This review is available in both written and video format. Both versions have the same ‘script’, so if you’re able to watch the video I’d recommend doing that, since you can see the game in action without worrying about missing anything I’ve written. Even better, since we’ve now reached a new console generation, I’ve upgraded my video capture hardware, meaning the below review can be watched in 4K and 60 frames per second. Scroll down for the written version of the review, or here’s the video:
Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, PC, Stadia (Xbox Series X version reviewed)
There was a time when the launch of a new system often meant something almost equally as exciting: the launch of a new Ridge Racer game to accompany it.
The PS1, PS2, PS3, PSP, Vita, Xbox 360 and 3DS were all blessed with a Ridge Racer game in the launch line-up, and they were always a safe bet because you knew you were going to get two things: a shitload of arcade racing greatness, and something visually impressive that would make your new console DANCE on day one.
Sadly, that was then. We haven’t had a proper Ridge Racer in over a decade, and if you’re talking proper numbered entries the last one was nearly 15 years ago. The days of buying a new console and a new Ridge Racer are gone. But do you know why I’m not so bothered about that with this new generation? Because we have Dirt 5 instead.
Dirt 5 is the fifth game in the series. Well, actually, it’s the eighth, if you count Dirt: Showdown and the Dirt Rally games. Well, ACTUALLY actually, it’s the 14th if you count all the Colin McRae Rally games too, because the first game in the Dirt series was Colin McRae: Dirt. Look, it doesn’t matter, nobody cares about these context bits anyway.
The important thing is that like many of its predecessors, Dirt 5 is a rally racing game, but crucially it’s one that doesn’t take itself seriously. This isn’t a po-faced time trial affair where you race alone and try to clear a set course quicker than a bunch of CPU opponents you never get to see. There’s obviously a place for that in gaming, but this isn’t it.
Instead, this feels like an arcade style racer that happens to have rally cars in it: far more Sega Rally than Colin McRae. Most of the race types have you taking part against other cars at the same time, and while there’s obviously plenty of the powersliding you’d expect in a more serious rally game, the handling is designed to make it relatively easy to pull these off with grace.
This is not one of those rally games that demands perfection, where you can be driving down an extremely long route for 15 minutes then clip a ditch at the side of the road, tumble onto your arse and suddenly the entire race is a write-off. This is very much the sort of game that rewards you for ploughing into the sides of opponents as you’re both turning in order to gain an advantage.
In case it’s not immediately clear from the screenshots, Dirt 5 is an incredible-looking racing game. While it’s also available on last-gen systems, the new-gen versions (such as the Series X version, which I played for this review) really push the boat out not only in terms of visual detail but also dramatic weather effects.
The game looks great when it’s a nice sunny day, but race through one of the courses set during a huge storm or a blizzard and it looks phenomenal, especially if you’re playing with the in-car view. Some of these cars have fairly small windscreens, though, so depending on the car and the weather you may occasionally find it nearly impossible to see where you’re supposed to go next, at which point switching to a third-person chase cam does the job.
The main Career mode has eight different race types, though some of these feel fairly interchangeable. Ultra Cross, Rally Raid, Stampede and Land Rush, for example, are all straightforward races against multiple opponents, with some sort of variation (some are circuits, some are point-to-point, some have harsher terrain etc).
The other race types are a bit more varied. The Gymkhana mode returns from Dirt 3 (and Dirt Showdown, where it was named Hoonigan), and once again has you performing various stunts like jumps, drifts, donuts and 360 spins to try and get a high score within a set time limit. Path Finder, meanwhile, is probably the closest to ‘normal’ rally racing in that it’s just you and a time limit, but the twist here is that you’re driving through some extremely harsh terrain full of huge hills and other obstacles.
Finally, there’s Ice Breaker and Sprint, which are a bit more of an acquired taste. These are still races against other opponents, but one of them takes place on tracks that are entirely covered with ice, and the other takes place on oval circuits with cars that are tuned to basically turn left and not do much else. Both of these are far less arcade-like and rely a lot more on your driving skills, because mistakes are punished far more severely here. The Sprint races may be particularly annoying for some people because just getting your car to turn without it sliding wildly to the left is an exercise in patience and throttle control.
The general gist of Career is that you take on a variety of these races, earning medals which are then used to unlock the next races. Each path gives you a choice of races, so if you really can’t stand racing on the ice and aren’t fussed about clearing the game 100% you should usually be able to just skip them and choose the alternative option instead. Obviously, though, if you’re a completionist then you’re going to have to learn to master every discipline.
There’s also a story running through Career which plays out over audio, often in the form of podcasts, with your mentor AJ (voiced by Troy Baker) and his rival Bruno (voiced by Nolan North) getting involved in this big conflict. This didn’t really do anything for me, but then again I’ve never been a big fan of Troy Baker so your mileage (ahem) may vary if you like him or North. Personally I just thought it got in the way of the racing.
The fun doesn’t stop once you’ve thoroughly rinsed the Career mode. There’s also a community-based mode called Playgrounds where players can design their own courses for others to download and try out. The game recommends popular ones so you’re always guaranteed to find something at least half decent, and every user-made track has its own leaderboard so you can try to beat it faster than anyone else.
I don’t have a creative bone in my body so I wasn’t bothered about Playgrounds when I first heard about it, but I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time in this mode just randomly making my way through a bunch of circuits other people made.
All this combines for a game that I was expecting to enjoy (like I usually do with the series), but not quite to this degree. Of all the new-gen games currently in my library, Dirt 5 is probably the one I’ve put the most hours into so far, and that’s saying something when I’ve got FIFA sitting there and I’m a big FIFA guy.
The compelling racing coupled with the fast loading means it’s hard to think of a better example of “one more go” syndrome, and I’ve spent more late nights than I’d care to admit telling myself: “Okay, let’s just do this next race and then I’ll go to bed. Okay, well, this one too, but then that’s really it. Well, let me get this Path Finder one out of the way first, because I like those. Oh, but…” etc.
I was really impressed with Dirt 5, and considering it’s selling cheaper in some stores already (Smyths is currently selling the Xbox version for £29.99, for example, and it upgrades ot the Series X/S version) it’s a fantastic option if, like me, you miss having a Ridge Racer to go with your new console. It may be significantly muddier than Namco’s iconic series, but when it comes to pure spectacle and bloody big powerslides, you’re sorted.
Dirt 5 is out now on Xbox Series X/S, PS5, Xbox One, PS4, PC and Stadia. You can get the PS4 version here and the Xbox One version here (both can be upgraded to their next-gen equivalents for free).
In order that I could write this review, I received a review code from a PR. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.
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