Welcome to our review of DIRT 5, a project of seemingly epic proportions that began in October and has taken us eight weeks, two reviewers, two PC’s, a PlayStation 5, and nearly a dozen pages of notes. We were set to publish this a couple weeks ago before learning of the big holiday patch that just released, so we decided to wait and get that content included in what will hopefully be the most comprehensive coverage of this game we can provide. Thanks to Travis Young for his early work and notes on this. Your input was invaluable to this project. Let’s get started.
As the fifth game in the franchise (six if you count Dirt Showdown, DIRT 5 comes with a bit of a legacy, Earlier games offered a more sim-like rally approach to the genre, but for DIRT 5 we are getting a pure arcade racing experience, more akin to an off-road version of Ridge Racer or Need for Speed. Packed with a massive garage of cars, a seemingly endless supply of unlockable collectibles, and 70+ track layouts scattered about 10 exciting locations around the globe there is enough content to keep you occupied for months. We literally just finished the career mode after six weeks of casual play mixed in with other modes like Arcade and Playgrounds earning 357 of the 375 possible medals.
The Career mode is the core of DIRT 5, consisting of nearly 100 events spread out across a daunting flowchart of interconnected races. You are free to plot your course through the career creating your own path of unlockable races, or methodically check off every race in a bracket before moving on to the next. There are numerous styles of events, so there truly is something for everyone whether you just want a simple lap race or perhaps one long sprint course. You have Landrush, Stampede, Ultra Cross, Ice Breaker, Pathfinder, and Gymkhana stunt arenas where you try to chain fancy moves into high-scoring combos. I’ll admit, I did not like Gymkhana at all and the Sprint events were broken to the point where I simply did my laps and took my 12th place finish just to log completion of the event. The Ice Breaker events were also an issue until I was able to buy better cars so I could brute force my way to victory. And the Pathfinder events had their own challenge. You basically MUST drive from an external camera view on these races and even then the physics were so ridiculously wrong that even the tiniest stone on the track would send your car flipping and rolling like your giant tires were filled with helium. So basically, I enjoyed about 75% of the content and tolerated the rest, but when the game was firing on all cylinders it was a breathtaking and thrilling experience.
The design of the career mode basically has you coming in as this new rookie and racing your way to the top to take out the current and former champions; the latter who also happens to be part of an ongoing podcast who will chime in with personal advice as well as constant banter with his cohosts between races. It’s definitely that old-school vibe back when EA had their EA Trax setup with licensed music and DJ banter in Need for Speed and Burnout. It’s pretty cool if you happen to be spending time in the garage designing your cars, but some of these podcasts run several minutes and I’m not going to hang out in the menu delaying my next event just to listen to what is frankly some juvenile broadcast radio. You also get the personal banter directed at you before and after races, much of which gets quite repetitive given the sheer amount of events in this mode.
In addition to the regular events your career mode also has Throwdowns; special challenge events with limited racers on special sections of tracks. I enjoyed the concept of these challenges but it was never clear when one of these events opened up and there was no record of which ones you had done, so outside of the first event where you are told to do it I kind of forgot about these until I had completed the career and then I went back and did them all sequentially. You’ll also need to manage your Sponsors in the career mode. These will determine your income for winning races as well as secondary challenges that will earn you reputation to increase your loyalty level with each sponsor. Sponsors have 15 levels of loyalty and you can typically max out 3-5 sponsors in a single career, but honestly, Pepsi is the only sponsor you really need as they pay 22,000 for each race you win; twice as much as the next highest paying sponsor, and most sponsors only pay 4,000-6,000. Many of the unlockable assets are sponsor-specific, unlocking at each new reputation level per sponsor, and even after unlocking they must still be purchased with in-game credits. Other assets are unlocked based on your driver XP level, and will take considerable grinding to earn.
There are a lot of underlying systems in play in DIRT 5 that could incentivize you to play longer than you should. Much of the content is locked behind level gates and pay walls (in-game credits; not real money). There are hundreds of items like race badges, lanyards, stickers, car liveries, sponsor decals and layouts, and more. Each car offers multiple design slots, and you can spend hours in the garage designing an endless variety of car designs, colors, and skins, but everything is cosmetic; your performance stats are fixed, and therein lies one of the biggest issues with the game.
DIRT 5 can be easily be won with minimal effort and even less challenge with a few simple smart car purchases. Once you own these certain cars there isn’t much to keep you from winning unless you ramp up the difficulty levels. In some events, especially the early ice track racing it is nearly impossible to win with the default car provided, but purchase something a bit nicer and then try to lose. Most races will have you breaking to the front of the pack and you’ll never see another car unless you wreck. Wrecking is especially devastating, especially on the last lap. Even going slightly off-road or hitting a wall too hard can force the game to reset your car on the track taking up so much time that unless you already had a 2-3 second split time you are going from first place to last with little hope of winning. Many tracks have intentional design elements that will snag your car if you try to ride the outer walls, bringing you to a dead stop while the rest of the pack flies by.
Events also offer secondary challenges like trading paint, drifting, jumping ramps, overtaking, and various combinations of these like overtaking while drifting or trading paint while in the air. These offer fun objectives that can prove to be distracting and sometimes impossible to attain. Once you are in the lead you have to intentionally let other cars catch up before you can trade paint or let them pass so you can overtake them. It’s easy to get caught up in these distracting secondary goals and accidentally lose the race. Even worse are objectives that are clearly impossible like catching 25 seconds of air on an ice track with NO JUMPS. You can reroll these objectives before an event but it will cost you.
Multiplayer support is great with local split-screen co-op for up to four players in both arcade and career modes or you can head online for exciting 12-player events that include player-generated content using the awesome Playground mode. There are countless hours of thrilling racing waiting even beyond the career content.
So we are covering DIRT 5 on both the PC and PlayStation 5 and up until this point everything we’ve talked about is identical across both console and PC, but it’s time to get technical and here is where things start to differ; not enough to change the score but stuff still worth mentioning. Playing this game on a high-end PC with an RTX3080 card cannot be matched, even by the mighty PS5…but it comes close, and if you are lucky enough to get a PS5 then you can play DIRT 5 almost as well as those spending $1500 on a comparable PC. Both versions of the game have issues, some dating back prior to launch that still exist today. The PC takes upwards of 2-3 minutes to load after clicking the Steam play button. I’ve been told this is a one-time shader rendering process that happens when you first load the game after any length of time. Other games do this but they do it after the game launches and there is a progress bar. Here, you are just left to wonder what is going on. The PS5 version loads in 3-5 seconds after hitting the Play button…every time. Other bugs like crashing to desktop and locking up during sponsor selection have been patched but there is still one random and annoying glitch that is happening on both PC and PS5, even after the most recent holiday patch. At the end of some races when they are showing podium finishers the car model will not load into the scene and the A or X button will not progress the game. You just see fans cheering at an empty podium and I have to ALT-F4 on PC and force the game to close on PS5 and restart. Thankfully race progress isn’t lost…just my time in having to reload the game.
There are some other variances. The PS5 DualSense controller offers some of the most tactile controls of any racing game I’ve played short of using a force feedback racing wheel. The subtleties of rumble and vibration combined with the pushback on the throttle trigger really connect you with the track surface and enhance the race immersion whereas my Xbox controller feels loose and a bit sloppy on the gas and superficial vibrations seem more in tune with engine RPM’s than track surfaces.
Visually, the PC looks incredible with all settings cranked to the max and running flawlessly at 60fps in 4K. I also played this on an RTX2080ti and had to run at 1440p to get 60fps at max settings. HDR is a bit of an issue trying to get it to look right on the PC without washing out the colors, whereas the PS5 handles HDR brilliantly…literally; I am blinded in many of the scenes. The PC nudges out the PS5 in certain areas of detail like draw distance, shadow pop, and quality of reflections, and some events with certain lighting, weather, visible opponent cars, or increased level of scenery detail will cause the PS5 to drop frames; sometimes quite badly, especially when doing handbrake turns or any huge lateral shift in scenery. When the PS5 is running smoothly it’s a surprisingly close match for the PC running on high quality settings and easily one of the best looking console racers to date.
It’s also worth noting the various camera angles available, many of which can affect your framerate. I know Travis always races from the cockpit and I almost always race from the hood camera, so in respect to Travis I tried racing from the cockpit and instantly fell in love with the realism and immersion this view offers. There are two cockpit views; one with dash and one with wheel and dash that offers a more set-back view of steering wheel and fully functional instruments. I chose the latter and never regretted it, and with the exception of the Pathfinder events where I raced from an external view out of pure necessity, the cockpit cam is amazing with dirt, dust, water and snow spray that gets wiped away by the wiper blades and realistic sun and shadows.
The audio package is fantastic with great engines noises that change based on your camera view. There are all sorts of violent metal on metal scraping when you grind the wall or smash into other cars that sounds just as bad as the cars look when you see their cracked and crumpled bodies at the end of a race. The podcast and DJ banter is fun until it starts to repeat. I did enjoy that they offer all the podcasts in a menu, so if you are going to spend time in the garage you can replay anything you may have missed. The music selection is incredible with so many great tracks; I can’t think of a single song I didn’t like and several that I couldn’t wait for them to cycle back on the playlist. The multi-channel surround mix on both PC and PS5 are totally immersive, and if you are using the Pulse 3D headset for the PS5 expect to be blown away, especially if you are driving from the cockpit view.
So to summarize, PC is the consistently better performer if you throw a massive PC at the game while PS5 does an admirable job at a fraction of the cost while offering more immersive gamepad support and better HDR. PS5 also has faster load times starting and while playing the game. Multiplayer is equally accessible between PC and PS5 although a powerful PC can handle multiple local players a bit more smoothly and DIRT 5 supports Steam’s Remote Play Together, so you can invites friends to join your game who don’t even own their own copy. Basically, play this on whatever you have. Even scaled back on lesser PC’s, DIRT 5 is still a blast and looks great.
Codemasters has plenty of content coming. In addition to the most recent holiday update that added racing wheel support as well as dozens of holiday themed graphical updates to the library of collectibles and even a holiday themed race event, there is a full year of content planned for DIRT 5 in 2021. Plan on endless hours of thrilling arcade racing as you climb behind the wheel of dozens of cars, racing on some of the most breathtaking tracks set in exotic locales from around the world. DIRT 5 sets the bar for the future of next-gen racing.
You can check out our launch week gameplay video and see this awesome game in action on the PlayStation 5 with commentary.