Ever since its announcement in May, Dirt 5 presented itself as a well-defined statement of intent by Codemasters. If the simulation series was already established as Dirt Rally (with two entries released and a third one in the oven), the numbered Dirt games had to differentiate themselves much more, taking a sharp turn to deliver arcade fun in new ways. This is not a personality disorder (as I've witnessed with Project Cars 3 just a few days ago), but quite the opposite: it's taking Codemasters Cheshire (a team that created Motorstorm or DriveClub as Evolution Studios), and let them do what they do best, but now adding a handful of innovative modes.
That's why Dirt 5 comes with an influencers-inspired story mode, why its races will be crazier and more chaotic as they won't follow the traditional stage-based structure, and why car classes will be more daring and varied. By removing a big part of the purer sim-racing hassle, t̶h̶e̶y̶ ̶c̶a̶n̶ they must let their imaginations run wild and try out things that go beyond the constraints of realism, and that also takes us to the brand-new Playgrounds mode.
Announced within the Gamescom Opening Night Live framework, Playgrounds was the card Codemasters was saving up its sleeve, a new portion of the game introduced as a surprise a couple of months before launch that will, undoubtedly, round off the full package when it releases in November, mostly for those who usually engage with user-generated content, be it taking on others' challenges or creating their own.
The easiest comparison would be saying that this is like a Dirt: Trackmania. Basically, these Playgrounds allow players to design their own obstacle courses, race circuits, jump rounds, or all of the above combined, by using a series of assets provided by Playgrounds' Creator.
To see how all this works I first tried out several events created by Codemasters and then I fiddled with the editor for a while. I have to say that the elements you can use here, just like the physics around them, are much more grounded than on Nadeo's game. Trackmania is all about dream-like tracks for toy cars, whereas this game is built on top of a realistic foundation to provide relatively feasible results, so don't expect turbo pads, for example. Therefore, at first sight, it could seem that there are too few objects, or that challenges will quickly become repetitive, but my first impressions were positive.
As you can see with the accompanying 1080p60 gameplay, there are Playgrounds such as that "Speedhelix" created by Dan Oppenheim that include steep ramps, slopes, and corkscrews, but that could still be perfectly recreated in real life. There are others such as 'The Jump', which is by the same author but looks more similar to the monster truck exhibitions that usually take place in huge arenas. I've also seen more open-ended events -with gates acting as checkpoints sprinkled around the map - and some quite difficult challenges as well.
All these events will be split into the following categories: Gymkhana (score high within the time limit), Smash Attack (hit the inflatable targets), or Gate Crasher (as the name implies, go through the checkpoints before reaching the finish line). Then, for the game to collect data and guess the taste and preferences of each user, you're asked to say yay or nay after each trial, and the game will, or will not, suggest similar maps. This is shown at the end of this video:
After trying out a few community challenges within the Discover portion of the game, I tried my luck with the Create tools. You choose an Arena (only Cape Town Stadium and Messa Valley, Arizona, in two sizes, were available), and right away you're placing elements on the map, even before deciding which type of car suits the challenge best. The interface is clean, the access is straightforward and, with a few retouches, it could work nicely at release, getting more elements based on people's feedback post-launch.
In October we hope it gets a wider zoom, a clearer scale and size representation, a few additional shortcuts, and of course no crashes, as our first creation was ruined by an otherwise forgivable exit to the desktop. Here's our second attempt with Create:
But, again, it was an early preview build for this specific model, and I think it's a nice idea, an addition that suits the more light-hearted and varied proposal from Codemasters Chesire just fine, more so as no-one saw it coming and that it could expand the game's lasting appeal beyond online races if it manages to engage with the community and maintain a decent amount of activity.
Dirt 5 releases on November 6 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, later on PS5 and Xbox Series X, and then at some point in early 2021 on Stadia. Based on what I've seen here, I can already see myself checking out these alternative arenas when friends come over to play, and try out all the crazy creations that everyone is bound to come up with.