Three years ago, DiRT 4 released as a hardcore rally racing simulator. It seems Codemasters devised a different plan for their series of racing games shortly after this, however, as 2019’s DiRT Rally 2.0 quickly took the top spot for rally racing games. Now, DIRT 5 gets rid of the hyper-realism in favor of a slickly-presented, variety off-road racing game. But is this a case of becoming a jack-of-all-trades, master of none? Or has Codemasters learned enough from all their past racing games to bring it all together? Find out in our DIRT 5 PS4 review.
DIRT 5 PS4 Review – Looking Good and Dirty
Looks can be deceiving, and nowhere is this more apparent than in DIRT 5. The game may look like it’s meant for the casual crowd, but Codemasters has a lot of development pedigree in the racing genre. DIRT 5 is a great-looking game on the current generation of consoles, and no doubt it will look much better on the PS5. HDR support is present, with a few settings to tweak there such as white brightness level if the contrast is too extreme for your liking. For those who play on the PS4 Pro, the usual choice of optimizing for graphical fidelity or frame rate will be presented. With a focus on graphics, DIRT 5 looks fantastic, while with a focus on frame rate isn’t too shabby by all means, and represents a consistently smoother experience.
DIRT 5 has most of the impressive audio chops of the rest of the DiRT series, with faithful reproductions of all the whirs, whistles, creaks, and groans of the various vehicles available for driving. The soundtrack is a rock/punk mix, which jives well with the flow of the rest of the game. A fake podcast was also created to tell the story of the campaign, which includes a rivalry between characters Alex “AJ” Janiček and Bruno Durand, voiced respectively by Troy Baker and Nolan North. The rest of the podcast is hosted by real-life people James Pumphrey and Nolan Sykes, and while it does contain the occasional decent joke or witty retort, a lot of the show is a bit cringey. Some of the sequences play on for what feels like forever, but it does flesh out the narrative that exists in the campaign. It’s completely secondary to the racing, of course, and can easily be skipped by simply starting an event. At the end of the day, the podcast is extra effort put into the campaign for immersion, and to differentiate it from the rest of the racing games out there, and it does provide some extra entertainment value, which is never a bad thing.
DIRT 5 PS4 Review – Revamped Career Mode
The career mode is the main event in DIRT 5, and it features a simple grid-based layout of events. While there are rally races, they are decidedly more casual than those found in DiRT 4. The races involve cars trading paint, losing parts, and getting dirty. It feels a bit like Motorstorm, without the exaggerated crashes or arcade mechanics of managing engine heat. Indeed, all damage is merely cosmetic, and you can roll across the finish line with a banged-up front end, missing doors and other damage with no problem. Each event includes objectives the player can attempt to perform during the race, such as drifting while overtaking, staying in 1st place for at least 10 seconds, getting five seconds of airtime, etc. After sampling each event type, players can spend some of their earned in-game money to change those objectives or even event types at random, for most events. Once enough events are cleared, special Throwdown events pit the player against a particularly tough opponent for extra rewards. The player is also sponsored by real-life brands such as AMD, Monster Energy, Codemasters, Michelin, and more, which payout varying levels of money, as well as decals and textures for vehicles, and stickers, backgrounds, effects, and lanyards for the player’s profile card (this displays in online modes for others to see). Performing even modestly in an event results in a drip-feed of unlockables, much in the style of Trials Rising. It’s an appealing way to keep players coming back for just one more event in the quest to unlock all the things.
Know what’s still a rarity these days? Split screen. Know what’s included in DIRT 5? Split screen! Up to four players can tear it up on the same system in DIRT 5, even in the campaign mode. Players simply turn on their controller, log in to the PS4, and press the touchpad button to drop-in/out of the game at any time in the menus. All cars that the host player has unlocked are available to all players, which is a great way to test out a car you haven’t yet unlocked without buying it. The best-performing player’s position is counted as the host player’s final position, so if player 1 is having an off day, player 3 can get the victory and have it count for player 1’s career progress. Other players’ earned experience and money is saved to their accounts, so at least some shared progression is present. A couple of events that were clearly meant for only a single player did result in a strange glitch that showed three car selection menus overlayed on top of one real car selection screen, but other than that the drop-in/out functionality worked really well. Graphically, of course, DIRT 5 takes a hit in split screen, but it’s nothing too noticeable when your total share of the screen has also shrunk. All camera options are still available as well, but hilariously the frame rate on the cockpit view steering animations is dialed back, so much so that it looks fake. None of that really matters though when you’re sliding around a course with friends and family, and having a blast.
DIRT 5 PS4 Review – Create Away
User-generated content will be a cornerstone of DIRT 5, it seems. Custom liveries are easy to create for vehicles, where custom paint jobs, textures, unlocked decals, and sponsorship stickers can be applied in multiple layers to create a custom look for every car. Beyond that, a new Playgrounds mode allows players to create custom arenas using ramps, platforms, loops, and other objects in three different locations. There are also three different game modes to build these arenas for: Gate Crasher (checkpoint) races, Gymkhana, or Smash Attack events. Track pieces are laid out on a grid, and most parts snap together to one another once they are placed close enough. The creator is easy to grasp, and no doubt plenty of inventive arenas will be crafted by the community in short order.
Online multiplayer was not available during our time spent with DIRT 5 prior to the game’s release, but it did contain fruit-themed error messages such as Cherry and Raspberry when we attempted to access online modes. If those are the internal codes the developer is actually using, then it seems they took the irreverent attitude of DIRT 5 to heart. It’s a lot more “fun,” relatively speaking, to troubleshoot a fruit than a random string of numbers, after all.
DIRT 5 is the fun one in the DiRT family now – this is the racing game you boot up when you want to have a great time without really thinking about much else. It’s funny, coming from the seriousness of DiRT 4, to see just how much has changed in three years. An irreverent style that features a campaign consisting of over 130 events, a promising arena creator that should provide countless hours of user-generated content, and four-player split screen all add up to a fun racing game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is more about simply having fun sliding your way to the finish line. A free PS5 upgrade down the line will ensure DIRT 5 stays on racers’ minds for a while to come, as well. For those who want absolute realism and a focus on rally racing, DiRT Rally 2.0 is still your jam. For everyone else, there’s DIRT 5.
DIRT 5 review code provided by the publisher. Version 1.02 reviewed on a PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.