Muddy tires, breakneck speeds and whiplash-inducing drifts are the name of the game with Dirt 5, the latest off-road racing title from rally veterans Codemasters. Dirt 5 embraces approachable arcade-style gameplay, allowing more players to join the race. With a variety of events to tackle, you’ll never be short of routes to ride and donuts to do.
Dirt 5 continues the hallmark of the series – delivering great off-road racing. The tight, precise controls make it a great feeling to travel the world and race past the beautiful sights. I loved tearing through a muddy track under Norway’s glittering Aurora Borealis and drifting around an icy corner with New York’s Roosevelt Island Bridge as the backdrop.
If you want to perform well in the races of Dirt 5, you need to master the delicate balance when you need to accelerate, brake and use the handbrake for hard drifts. This calculation of the speed of light gets even more complicated when you have to factor in other vehicles that can soften your cornering, or how the different surfaces feel when you enter a corner at 60 miles per hour; I can be more reckless on muddy surfaces than on ice, while the road surface is much less conducive to drifting. I love how you can really feel the different surfaces of your vehicle. Plus, driving at night or in bad weather is an added challenge, with reduced visibility due to heavy snow and the track lit only by your headlights. It’s nerve-wracking and beautiful at the same time.
While the main attraction is the racing (either lap-based or point-to-point), Dirt 5 also includes events like Path Finder and Gymkhana to change things up. Path Finder puts you on a hilly course full of narrow trails, rocky terrain and near-vertical climbs and makes sure you cross it carefully as quickly as possible; I enjoyed every trail, although the extremely uneven terrain at times caused my vehicle to bounce or tip over, leading to frustration as the clock ticked by. Gymkhana is a stunt mode where you have to complete drifts, donuts and jumps on your way to (hopefully) a high score. I always looked forward to every Gymkhana event, but the short timer and limited number of obstacles make them fall flatter than a stunt-based mode should.
The various events come together in a meaningful way in the career mode, which allows you to chart your path through a branching tree of events on your way to becoming an off-road superstar. After completing a race in South Africa, I could choose to stay for a Gymkhana event rather than go to Greece for a tough rally race. In addition to earning achievement-based stamps that unlock new chapters, you also have optional objectives, which add a ton of flavor to events and make you stand out from other racers. Once you’ve completed enough, you can challenge rivals to one-on-one Throwdown events.
Dirt 5’s career is quite simple; there’s no vehicle customization beyond decals and paint jobs, but I loved replaying events to complete as many special goals as possible. Most are actions I’d probably do anyway, like swap paint with other racers, drift a set number of times, or maintain a minimum speed, but the “finish the race in reverse” goal always left me scratching my head.
Unfortunately, most modes outside of career don’t give you enough incentive to stay. Sure, I could try to put a better time trial score on the leaderboard, but the sense of repetition is inevitable. The custom races let you adjust everything to how quickly the weather changes, but these settings don’t make up for the lack of optional targets, making the races feel less eventful than their career counterparts.
This has brought me back to the community-driven custom course mode, Playgrounds, over and over again. Here I can use intuitive tools to build my own racing or Gymkhana course and then share it online. While you can’t cover a huge track like in other modes, you use gates, barriers, platforms, and obstacles to provide fun experiences that are completely different from this mode. I loved scrolling through the Explore tab to find twisting Gate Crasher courses full of jumps and spirals. Even after exiting career mode, I kept returning to the Playgrounds community tab to check out the latest creations.
If you prefer to play with others, Dirt 5 supports local split screen with up to four players (even in career mode), as well as online play through traditional racing and party games such as Vampire, a tag game where you control the “infected” cars until the timer runs out, of King, an event where you try to capture a crown and hold it for as long as possible by dodging others in the arena.Unfortunately I struggled to find competition online through matchmaking, my most reliable method was to join with friends, but even then finding board games proved fruitless, which is disappointing given how new the game is.
While some modes don’t offer the deepest of experiences, I’ve enjoyed my time racing around in Dirt 5 thanks to a fun career mode and community area that’s brimming with potential. Whether you’re earning your spot among the superstars or crafting a vehicle obstacle course of your dreams, Dirt 5 deserves a spot on the podium.