Dirt 5 is a very different game to the previous three entries in Codemasters’ off-road racing series. Dirt Rally and its sequel spun the series off in a simulation-based direction, appealing to rally purists with its authentic approach, uncompromising difficulty, and steep learning curve. Dirt 4 followed suit with another smattering of point-to-point rally races, but crucially made the experience accessible for casual racing fans by introducing a more forgiving handling model. With a third Dirt Rally already in development, Codemasters is looking to diversify the series’ mainline entries by returning to the arcade spectacle and histrionics of Dirt’s early years with Dirt 5.
This much is clear from the outset, as Dirt 5 latches onto the same jovial festival vibes that permeated throughout Dirt 2–complete with a customizable lanyard, vibrant colors, and an upbeat soundtrack. The career mode takes you on a globetrotting adventure that encompasses a variety of different racing disciplines, but there’s no sign of any co-drivers relaying pacenotes, nor are there any traditional point-to-point rally events. Dirt 5 distances itself from the series’ recent past by being an unabashed arcade racer that’s made up of short, action-packed skirmishes where you’re constantly trading paint with a pack of other drivers. There’s an infectious energy to the whole thing that’s reflected in a handling model that sees you hurl its cars around the track with relative ease.
Dirt 4 may have featured a driving school that provided lessons on weight transfer and how to execute pendulum shifts, but Dirt 5 renders that knowledge unnecessary. Getting around most corners is as simple as slowing down before pulling on the handbrake to lurch your car sideways and drift around each mud-swept turn. There’s not a lot more to it than that, trading any meaningful depth for approachability that veers too far toward simplicity. Collisions are tame, especially when combined with a listless damage system, and the physics model often throws up some oddities whenever a car goes airborne. This isn’t enough to sap the fun out of the experience, but there’s always a nagging feeling that Dirt 5 isn’t extracting the most out of these vehicles. Any rip-roaring moments are weighed against others that are just a tad dull due to its facile and uninspired handling. As such, the plethora of tracks, and their diverse weather systems, gain added importance throughout Dirt 5’s career mode.