Dirt 5 Hands-On: Dirt Isn’t Just About Rally Racing Anymore

It must be tough iterating on an established formula, especially in racing games. Across the spectrum of styles within the genre, from Need For Speed Underground to Gran Turismo and Forza Horizon somewhere in between, I’ve loved but also felt burnout to some degree. Rally racing is one area I hadn’t experienced much until Dirt 4, but having known about where the series has come from, Dirt 5 noticeably takes a turn in a different direction.

I got hands-on with a preview build of Dirt 5 on PC, which features four tracks for brief circuit races with a handful of cars to select. One track mixes street and off-road racing, two are purely muddy off-road endeavors, and one is a hectic drifting loop with sprint cars. It’s quite a small piece of the game, but it’s immediately clear that–based on the demo–the emphasis is no longer on keenly following a co-driver’s course instructions in a time attack. The game is trying to tap into the excitement of head-to-head competitive racing with a bit of attitude.

The experience is reminiscent of Forza Horizon 4 in that it controls in a manner that bridges the gap between arcade and sim (by default, all driving assists like traction control were set to low). But similarities are also found in the courses’ environmental stylings. For example, the Ultracross event-type on the Norway track is laid with equal parts pavement and dirt, and features dynamic weather patterns–all of which remind me of the Horizon 4’s races and changing seasons. Over the course of the race, the sun began to and ultimately finished setting, leading the race to continue in an enjoyably chaotic nighttime snowstorm. The rapid snowfall emphasized a sense of speed and reinforced that my sloppy driving and tendency to trade paint with other racers wouldn’t be met with dire consequences.

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