DiRT 5 review: One of the early highlights for Xbox Series X

Codemasters has done it again and this is easily one of the early highlights for Xbox Series X

DiRT 5
(Image: © Windows Central)

DiRT 5

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Earlier in 2020, Codemasters revealed that DiRT 5 would be one of the first Xbox Series X enhanced titles, unlocking the full power of the console with a 120hz high frame rate mode alongside a 4K60 resolution mode. And thanks to Smart Delivery, it would also be a free, seamless upgrade from the base Xbox One available at launch of Microsoft's next-gen console.

Racing fans were already hyped for a new DiRT game that took us away from the super-serious world of stage rallying and back into the more casual, but still exciting world of the mainline DiRT series.

Even though there isn't exactly a huge pile of Series X|S optimized games out there right now, DiRT 5 is easily one of the early highlights. It's slick, stable and an absurd amount of fun with one particular game mode you'll keep coming back to time and time again.

What I like about DiRT 5

DiRT 5

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

If you've ever played a DiRT game before you'll immediately feel right at home. It's a very familiar feeling, like wrapping up in your favorite blanket in Winter. That's not a bad thing, either, because DiRT has always been immense fun. DiRT Rally is the serious rally racer, chasing realism and appeasing those who really want the best rally experience. DiRT is for the rest of us, light-hearted, easy to pick up and play, and great fun by yourself or in a group.

The old "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" definitely applies to DiRT 5. The familiar feeling has been given a heavy splash of paint and a meaningful upgrade for next-gen consoles. When I first previewed DiRT 5 back in June, it was immediately apparent this was going to be a hit. It felt like the DiRT of old. I'm not going to retread old ground, because much of that preview still applies in the final product.

That next-gen experience is what really sells it, though. I've seen a number of criticisms online since the game launched that it doesn't look very good, but that's doing it a disservice. Yes, next to something like Forza Horizon 4, it's undeniably the runner-up, but it's hardly a bad looking game.

All the cars are well recreated and while they're a tad on the shiny side in the menu, when you get out on track they look fantastic. The environments are exciting and detailed and who doesn't love the fact that your car gets drowned in mud as you race? The weather can dynamically change as well, though apart from the ice track, it doesn't feel like it affects your handling too much. Just makes everything muddy, which is awesome.

The 120hz mode is the icing on the cake, albeit at 1080p, but right now if you're chasing that high frame rate chances are it's on a gaming monitor and not a huge TV anyway, which minimizes the impact a little. Visually, at least at a glance, it doesn't seem to take much of a hit either, and it's very steady and very fast. The wizards at Digital Foundry did their thing and confirmed just how good the performance is. If you're looking for something to show off the 120Hz party piece of the new Series X, it's right here.

While you aren't going to buy DiRT 5 for its realistic rally experience, you are going to buy it for a good time, and the two main aspects of that are the career and the Playgrounds modes. Online play is, well, online play, you'll either use it or you won't, though aside from a little wait to get into a race, it's otherwise totally fine.

DiRT 5

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The career mode follows the tried and tested. Race, unlock new stuff, race again, do some bigger, more valuable races, rinse and repeat. But DiRT 5 takes a non-linear approach in that you don't have to follow a single path through each tier. At points, there's only one race that you must do, but it frequently branches off into two or more, so if you're not fond of one path, take the other. As I do whenever the ice race in New York comes up.

Playgrounds are where DiRT 5 really shines, though, and at least for the time being is where the desire to keep playing comes from. The clue is in the name, in so much as it's a giant playground for you to go wild. It's DiRT 5's creative mode, letting you tear up the rule book and create the course of your dreams. Or someone else's nightmares.

I'm not much of a creative whiz, but seriously, you have to check it out, even just to race other people's creations. It's insane. Forza Horizon 4 recently did something similar with its Super7 mode and the updated blueprint creator, but this is hands-down better. The customization is incredible and the varied outcomes are pretty mind-blowing. You might not think you care about the leaderboard, but you'll soon be saying "just one more run" as you try and creep ever higher.

What I didn't like about DiRT 5

DiRT 5

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

As good as DiRT 5 is and as much fun as it is to play there are still aspects I wish were better. And it starts with being used as a brake by the AI drivers all the time. This type of racing a few banging doors is to be expected, but it feels as though the AI is far too aggressive and just doesn't know how not to smash into you. At times it feels more like Destruction Derby than anything else.

If you're good enough (and after a while you certainly will be) then you can get to the front few and mitigate this somewhat but the early moments, especially starting at the back, are a total crash fest. But at least the damage model is good, and you'll get plenty of chances to see it in action!

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

My other main critiques aren't really much of a big deal, but they're still a little frustrating. The first is that in the early game you don't have much unlocked at all. Very few cars and basically no liveries. All of these you get as rewards as you play through the campaign, so you can't really do much with customizing your rides until later on.

This also ties in with the livery editor being nothing more than OK. There's a number of options to change, including patterns, colors, changing the paint on the wheels etc, but again, much of this is locked until you use your in-game credits to buy them. There's a bunch of sponsor decals, too, but where they go on each car is predetermined, and you can't move any of them around.

It's not going to break the game for most people, but if you were hoping for anything remotely approaching a Forza-esque livery creator you'll be most disappointed. It's a shame, because the cars all look so good, but there's a definite wall when it comes to customizing their appearance.

Wheel support is also still lacking from DiRT 5, unusually, as it was during the preview period earlier this year. However, this won't be an issue for too long as Codemasters has already confirmed it will be coming in the version 2.00 patch.

Should you buy DiRT 5?

DiRT 5

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

If you're in the market for a fun game with a nice, casual approach and a genuine pickup and play appeal, then DiRT 5 is for you. Even if you're not a fan of traditional race or rally games it's a blast to play either solo or with your friends.

Playgrounds, in particular, deserve highlighting, because it's one of the best creative modes you'll find. Some of the circuits I've played in this mode are epic and it's hard to believe sometimes that they're community creations.

DiRT 5 is also one of the highlight titles for the Xbox Series X right now. Codemasters committed to an upgrade early and delivered in spades. The high frame rate mode offers incredible performance and stability with a minimal sacrifice on the visuals beyond losing some resolution. It's a highlight of the platform in these early days and certainly one to play if you're keen to extract as much as you can from your shiny new console.

Richard Devine
Managing Editor - Tech, Reviews

Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at mstdn.social/@richdevine