers ahead so be warned. There are 5 chapters in DIRT 5 and at the beginning AJ is there but just barely. He introduces himself and throws in some commentary between races but he doesn’t go much further than that.

Bruno Durand is barely even mentioned until chapter 2 and his character doesn’t have any extended dialogue until chapter 3.

Bruno and AJ’s characters have a conflict with each other but that has no influence on the player’s career at all until the very late stages of the game.

I think it would have been better to drop the AJ and Bruno characters altogether, and have the Donut Podcast be about the player’s progression through their career.

It sucks to say because I am a big fan of Nolan North and Tory Baker and I think they’re among the best in the business. But in this game I just don’t think their roles add much to the career experience.

The other sticking point in the career is the AI, which I think is unbalanced. I played on “medium” AI difficulty the whole time; But in chapters 1 and 2 the opponent cars are just way too easy. Once I got through the crowd I was able to run away and grab first place wins without much trouble.

Though all of a sudden in the mid-point of chapter 3 the AI totally changes. They stop “racing” you and start trying to run you off the road. I can’t count how many times an AI opponent straight up did a pit-maneuver on me, spun me out and ruined my race forcing me to basically quit and start over again. It was really frustrating and it happened more than a few times.

However, this is something the devs are aware of and they should have it addressed by the time DIRT 5 is released.

Overall I think career should be seen as a buffet-like experience for players to get a taste of all the different cars, tracks, and event types in a structured way. Anyone playing for the narrative will likely end up being disappointed.

 

DIRT 5 Playgrounds mode

Alright, I know that I didn’t have the best time with career mode. However, DIRT 5 really changes things around with Playground Mode. In fact, I would even go as far to say that Playground Mode is worth the price of admission alone.

For those who don’t already know, Playgrounds is a mode in which players can create their own courses and events. There are three events to choose from: “gate crasher” events which are basically checkpoint time attack races. Gymkhana events that are all about getting as much style points as possible within the time limit, or Smash Attack which is exactly what it sounds like.

When players create their courses and events they are uploaded to DIRT 5’s servers for other players to discover. Each creation can be rated by players and they are also curated by Codemasters.

I’m not great at making courses myself but playing what others have created more than made up for that.

There are some CRAZY courses already available to play and it is easily where I had the most fun in DIRT 5.

This mario-maker style approach for a racing game is genius in my opinion.

Playgrounds mode ensures that DIRT 5 will always be fresh and never boring. Whenever the player finishes one Playground course, new ones are suggested which can lead to falling into a rabbit hole of weird, crazy, and challenging experiences created by other players.

Bet on seeing many game streamers exploring this mode in the future.

Hands down, Playgrounds mode is the reason to buy DIRT 5.

 

DIRT 5 Graphics

DIRT 5 screenshot of Rock Bouncer car

This is a tricky area to talk about as it is kind of a mixed bag. As mentioned before, I played DIRT 5 on an Xbox One X and not the new Series X or Series S consoles.

Furthermore, on the One X console there is a video option to prioritize frame rate or image quality.

For this review I played exclusively in frame-rate priority mode which dials back resolution to keep the frame rate as close to 60fps as possible.

When it comes to the environments, I think they are rendered beautifully. Every course looked amazing. From the frozen east river in New York to the colorful off-road courses in Brazil. I think each of the 10 worldwide locations were absolutely knocked out of the park.

Beyond that the environment effects like the dirt, dust, and mud collecting on the vehicles really works well.

Unfortunately there are a few issues that hurt the visuals a little bit. There was a lot of screen tearing during my play sessions. It wasn’t consistent though. Sometimes it was pretty bad and other times it was not as noticeable.

I also noticed a weird shadow-like effect around the outline of cars while driving. I reached out to Codemasters and they said it’s caused by an issue with temporal anti-aliasing. They were already aware of it before I reached out to them and they couldn’t fix it during the review period but they’re working on it now.

They’re also working on the screen tearing as well in a Day Zero patch.

When it comes to the vehicles, I noticed that the brightly colored cars tend to have a very plastic-like finish. They just do not look like metal under certain lighting conditions. It is not something I noticed on all the cars though.

I’ve seen Xbox Series X gameplay of DIRT 5 and I haven’t noticed any of the graphical issues I’ve mentioned here in that version. So, it looks like these issues may be exclusive to the Xbox One.

The last thing I’ll say about the graphics is that even though I was playing in Frame-rate priority mode, I still noticed some frame dips when cars were bunched together. It wasn’t severe but it was enough to notice for a few moments in tight groups of cars.

 

DIRT 5 Physics and Handling

DIRT 5 screenshot of super lite car class

Unlike DIRT Rally, DIRT 5 is meant to be the more accessible rally game from Codemasters without unforgiving physics.

In large part DIRT 5 fulfills that promise. The cars are not super difficult to control but at the same time it does not feel too arcade-like for the most part.

The E-brakes are definitely needed to rotate the car but the problem I found is that the e-brake tends to scrub off too much speed which left me playing catch up after.

There is a gymkhana-specific steering assist that dials back the understeering to make it easier to drift and do donuts but that assist does not work during races.

With the right balance of brake and throttle, holding long drifts is actually relatively easy to do even without an assist and very satisfying when pulled off correctly.

Though drifting does slow you down and sometimes I had trouble getting out of a drift once I started it which would occasionally cause me to lose a few places.

My only criticism of the physics is during a crash, the cars tend to…overreact.

Other than that I think DIRT 5 has a solid physics engine and the handling is within the sweet spot of not being too easy but not too unforgiving.

I should also mention that I played exclusively with a control pad. Wheels will be supported in DIRT 5 but the compatibility list won’t be available until later in November.

 

PROS and CONS

PROS CONS
Freedom of choice in career is refreshing Narrative story falls flat
Car selection is well curated AI is unbalanced*
Playgrounds mode ROCKS! Graphic glitches and screen tearing*
The game locked up a few times*

 

*The dev team at Codemasters are aware of these issues and is working on updates to fix them.

CONCLUSION

DIRT 5 screenshot of Modern Rally car

The career mode is what had me the most hyped for DIRT 5 but in the end it is really Playgrounds, the car selection, and driving p physics that make up the crown jewels of this game.

There are certainly some things that need to be worked out on the current gen consoles so if you’re planning on getting DIRT 5 for Xbox One I would recommend waiting a little bit for any updates and patches to be released.

As far as I can tell the Xbox Series X and Series S versions of DIRT 5 doesn’t have any of the bugs or AI issues I pointed out. So for anyone who was lucky enough to score the new consoles should be fine for launch.

Either way, I think DIRT 5 is worth it just for the Playgrounds mode alone!

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