Dirt 5 Review: A Little Dirt Never Hurt Anyone

Hear that? That’s the sound of rally racing fans everywhere shouting out in joy, as the release of Dirt 5 is finally here. Dare I call it a rally cry? You bet I dare… because the game deserves it. Dirt 5 does exactly what it sets out to do as a rally racer – along with its other less traditional race vehicles – and does so in a way that makes it easy to pick up and play for newcomers while maintaining a satisfyingly high level of difficulty for those looking to truly master the game’s racing mechanics.

I’ve dabbled in some of the early iterations of the Dirt series – most notably with the Colin McRae Rally games – but I admittedly never really got into it. I think I was probably just too young and impatient to learn about and appreciate the type of racing strategies that are required to be successful in the games. Dirt 5 is my first real in-depth look at the series, and having spent the past weekend behind the wheel, I can’t help but feel like I missed out prior to the latest game from Codemasters.

The premise of Dirt 5 is simple enough: off-road racing with various types of race modes and vehicles. While you can easily take part in races that take place on dirt tracks in a Subaru WRX, you can also hop into the seat of a sprint car, which are interesting-looking race cars that are specifically designed to turn left. You can also take laps on tracks covered by ice and snow, or – my personal favorite – race your way up a mountain, heading from point A to point B, hopefully leaving your adversaries behind you while eating your dust.

Races can be accomplished by playing through Dirt 5’s career mode, hopping into exhibition-style races and time trials in arcade mode, or by playing the game’s multiplayer mode that can be accessed either online or through four-player local split-screen.

Career mode is definitely the way to go at first, though (especially if you’re newer to the series). You’ll run through a slew of various races with different vehicles and race types as you collect money and sponsorships that will allow you to unlock new vehicles that can give you a quite noticeable leg up on your competition. Doing well in races – some of which require top place finishes – also rewards you with variant liveries for your vehicles, allowing you to deck out your race cars and set yourself out from the pack.

Along the way, you’ll get to listen to the voice acting talents of Nolan North and Troy Baker, as they guide you along your racing journey from relative unknown to a world-renowned driver. The narrative focus of Dirt 5 is one that certainly makes sense (especially in career mode) and is executed well with its podcast-style banter between the voice actors. Single-player racing games can often be pretty isolating affairs as you just go through the motions of winning races and upgrading vehicles to, well… win more races. Dirt 5’s narrative use helps liven things up while moving from race to race during your career.

What sets Dirt 5 apart from other racing titles is its more casual approach to racing. Don’t get me wrong, Dirt 5’s driving mechanics and racing strategies are by no means a walk in the park. The driving does feel a bit easier than other games, though. I recently reviewed (and still play) WRC 9, which – as a rally racing simulator – is as realistic as you can get when it comes to actual in-game racing strategy and vehicle control, ultimately making it a pretty difficult game with a high learning curve. Dirt 5, on the other hand, is pretty easy to pick up once you run through a race or two. I don’t white-knuckle my controller during Dirt 5 races as much as I do with WRC 9, since Dirt 5 feels more like an arcade racer than a racing sim.

Let be crystal clear, though: as easy as Dirt 5 may be to pick up and play, becoming a skilled racer is an entirely different story. Doing so is also well worth your time, since that’s what makes each race in Dirt 5 so satisfying.

Knowing how to take a curve and successfully doing so one of the best parts of the game. It just feels great. Having a feeling for the course and knowing how to take a hairpin curve will not only improve your position in the race, but also likely make you nod in approval as you mentally pat yourself on the back. Your speed, angle, and condition of the track all need to be considered when deciding whether you should break, pull the handbrake, let your foot off of the accelerator, do nothing, or some combination of all of those options. This also means that you’ll need to be sure to pay close attention to the track’s minimap so that you can plan for what’s ahead.

Beyond the game’s career and arcade modes, you can also take part in Dirt 5’s playground mode, which features ridiculously outlandish tracks created by the community. Extra tight curves, obstacles, jumps, donuts… everything is fair game in the playground, offering up fun and unique races to play after spending time in more traditional scenarios.

To be honest, there really aren’t many downsides to Dirt 5. Sure, there may be a lot of loading screens with varying degrees of length, but none of the load times felt unreasonably long. Unsurprisingly, I was unable to connect to any online races, which I assume will be available on day one of the official launch. However, there were some odd issues with online connectivity while playing in career mode. I would get an error message saying I wasn’t connected, but everything seemed fine on my end. I never lost progress or anything like that, so I imagine it was just some weird bug.

Dirt 5 is similar to Project CARS 3 with its arcade racing style – just with a larger focus on rally racing. The style absolutely works in Dirt 5, offering up accessible rally racing to anyone interested in getting behind the wheel. Of course, the drive is what you make it. So should you want to become a master racer to take on other skilled players online, that option is also easily available to you so long as you’re willing to put in the time. So, go ahead. Join in on the rally cry and get a little (or a lot) of mud on the tires. A little dirt never hurt anyone.

A PlayStation 4 copy of Dirt 5 was provided to TheGamer for this review. Dirt 5 will be available on November 6 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, and Google Stadia, before eventually making its way to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S.

NEXT: PS5’s DualSense Controllers Work On PS3, But Not PS4

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Sam has been writing for TheGamer since early 2018, earning the role as the Lead Features & Review Editor in 2019. The Denver, Colorado-native’s knack for writing has been a life-long endeavor. His time spent in corporate positions has helped shape the professional element of his creative writing passion and skills. Beyond writing, Sam is a lover of all things food and video games, which – especially on weekends – are generally mutually exclusive, as he streams his gameplay on Twitch (as well as TheGamer’s Facebook page) under the self-proclaimed, though well-deserved moniker of ChipotleSam. (Seriously…just ask him about his Chipotle burrito tattoo). You can find Sam on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook as @RealChipotleSam.

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