I don't think I can come up with a game developer that feels more uneven in quality than Codemasters. From the brilliant Dirt Rally to the mediocre Onrush, to the consistently masterful Dirt Rally 2.0, and now Dirt 5, which stands firmly as the year's biggest disappointment. Personally, I do not really understand how this can happen. That an experienced studio in the motor sport genre can fail as fatally as they did here.
Dirt 5 has nothing in common with the previous games from this game series. This time, the former Motorstorm developers have chosen to use their own, home-developed game engine and thus ignored Codemasters' very well-proven and capable Ego engine. This feels somewhat bizarre in my world. Dirt 5 is structured a bit like Dirt 2, though, where you as an aspiring rookie get help from a mentor to get through a season of off-road racing, but all those parts of Dirt 2 that made racing feel expansive and inclusive are missing here. There is no old, dusty, cool, motorhome, no nice map of the race weekend's events, no characters to relate to or any real atmosphere. What you get instead is a screaming pink, hand-drawn schedule of all the season's events and Troy Baker (The Last of Us, Uncharted 4, Bioshock Infinite) in the role of racing professional AJ who does everything to build that right "bro-dude" atmosphere.
Baker, however, does not succeed at all. The layout feels flat, stiff, dull, and thin, and AJ's delivery feels mostly forced to give Dirt 5 some character. Racing is divided into a couple of different disciplines, but even if the car classes differ a little, it's all about head butting your way up to first place, getting points to be able to unlock new races. Not infrequently, the courses are paved on mountains and hills, a bit like in the studio's previous game Onrush, which means that you either climb up or fly down hills, mud, logs and rocks. The tracks themselves and especially the corners are almost constantly too narrow for the type of car physics and car behavior that the developers have created here. Every single vehicle in Dirt 5 also understeers like crazy.
Going wide, to drift, is a big part of rally. A big part off arcade-like rallying and especially a huge part of Dirt, but here you are punished for it rather than rewarded. Sure, it can be done, but as a player you are punished for losing way, way, way too much speed. It is something that always ends up in the AI-competitors racing past you in speeds that makes no sense at all. Sometimes the rubber band-AI, feels hysterical. A car can swoosh by you like a Wipeout-ship two single seconds before the finish line, just as if it found 600 extra horsepower.
The cars are not only terribly understeered, they lack lots of torque as well. Codemasters Cheshire has done a gruesome job of creating some kind of entertaining balance between torque and peak effect, which makes racing in Dirt 5 frustrating. In some classic, powerful rally cars it is almost impossible to get all four wheels to spin on gravel, which of course is insane - to be perfectly honest. In an arcade racer this should be exaggerated rather than anything else, like in Dirt 2, but instead - the developers have reeled the cars back in and created a very weird contrast. The tracks are big, bold, drenched in side-track-jewelry and spectators/colors. The racing is suppose to be hectic and chaotically fast. But it isn't because the cars are too slow. To rigid. And they understeer like crazy.
The graphics are ugly, too. Unfortunately. I really wanted to like Dirt 5 but there is for me extremely little here to really like. The tracks are blurry, brown, the car models are extremely mediocre and although there are some delicious ray tracing effects in puddles and ice surfaces, it is for my part incomprehensible how this game could have been mentioned the past months as some kind of graphics showcase regarding our new, upcoming consoles. Dirt 4 looks way nicer. Dirt Rally 2.0 looks way, way way nicer (both are based on Codemaster's Ego engine) and that's a two-year-old game where more of the total computing capacity is used to simulate real tire physics, as well. And that says it all, right there.
Just like in the case of Grid, Dirt 5 is a racing game that in my opinion does not manage to offer a single small element that actually impresses. The presentation is exaggerated, the loading times are a bit too long, the racing is monotonously boring, the collection of cars fail to impress, the sound is mediocre and the car physics themselves are substandard at the very, very best. There is a split screen mode here that works pretty well, but that does not matter much to me when the racing itself is as boring as it actually is. The saddest thing here is that Dirt, Dirt 2, and also Dirt 3 were brilliant arcade racing games and that Codemasters as a studio can do so much more than this. It just desperately need to find a way to be way more consistent.
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