With hardboiled rally enthusiasts and sim junkies currently well-served by the stern and serious spin-off Dirt Rally 2.0, Codemasters has swerved to reshape its main off-road series into a sort of Driveclub on dirt; Dirt 5 is an accessible and rowdy racer that’s easy on the eye and fun to pick up and play, even if it’s ultimately a shade on the shallow side relative to what I’ve come to expect from these games.
It’s perhaps symbolic that Codemasters has included Colin McRae’s old co-driver in Dirt 4 for the first time in one of its rally games since Colin McRae Rally 2005, because Dirt 4 very much feels like a return to the good old days of the series. Hearing Grist’s pace notes again – a voice drilled into my brain in the late ’90s and early 2000s via my ravenous consumption of all games beginning with the word ‘Colin’ – has taken me back nearly 20 years. Back then Codemasters’ rally games were the yardstick against which all other racers with off-road aspirations were measured (at least up until the likes of Richard Burns Rally and WRC: Rally Evolved). Well, those days are back. Accessible yet tough and grimy yet gorgeous, Dirt 4 sets a new standard in rally racing – and its well-considered career mode and endless stages inject it with tremendous stamina. Absolutely stonking brilliant. – By Luke Reilly, June 12, 2017
Score: 9.2 Read the full Dirt 4 Review
My key criticism of the career mode is that the variety it appears to offer doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. I’ve been playing Dirt 5 for a week and there are still event types I can’t really tell the difference between. Land Rush and Stampede in particular both blur into one for me, and Rally Raid doesn’t feel much different to those either.
Path Finder events are a handful of hill climb time-attacks in a specialty rock bouncer but, while these courses are the steepest and narrowest, they don’t really require a particularly finessed approach so I didn’t find them as interesting to tackle as I thought I would. Sprint racing? Well, it feels like it’s in the wrong game.
The ice racing is probably my highlight – not only are they generally the best showcase for Dirt 5’s impressive lighting and weather effects, but ice is perhaps unsurprisingly the most satisfying drifting surface. These ice racing events require the most car control and, as such, I found them the most rewarding.
However, while Dirt 4’s custom stage generator may have got the chop, Dirt 5 comes with its own custom content solution: a stunt track editor Codemasters has dubbed Playgrounds. When career mode ran out of sizzle for me, I found myself in Playgrounds – and right now I suspect it’s here I’ll stay. It’s perhaps best described through a modern lens as a Dirt-flavoured slice of Trackmania-style madness, but more pertinently Playgrounds might be as close to a modern-day version of the 1990 MS-DOS cult classic Stunts (or 4D Sports Driving) as I’ve ever played. You may be unfamiliar with this 30-year-old relic but at one point as a kid I basically lived in it.
Whether you’re placing stacks of crushed cars or enormous corkscrews, Playgrounds’ editing tools are all quite straightforward – although I’m yet to build something I’m truly happy with. In the interim, I’m having plenty of fun attacking the user-created tracks already available.
In some ways Playgrounds feels a bit like it comes from a completely different game, but it’s an excellent addition to the Dirt 5 package – especially in conjunction with four-player splitscreen multiplayer.
Dirt 5 represents a complete about-face for the main Dirt series, shedding virtually all semblance of simulation in favour of an unabashed, arcade-inspired racing experience that draws from just about every influence you can name except its direct predecessor. It’s not especially deep, and there isn’t as much variety in the career mode as it claims, but it’s fast, frantic, and extremely handsome, and the wild and wacky stunt track editor truly has its hooks in me.
Credit: Dirt 5 Review