Dirt 5 continues the series’ hallmark of delivering terrific off-road racing. Thanks to the tight, precise controls, traveling the world and speeding past the beautiful sights feels awesome. I loved tearing through a muddy course under the shimmering Aurora Borealis in Norway and drifting around an icy corner with New York’s Roosevelt Island Bridge serving as the backdrop.
Performing well in Dirt 5’s races requires you to master the delicate balance of when to accelerate, brake, and throw the handbrake for harsh drifts. This light-speed calculus becomes even more complicated when you have to take into account other vehicles that can soften your cornering, or how the different surfaces feel when you’re going into a turn at 60 miles-per-hour; I can be more reckless on muddy surfaces than I can on ice, while the pavement is much less conducive to drifting. I love how you can truly feel the different surfaces in how your vehicle performs. On top of that, driving in the dark or inclement weather adds an additional layer of challenge, with lower visibility coming from heavy snow and the track being illuminated only by your headlamps. It’s unnerving and beautiful at the same time.
While the main attraction is the racing (either lap-based or point-to-point), Dirt 5 also includes events like Path Finder and Gymkhana to change things up. Path Finder puts you on a hilly course full of narrow paths, rocky terrain, and near-vertical ascents and tasks you with carefully traversing it as quick as possible; I enjoyed each course, though the extremely uneven terrain sometimes caused my vehicle to bounce around or turn over, resulting in frustration as the clock keeps ticking. Gymkhana is a stunt mode where you’re tasked with completing drifts, donuts, and jumps on your way to (hopefully) a high score. I always looked forward to each Gymkhana event, but the short timer and limited set of obstacles make them fall flatter than a stunt-based mode should.
The various events come together in a meaningful way in career mode, which lets you plot your path through a branching tree of events on your way to becoming an off-road superstar. After completing a race in South Africa, I could opt to stay for a Gymkhana event rather than going to Greece for a difficult rally race. In addition to earning performance-based stamps that unlock new chapters, you also have optional objectives, which add a ton of flavor to events and get you noticed by other racers. Once you complete enough of these, you can challenge rivals to one-on-one Throwdown events.
Dirt 5’s career is fairly straightforward; there’s no vehicle customization outside of decals and paint jobs, but I loved replaying events to complete as many of the special objectives as possible. Most are actions I would probably do anyway, like trading paint with other racers, drifting a set number of times, or sustaining a minimum speed, but the “finish the race in reverse” objective always had me scratching my head.
Unfortunately, most modes outside of the career don’t give you enough incentive to stick around. Sure, I could try to post a better time-trial score on the leaderboard, but the feeling of repetition becomes unavoidable. The custom races let you adjust everything down to how quick the weather changes, but these settings don’t make up for the lack of optional objectives, making the races feel less eventful than their career counterparts.
Because of this, I’ve found myself returning again and again to the community-driven custom course mode, Playgrounds. Here, I can use intuitive tools to build my own course for racing or Gymkhana, then share it online. While you can’t make a huge course like the ones in other modes, you use gates, barriers, platforms, and obstacles to deliver fun experiences completely distinct to this mode. I loved browsing the discover tab to find twisting Gate Crasher courses full of jumps and spirals. Even after I finished career mode, I regularly returned to Playgrounds’ community tab to check out the latest creations.
If you’d rather play with others, Dirt 5 supports local splitscreen with up to four players (even in career mode), as well as online play through traditional racing and party games like Vampire, a game of tag where you avoid the “infected” cars until the timer runs out, or King, an event where you try to capture a crown then hold onto it for as long as possible by avoiding others in the arena. Unfortunately, I struggled to find online competition through matchmaking; my most reliable method was to join up with friends, but even then, finding party games proved unfruitful. This is disappointing considering how new the game is.
Though some of the modes don’t provide the deepest experiences, I enjoyed my time racing around in Dirt 5 thanks to a fun career mode and a community section bustling with potential. Whether you’re earning your spot among the superstars or creating a vehicular obstacle course of your dreams, Dirt 5 is worthy of a spot on the podium.