With its lively, colorful atmosphere, solid racing mechanics, and wide range of racing features, Dirt 5 is no stick in the mud. The music in the game, the artwork, its use of colors, and set pieces - it all comes together perfectly to make you feel as though you're playing in a busy, populated world, with noisy fans excited for a thrilling race.
The lengths Dirt 5 goes to deliver immersion are truly impressive. There are so many racing titles out there that'll have you racing through lifeless, empty venues, with NPCs that are clearly 2D sprites (and sometimes not even animated ones). Playing through Dirt 5, though, and seeing believable crowds of onlookers, and the weather and time of day changing as planes fly overhead with trails of colored smoke, it cannot be said enough how great the visual spectacle is.
It's not all eye candy either - Dirt 5 features 70 routes spanning 10 different locations throughout the world, and over 60+ real-world-manufactured vehicles across different classes, including rally cars, trucks, sprint cars, and many others. Some cars will even fall into multiple categories, meaning races can have all different types of vehicles competing together.
Not having to deal with any pre-race set-up, Dirt 5 is no simulator. There's no need to tinker around with your car's configuration, buying new engines, new sets of breaks, tires, or stripping out the rear seating to reduce weight. There's no time spent getting licenses to qualify in a particular division either, so get your tires dirty, trade a bit of paint with other racers, or even slam straight into them and keep it moving. Uneven terrain will send you flying through the air, over cliffs, and drifting down mountains at high speeds. The environment will change during some of the races too - whether it's a sudden snowfall or a blinding dust storm, you'll have to stay sharp as these changes in weather will impact your driving ability.
The gameplay isn't just limited to racing events either. Dirt 5 also features stunt arenas where you'll perform tricks within a time limit to reach a score goal, like donuts, drifting, and jumping off ramps. It's yet another part of the game that's well implemented and complemented by the game's physics and not a simple add-on for the sake of variation. It adds an extra layer of fun to the overall package in a game that already does so much to keep its core racing varied.
Then, if you really find yourself enjoying the stunt arenas, there's an unlimited supply of them, as the Playgrounds mode lets you create your own stunt arenas and download others online. You're given access to a wide range of set-pieces, as well as a large area to work with. This is easily the best and biggest level of freedom you'll get in terms of player customizations in Dirt 5, as other customization modes don't quite match up to what's given to you here.
The player customization options would have benefited from having a few more options. Although you're given a wide selection of colors to choose from, each car has specific locations for where the sponsorship logos are placed. It doesn't matter how big the car is, or how much free space there is on the hood, doors, or anywhere else - you can't reposition any of these graphics. There's also no option to get creative and make your own logos, so if you don't like what's available to you, you're better off not using them. One other thing on the cars that would have been nice to edit are the license plates, as the plates every car in the game simply say "Dirt 5".
There are also player cards, that you'll see after each race. Although these can be edited, again the options are quite limited, with only pre-made styles to choose from, and most of them are locked off behind player levels. One curious thing about all of this is that there are "nicknames" you can choose for your card. These nicknames are essentially stickers made up of a specific designer text, although one has to wonder why we simply weren't able to type out the names ourselves using these fonts.
Your racing avatar is yet another aspect that cannot be edited. Never seen outside of his racing suit and obscured in his helmet, it would have been a welcomed feature to have players put their personal touches on the driver. Although it's not a deal-breaker by any stretch, customization options are always nice things to have for leaving your personal mark in a game, and there's not enough here to really do that.
With those few minor issues regarding customization options aside, Dirt 5 features a good set of game modes. Thankfully, local split-screen is available for up to four players and, given how the rest of the game handles, this is no doubt a great addition for those of you with friends to play with.
If you don't have friends, though, you may want to reconsider if you were planning to play against human opponents. While online play may be smooth, be warned that the feature itself is very bare. For the most part, it seems that the races are nothing more than a competition between four drivers, as lobbies simply do not fill to capacity on PC. I wasn't able to select a specific lobby to race in either, just simply thrown into the first available race - even if it was in Europe. There's also the option for party-style games, however after various attempts and constant waiting I was never able to get into a game to try them out.
Sadly, the online portion of the game lacks some important features. As mentioned above, you're unable to select which lobby to play in, but you can't choose the tracks you'll race on either. The entire online interface contrasts with how nice the rest of the game's menus are; when playing online you'll just stare at a blank blue screen, with no tips or explanations of any kind. It simply feels like an afterthought.
The offline modes are where you'll probably spend most of your time. Arcade mode, strangely enough, offers the selections you'd expect to see online. You can choose the location, class, weather, time of day, and more. These, plus the option of racing in a full grid of 12 racers, makes the online mode very thin by comparison; online it takes longer to get into a race and you're not likely to have more than four racers in an online event if you're playing on PC.
Without a doubt, the best mode in the game is the career mode. This is where you're introduced to the game's commentators, James Pumphrey and Nolan Sykes of Donut Media. You'll hear from them regularly on their in-game podcast, in-between races, as they give brief explanations about the events and occasional banter with each other. Although it may come down to personal preference, this is a very welcomed addition to Dirt 5, giving the game extra personality. If you don't like to listen to the podcasts, though, you're free to mute them at any time.
Progressing through the career mode, events are laid out in branching paths. You're not limited to your first selection, though, as at any time you can backtrack to another event. It's great that Dirt 5 gives you this option. While the game itself isn't too difficult, there may be a few things here and there that take a bit of practice to get right and, if you're struggling on an event, you can simply go to another event and progress through that branch, rather than being stuck and struggling on the same thing for hours. At any time you can go back to areas you're having trouble with, but you still have multiple paths to get to the end of the chapter.
As you complete your races and chapters in the career mode, you'll be given the option to change your sponsor. Sponsors are how you are paid for your races. Completing different career objectives during a race will grant you maximum pay. You'll earn a reputation, which will unlock cosmetic rewards. These sponsors will also sign you to a contract. You may choose a different sponsor, but staying with the same one will grant you loyalty bonuses. Cutting a contract prematurely will of course hurt your reputation. This is important for completionists, as you'll want to unlock all of the stickers and get the most amount of money to get more cars, as there will be events where you'll need a specific car to participate and, if you don't have the money to buy it, you'll have to grind.
In addition to the sponsorships, you'll also have grudge matches in events called "throwdowns" against rivals. These are unlocked after completing certain unspecified events and, after winning your throwdown race, you'll get a reward. It would be nice if the wager between you and your rival were your cars, like in some other racing games, however here the reward is nothing more than a customization sticker.
All things considered, Dirt 5 delivers with its aesthetically pleasing visuals, tracks, cars, and menu design. The sound design adds much life to the game, with great performances from Donut Media, Nolan North, and Troy Baker. Of course, this is all held together well with equally polished gameplay. The few strikes I have against Dirt 5 are its handling of the online mode and lack of robust customization options, but in the areas that really matter it's very good indeed. With how much this game packs in, you'll stay busy for some time to come and will surely not be disappointed.
This review is based on a digital copy of Dirt 5 for the PC, provided by the publisher.
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