Dirt 5 Review
How do you make a great racing game like Dirt 5 into a must-play experience? You optimise it for Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. It’s that easy.
Racing should be a bigger genre than it is. When you look at the mobile scene, the biggest titles are things that are intense, fun and playable in short bursts. That’s driving games to a tee. We haven’t been able to have that pleasure on console until now.
The traditional experience has been bogged down by bloat for years. You wait minutes for the splash screens to play and the menu to sort itself out, you wait minutes while your game loads, you spend two or three minutes racing and then you wait for two minutes while the game loads back to the menu.
That is not sustainable, and it’s one of the reasons why the only racing game so many people will play is Mario Kart.
Dirt 5 is one of first examples of why this has all changed with the new generation. It only helps that it’s an awesome game.
Drifting in the Dirt
Whether you’re playing on Xbox One or Xbox Series X, Dirt 5 is a tight, fun arcade racer with gorgeous visuals.
I started playing on the Xbox One and wasn’t disappointed. The set-up is fairly typical for these games – you’re a rookie racer who needs to rise through the ranks. There’s some story, which plays out mostly through “podcasts” on the menus, but for the most part you just need tunnel vision on that first place spot.
You’ll do this, unsurprisingly, through being the fastest and most accurate driver. Luckily, Dirt feels like it’s working with you to make that happen. Controls work well and are easy to pick up. There are times when I’ve surprised myself with a fantastic turn or incredible overtake which I’m fairly certain was 90 per cent just the game.
There are a whole host of tracks to pick from, as well as a nice selection of modes and vehicles types. What it boils down to is a mountain of variety.
This ranges from whether you want to drive normal rally cars or larger 4×4 vehicles. Maybe you want to cruise through China or take a trip through Italy. Perhaps it’s raining or snowing?
And then on the other end of the scale, you have a Frankenstein’s monster cart with four differently sized wheels and a tendancy to suddenly force you into a wheelie. It’s madness.
But that variety keeps everything fresh, to the point where you’ll still be surprised with many hours of racing done.
Variety really is the name of the game in Dirt 5, even within individual races. It’s not unusual to start off with perfect sunshine and then for the environment to change between laps. This is amazing, because it’s visually interesting, but also because it really tests your driving.
This can get a little extreme at times. There’s at least one race where it’s snowing, there’s lighting, high wind and fireworks, all at the same time. I can barely keep my car straight when I’m not also squinting to see the track.
Even within the story mode, each track can be played multiple times at different periods of the day, in different weather, with different cars and in a different direction, and that is a stroke of genius on behalf of the developers. I can come to a track feeling perfectly comfortable with every turn and still find something new. Furthermore, I can know a track down to the inch and still see it in a brand new light. It gives this sense of familiarity without it growing stale.
Like all racing games, there are a few other modes that may be of interest. Arcade lets you set up your own game and there are a couple of flavours of multiplayer. Local (and split-screen) work as you’d expect, and the little I’ve played with online was okay. I struggled a bit to find full games, which doesn’t bode massively well at this point in its release cycle, but I must admit I didn’t test it extensively. There’s any number of reasons why I could only get match-ups with one or two other people at a time, and mileage may vary.
Graphics and sound
Dirt 5 was the unfortunate victim of console warriors in the weeks running up to its release, and it got a lot of bad press on message boards over its visuals. Those people are idiots.
This game is gorgeous. It’s nice enough in cherry-picked screenshots, but you need to go and take a look at it in motion. The way things change, the way light and weather plays such a big part in each level’s design, is nothing short of wonderful.
There are moments that have left me wide-mouthed, almost wanting to stop the car to take a look at what I’m seeing. It’s not Forza Horizon, but it’s closer than some would like to admit.
For those with newer TVs, Dirt 5 is also one of the best examples of video game HDR I’ve seen. Load up one of the night scenes, especially anything with Chinese lanterns or fireworks, and you have the perfect showcase.
Sound works well. It has that kind of “racing game” music that I guess some people must like, but isn’t for me. The best I’ll say for it is that it keeps the energy up and the excitement going. Beyond that, it’s utterly subjective.
It’s great to hear the roars of engines, the popping of fireworks – the sound design is as hectic and varied as the level design, and it definitely holds its own.
A New Generation
Xbox One owners, I’m afraid we’re leaving you behind for a second.
Because for every positive I’ve mentioned above, it’s even better on Xbox Series X. And that’s before we even mention the glory of loading times.
Graphics are sharper, especially in the distance. There’s probably minor differences in texture too, although other than a generic “better”, I couldn’t tell you exactly how they’ve been improved. The reality is that this game was gorgeous on Xbox One X, and the leap would probably need to be directly compared to see in all its glory.
The 120fps mode is silky smooth, although it hits the visuals enough that I turned it off almost immediately. Let me say that I’m pretty sensitive to resolution, so the hit was too much for me. It’s not unplayable, but it’s a big sacrifice for those extra frames.
If it’s something you’ll benefit from, it works completely as advertised.
These are nice upgrades, but what is really life changing is the load times. A new race loads in 15 seconds. I mentioned some negativity around that in my Xbox Series X review, but you have to see it to believe it. It’s the difference between filling your gaming time with games and filling it with time on your mobile phone.
Dirt 5 has become my go-to game when I have five minutes to kill. That would never have happened on Xbox One X, because the loading times are so prohibitive. With them gone, Dirt feels as arcade-y out of a race as it does in it. Pick up and play. Beautiful.
As of writing, it doesn’t work with Microsoft’s much-touted Quick Resume mode. That will be another gamechanger when it is fixed, just on the principle of the fast getting faster. And I’ve got to say, to my surprise, Dirt 5 will be a constant fixture within it when the update comes.
Dirt 5 Review – Conclusion
Once upon a time, racing games were for genre fans. They were for people who cared enough to sit and wait for bite-sized chunks of action, sandwiched between text-heavy menus, cheesy music and loading screens.
I say once upon a time, because within minutes of playing Dirt 5 on Xbox Series X, those days felt a very long time ago. It’s rare a feature strikes you so profoundly that it actually changes your view of a genre, but here we are. The SSD is that good.
And Dirt 5 is the perfect game to try it out with. It’s insanely enjoyable, and yet the One X version feels like it stalls after every three or four minute race. There is no such problem on the Series X.
That doesn’t mean that those who still use their One shouldn’t look at Dirt though. It’s the best in class for this style of game. But just remember that it’s Smart Delivery compatible, and play it on Series X as soon as you can.
The score is for the Series X version of the game. Xbox One users should knock off a point.