The DiRT series has been a bit all over the place really.
DiRT, DiRT 2, DiRT 3 and DiRT 4 displayed varying levels of zaniness, while DiRT Showdown was as arcade as can be. And then there are the DiRT Rally games; simulations that push players to the limit, and often also despair. Adding to the pile later this year is DiRT 5, which feels like a happy medium between DiRT 2 and DiRT Showdown from the hands-on time I’ve had with it. But there are noticeable influences from other racing franchises, too.
Taking cars from multiple classes for a spin on four vastly different tracks, the handling instantly took me back to playing the fantastic Onrush. It’s a lot lighter than previous DiRT games, but there’s still a reassuring feel that you’re throwing a big hunk of metal around a track. With your competitors actually racing alongside you, there’s also an enjoyable bit of hustle and bustle. You’re not going to be charging into other cars to take them out, Burnout-style, but you are going to be trading paint with them as you go into corners.
Within minutes of playing DiRT 5 I was throwing my car around like a pro. Well, perhaps not quite; it’s easy to pick up, but harder to master. You can’t be too reckless with your approach, either; DiRT Rally it is not, but you still need to slow down appropriately for corners and any other hazards that might be thrown in your path. If the four tracks available to me in the demo are representative of the many spread across the ten locations to be found in the full game, we’re certainly in for some thrills and spills. There are mighty hills, impressive jumps and more to look forward to.
Another game that appears to have rubbed off on DiRT 5’s development is Forza Horizon 4. Each location in DiRT 5 will now have seasonal variants, adding new elements to nearly every single track. The first time I raced on the Henningsvaer track in Norway, for example, it was a nice clear day, typical of spring. I flung my garishly wrapped Subaru Impreza around its corners, admiring the mud being thrown up behind me and the waves spraying water over the sides of bridges and cliffs. It was an easy, scenic race.
Going back to take on the track another time, however, it was wintry. At the start of the race snow was falling down lightly, and the sky glowed a warming orange. But then, approaching the second lap, things took a turn for the worse. Night fell, and the snow became a blizzard, taking visibility with it. I became more apprehensive of upcoming corners, and the white powder covering the floor had a noticeable impact on the performance of my car. As if all that wasn’t enough, bolts of lightning then struck, so magnificent that they dazzled me. It felt like a totally different event.
Changeable weather and time of day adds an extra bit of pizzazz to DiRT 5‘s events; a drive up a steep, muddy hill in Brazil becomes even more challenging at night, or in the pouring rain. It allows DiRT 5 to really show off its graphical prowess, too. It may be launching on PS4 and Xbox One first, but DiRT 5 is definitely a next-gen racer. Even at this early stage, it’s easily the best-looking racing game I’ve laid eyes on. Textures are phenomenally detailed, the lighting is absolutely gorgeous, and the special effects are as realistic as they can be. It’s the trackside detail that really propels DiRT 5 to the next level though; it’s unparalleled.
While the demo build of DiRT 5 I’ve got access to has only four tracks and around ten or so cars spread across four classes, I’ve already spent hours with it. I have a feeling I’m going to keep going back, too. As much as I love games like DiRT Rally, sometimes they’re not what I want to play at the end of a strenuous day. Sometimes I just want to sit down with something in which I can throw cars around without worrying that I’m going to slam into a tree and have to pay the consequences. I want games like DiRT 5.
The fact that I keep going back to the DiRT 5 demo speaks volumes to me. I’ve repeated its four events time and time again because they’re simply heaps if fun. Come launch later this year, when all of its content is available to be enjoyed alongside its ambitious career mode, four player split-screen and more, I think DiRT 5 is going to be something pretty special. The arcade racer is set to be redefined, and with the power of next-gen it’s going to be more eye-popping, more immersive, and more intense than ever.
DiRT 5 launches 9th October on PS4, Xbox One and PC, and sometime later on PS5 and Xbox Series X.