Racing games have long been the clear and easy benchmark for a next generation console. From Forza Motorsport to Driveclub, the relatively enclosed spaces needed for tracks and real-world point of reference have made racing games the best place for your first real taste of next gen gaming. For the first in generations, neither first party company has an internally developed racing game for launch. Instead, it’s up to third parties to give us our launch racing fix this time around. I’ve put a good bit of time into DiRT 5 as part of reviewing the Xbox Series X and here are my impressions of the game’s visuals and performance on Xbox Series X (If you’re looking for a more comprehensive review, I suggest reading David’s review of the Xbox One X version).
When I initially watched the small snippets of gameplay we got over the recent months, I was far from wowed by how DiRT 5 looked. Sure, it looked good, but it was far from the generational leap I expected (The recent launch trailer for the game was easily the best-looking trailer we’ve had so far). Jumping into the game however, my hands-on reaction was completely the opposite. Maybe it was YouTube compression pulling the trailers down slightly or it was simply the broken nature of highly edited trailer, but they just didn’t quite pull me in.
DiRT 5 on Xbox Series X truly is a looker, with particles flying from your rear tires, complex track detail and plenty of other details coming together to create a technical showpiece. Mud and snow deform as you drive over them, while also gradually coating your car as well, turning your car from a shiny and clean vehicle into the dirty beast that most rally cars end up as. Trees and buildings surround the track, while the view distance from inside the track is fantastic. On more than one occasion I was surprised by how much I could see and at such high detail when using the photo mode. DiRT 5’s best visual feature comes in the form of its dynamic weather system. From snowstorms flaring up in ice rallies to sunny showers, the weather in the game looks absolutely phenomenal. They obscure your vision, just like they would in real life, and collect on the ground, creating new coatings of snow or muddy puddles to appear. It’s all mightily impressive.
The tracks in DiRT 5 on Xbox Series X continue to leave an impression as their lighting comes into play. With a day-night cycle that kicks in during some races, plenty of different lighting models came up through my time in the game. During the day you can see shadows being cast by the trees and hills around the track. Night-time is when the lightning really comes to the fore though. Darkness abounds, giving the lighting the perfect time to shine. Small globes strung between trees, colourful lanterns hung alongside tracks and the track lights themselves all cast light and shadows in a way that looks fantastic. It feels like the darkness is closing in around you, just like it feels when you’re driving down a dark highway with nothing but your headlights and those of other cars around you to show the way.
There are three different visual modes in DiRT 5 on Xbox Series X, which all tweak how the game looks and runs. Prioritise Image Quality (60Hz) increases the visual fidelity of the game, while Prioritise Resolution (60Hz) removes a little of that visual fidelity to hit a more consistent framerate. There are noticeable differences between the two, with Favour Quality hitting a lower average framerate. Favour Performance trades in some of the visual niceties, with shadow quality in particular dropping, but comes much closer to hitting a consistent 60fps. Then there’s High Frame Rate (120Hz) Mode, the game’s 120fps mode. This looks noticeably worse than the other modes but hits a fluidity and responsiveness in practice that is an absolute game changer if you have a screen that will support it (like my PC monitor).
Mechanically, DiRT 5 is an unabashed arcade racer. While past entries in the series have been more simulation focused games, DiRT 5 feels more in line with racing games like Need for Speed. Driving feels relatively free, with physics and mechanics that seem more focused on you having an easy, breezy fun time, rather than accurately simulating the rally driving experience. Cornering feels relatively loose, with drifts triggering with ease and your car stopping on close enough to a dime if you overcommit. In my time with the game so far, the worst accident I managed to have was a single time that I managed to spin out after being hit by another car, but even then I was still able to catch up and finish second. If you’re looking for a punishing racing game, this probably isn’t the one for you. However, if you’re after a racing game that simply feels fun and doesn’t put too much in your way from progressing, this will probably be your style of game.
Overall, DiRT 5 on Xbox Series X took my expectations of it and threw them out the window. The game looks absolutely fantastic, so if you’re looking for something to show off how good next-gen can look and love a good arcade racer, you won’t go wrong with this.
DiRT 5 was played on an Xbox Series X with a copy of the game provided by Xbox. It is also available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with a PlayStation 5 version releasing on November 12th. For more information, check the official website.