Over the years Dirt has been many things – all-encompassing off-road driving experience, a hardcore rally simulator, a knockabout arcade racer – but Dirt 5 could well be the biggest departure yet. Made beyond the walls of Codemasters’ Southam campus for the first time, it’s being developed by the company’s Cheshire studio, previously known as Codemasters Evo and of course before all that going under the Evolution banner. It should be no small surprise, then, that Dirt 5 often feels more like a new MotorStorm game than a new entry in Codemasters’ long-running series. And really, that’s no bad thing at all.
Given how widely mourned the good old-fashioned arcade racer is, you certainly can’t complain when one as unashamedly arcadey as this rolls up. Dirt 5 is bright and brash and eye-searingly colourful, and isn’t so much about threading through a sodden Welsh forest in the dead of night – you’ve got Dirt Rally for that – as it is muscling through overstated caricatures of international locales, tearing through a Norwegian fishing village as it’s pounded by ocean waves, or screaming through a Brazilian favela before racing directly under Rio’s Christ the Redeemer. Extreme weather is a key feature here, with electrical storms, snowstorms and heavy rain delivering the sort of drama I haven’t seen in a racing game since MotorStorm Apocalypse. It’s loud and over-the-top and an awful lot of fun.
It certainly feels different, being made in Codemasters Cheshire’s own engine and with a lightness of touch to the handling that’s several worlds removed from the weighty consequence of Dirt Rally, yet it also feels reassuringly familiar. As much as the boisterous action and vibrant locales bring to mind MotorStorm, so too do they hark back to Dirt 2 and Dirt 3 – a touchstone for Dirt 5’s development team as it looks to Codemasters’ series in its commercial prime. Yes, that does mean in-your-face voiceovers – this time from Nolan North and Troy Baker who play rival racers – but also it means an in-depth, engaging career mode that takes you across various disciplines.