What should I play on it? The last time you heard this question again and again, when the conversation turned to the Xbox Series X. With launch titles for Microsoft's new console gaming flagship, things still look a little thin. But don't worry, we finally have a suitable answer ready. Namely: Dirt 5! We were able to play the arcade racer from Codemasters as part of our extensive Xbox Series X hands-on experience before the release and put it through its paces: How many new things are there compared to the last series version from 2017? And what graphic masterpieces is the title capable of on the next-gen hardware? You can find the answers in this preview.
The crux with the racing stories
The heart of Dirt 5 (buy now € 53.34 ) is of course the career mode. However, you shouldn't expect too much from that. In terms of functionality, the game variant is strongly reminiscent of Codemaster's genre colleague Grid: You select various events from a menu, and stamps you collect give you access to additional events. You get them for completed races – in addition to dirt dollars, the in-game currency for buying new carts, and reputation points. With these you will steadily rise in the level and get new paintwork and other cosmetics.
It's all embedded in a rather loose story: You join the racing team of the famous car freak Alex Janiček alias "AJ", who takes you under his wing and leads you to the top of the racing scene. That was it. Point. None of that is particularly imposing. Every now and then, the action is driven forward by small podcast snippets from the automotive experts at Donut Media. In the original, your mentor "AJ" and your rival Bruno Durant are also spoken by Nolan North and Troy Baker, who already showed a really good chemistry in Uncharted 4: A Thief's End as Nathan and Sam Drake. In German you unfortunately have to do without them completely, which is why the presentation often seems a bit embarrassing. Because of course Dirt 5 has to be really cool and blatant, which is difficult for an adult to give.
The races in Dirt 5 events fall into eight different categories from rallycross to rock climb. A total of 130 challenges await you, which will take you to pistes in every corner of the world: you slide over icy lakes in Norway, you climb dusty canyons in Morocco or you roar through rain-soaked bamboo forests of the Chinese wilderness. This not only ensures playful, but also visual variety. Here and there you can even admire real landmarks like the Christ statue in Rio de Janeiro.
Pretty but not breathtaking
The general look of the game is not bad either: the tracks in particular with their puddles, leaves blowing around and clouds of dirt that have been thrown up look really chic. The dynamic times of the day and weather conditions provide an additional impression. Especially at night, Dirt 5 has its very own effect: watching the northern lights, watching the reflections of a fireworks display on your car or getting lost in realistic snowfall is really fun. Also because Codemasters really did the lighting.
Despite the powerful hardware of the Xbox Series X, the title is not an absolute treat. You have the choice of a game mode that prioritizes the frame rate and a mode for graphics quality. This then conjures up dynamic UHD resolution with 60 FPS on the screen, plus realistic shadows, higher-resolution textures and more viewers as well as details on and around the track. With the appropriate peripherals, even up to 120 images per second are possible. Dirt 5 never really looks like next gen. Away from the slopes, the world sometimes seems a bit lifeless, and on the new console, too, reloading objects or tearing appeared again and again.
Sponsors and split screen
But back to your career: In addition to stupid races, there are of course other things waiting for you. For example, the Gymkhana skill tournaments are celebrating a comeback, in which you have to collect points with drifts and jumps. In addition, there are the so-called throwdowns – special racing challenges in which you face one-on-one big names in the scene and race for fat prices. Basically a nice idea, but we found it a bit opaque at the moment. The events must first be activated by fulfilling certain requirements, which are, but is nowhere visible.
The career mode is rounded off by sponsor management. In the course of your career, you can sign with a potent financier who pays out awards and in return for fulfilling certain goals (such as winning a certain number of events) rewards you with contract bonuses – for example new stickers for your car. Entitlement and rewards vary depending on the advertising partner, so it is important to consider who you choose. Although the choice is not final, whoever changes his sponsor early does risk his loyalty bonus and part of his reputation.
Aside from your career, the arcade mode is still waiting for you, which in turn is divided into Free Play and Time Trial. They offer exactly what the names suggest: In the former, you choose racing events, set out car class, weather and time of day, set laps and the number of opponents and then jump onto the track. In the latter, the first steps remain largely the same, the only thing then is to set as fast a time as possible and rise in the global high score. So far, so well known. It is made even more exciting by the possibility of playing Free Play (like the career mode) on split screen with up to three friends. More players, more driving pleasure!
Playground & Co. – Dirt remains arcade
The playground mode, which has aroused strong memories of Nadeo's Trackmania series, provides additional fun. Why? Because here you can create your own levels in the typical modular manner and then share them with the world. You not only have three race types to choose from (Gate Crash, Gymkhana or Smash Attack), but also a huge pool of track and surrounding objects from which you can put together your very own dream course. That works surprisingly well with the controller. This is partly due to the fact that the creators carefully introduce you to the various functions of the editor with a series of explanatory texts.
Speaking of controls: how does Dirt 5 actually play? Codemasters relies on classic arcade gameplay again this year, so not everything will be required of you when controlling your mobile pedestals. Instead of being realistic, the focus is clearly on driving enjoyment. Nonetheless, there are a few small differences: an off-road pickup steers a little more leisurely than a rallycross car. Big rear-wheel drive carts break out if you step too bravely on the accelerator. It is of course easier to drift on snow, ice or gravel than on asphalt. There is also a clear selection of optional driving aids: ABS, traction and stability control can be completely switched off, only slightly or completely switched on. With five different levels of difficulty from very easy to very difficult, you can also customize the feel of the game to suit your needs. Whereby the AI did not always act particularly cleverly at the normal level that we mainly played, like to have an accident or race unchecked into the gang. Keep your distance or drive clean? Nothing! Accordingly, with a little skill you can get a respectable lead of over ten seconds. But hey, after all, no rubber band AI!
The only exceptions are the Formula Offroad and Sprint cars, which are very stubborn to steer. Here you like to hit the track because the plane just doesn't react to your steering wheel movements. Dirt 5 also has 11 other vehicle categories ready: from classics from the 80s and 90s to rock climbers and modern rallycross racers. All well-known names such as Lancia, Ford or Audi are represented, some of which differ significantly in terms of performance and handling. So it's worthwhile to pick up a few dirt dollars and treat yourself to a new set of wheels. It can then be customized with various paint finishes and stickers.
What, on the other hand, could still be a problem are the in-game purchases that are already emerging. If, for example, we wanted to pound the slopes with the off-road version of the VW Beetle in our preview, we were forwarded directly to the Microsoft Store. Too bad. Die-hard arcade racing fans shouldn't spoil the anticipation for the release. This will take place on November 6th for PC, Xbox One and PS4. The Series X version will follow on November 10th and the PS5 version on November 19th.
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Is that next-gen racing now? I do not think so…
On Xbox Series X, Dirt 5 was neither an acting nor a playful revelation. Yes, Codemasters have put together a really nice game in parts. The choice of different graphic modes is great, being able to enjoy a racing game permanently at 120 frames per second, a real step forward. Compared to other racers like Forza Horizon 4, the quantum leap in terms of staging, car models and world design is not yet visible. And when it comes to gameplay, the title usually only delivers a lot that is well-known: Arcade driving experience as one is already used to from previous series offshoots – colorful, action-packed and beginner-friendly. If you don't mind, want to use the new playground mode or are simply looking for a racing game that supports split-screen, you can still have a look here.
Xbox Series X: Hands-on with the next-gen console
Dirt 5: These are the system requirements for the PC version
AC Valhalla and Dirt 5: Not planned for Xbox Game Pass
Dirt 5: We played Codemaster's new arcade racer on the Xbox Series X. (1) (Source: Codemasters)
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