Title: DiRT 5
Developer: Codemasters | Publisher: Codemasters | Initial Release: 6th November 2020
Since its inception as part of the Colin McRae Rally series, DiRT has become the main branding of Codemasters' off-road motorsport games, and the latest entry comes at something of a fork in the road with a couple of titles seemingly heading in different directions. Unlike 2019's super-serious DiRT Rally 2.0, a rally simulator which targets a more hardcore audience with realistic handling, pace notes and punishing damage, DiRT 5 is an altogether more accessible beast. An arcade-style all-terrain racer with an overriding sense of fun and celebration.
The game's festival-like events tour across 10 international locations with a banner-strewn fanfare of flares and streamers, while a constant supply of in-race challenges give you reason to play around with the arcade handling. It is all very reminiscent of early PS3 title Motorstorm, with an added hint of Driveclub.
Considering that DiRT 5 was developed by Codemasters Cheshire, the team created when Evolution Studios found a new home, it really comes as no surprise, and there is a visible lineage here that pulls from those previous titles, as well as from 2018's ONRUSH.
The sheer fun of throwing licensed vehicles around some gloriously undulating terrain...
An eclectic mix of rallycross races, point-to-point rallies, gravity-defying rock crawling and even stadium-based gymkhana stunt events make up a career mode that is fun and engaging, if a little too easy. Experienced racers may find themselves cruising to the front even on the hardest difficulty as the AI jostle and bump each other while also having a strange tendency to slow down over jumps, seeing you quite literally fly overhead. That is at least, until you get to some of the more slippery surfaces where the same AI develop an uncanny ability to maintain perfect traction in even the most powerful RWD machines.
This never spoils the enjoyment though, and even the corny storyline played out through in-menu podcasts starring perennial voice actors Nolan North and Troy Baker, doesn't get in the way of the sheer fun of throwing licensed vehicles around some gloriously undulating terrain. You can even go off-script entirely and concentrate on the other modes where timed social leaderboards, online races and Trackmania-style Playground stunt park editor all have lots more mileage to give.
- JUMP IN // DIRT 5 -
Naturally though, one of the best ways to get more time out of any game is surely with the photo mode. Not merely a token inclusion, the DiRT 5 photo mode was nominated for the 2020 VP Awards, and clearly benefits from the Cheshire team's experience in building camera tools for Driveclub and ONRUSH. Fans of either will know that this sounds like a great basis, but has this latest implementation from Codemasters managed an evolution, or did it get stuck in the mud?
Key Photo Mode Features:
Shutter speed with motion blur
Time of day selection
- PHOTO MODE UI // DIRT 5 -
Controls & Implementation:
Found in the pause menu with a press of the Options button, the DiRT 5 photo mode has no custom button binding but is one that is immediately intuitive to pick up and use. The camera does start off annoyingly close to the player's car, but is easily repositioned within a 3-dimensional bounding sphere using the LS horizontal truck / dolly, L2 / R2 vertical craning, and the free pan / tilt of the RS. In short, the controls make perfect sense and, other than there being no option to invert the camera y-axis, should cause no problems with usability.
The range of movement on offer is also reasonably good, allowing a couple of car-lengths between the player vehicle and the camera. This does mean that things are more suited to shooting your own machine though, and not really flexible enough to pull back for wider shots of multi-car action. It's also worth noting that the camera is unable to move beyond any trackside barriers, no matter their height, confining all shooting positions to within the track limits. Thanks to the mostly broad off-road environments though, this isn't too troublesome and there is usually plenty of space to play with.
A couple of curiosities do crop up, mainly the fact that pan / tilt movement speed is relative to the field of view and so results in particularly slow camera adjustment at narrower angles, and that the DualSense haptics can accidentally find their way in. Admittedly an issue that is only exists for PS5 owners, the L2 / R2 triggers carry over feedback from the accelerate and brake pedals at the time of pausing, meaning that they are sometimes stiff, sometimes loose, and sometimes click wildly as though in protest. It absolutely does not affect the usability of the photo mode, but it is odd nonetheless.
The manual tools are what you should be using for the best results...
Heading into the tabbed UI that shares a little of the game's colourful style, a useful range of settings are found mostly in the form of non-numerical sliders that are adjustable with the D-Pad while the UI is visible. Here, the camera benefits from a ± 180° roll to achieve portrait oriented shots or to add some Dutch tilt to the action, an optional thirds grid, a useful range of field of view angles, and real world aperture values ranging from f / 1.0 - f / 64 for excellent depth of field control.
At this point the DNA of the team's previous photo modes really starts to show, firstly with the straightforward autofocus system. When enabled, the centre-biased object detection easily sharpens up the subject using a single click of R3, although it does also disable manual aperture adjustments by defaulting to f / 5.6. It is certainly a simple solution for more inexperienced users, but the manual tools are what you should be using for the best results, especially given the excellent focus visualisation line that is toggled on-screen using Δ.
- FOCUS LINE & ZEBRA PATTERN -
Building on ONRUSH's already intuitive system that visualises the plane of sharpest focus with a bright green line across everything in the scene, DiRT 5 also adds a zebra pattern to preview depth of field at the chosen aperture and focus distance. Essentially, wherever the zebra pattern appears is the area that the foreground and background defocus effect will be applied to once the final image is developed.
Much like its predecessors, this developing process is a crucial part of the DiRT 5 camera. Not only is it kind of satisfying to see the final shot emerge over the course of a few seconds as the depth of field is calculated, but shutter speed and motion blur are simulated in this time too. While field depth is relatively commonplace in modern photo modes, the use of shutter speed remains quite rare and given how key movement is when it comes to photographing racing, the ability to add blur to the cars or their surroundings is an outstanding feature.
Should there be a criticism here, it is perhaps that while motion tracking modes can perfectly follow the player vehicle, keeping bodywork sharp while applying blur to spinning wheels and the surroundings as you rush past them, the same cannot be achieved for the AI meaning that they will typically be obscured to some extent when any motion blur is applied.
- MOTION BLUR // DIRT 5 -
As important as the implementation of motion blur and aperture behaviour are for capturing action and creating an authentic depth of field, all photography still depends heavily on lighting. Sadly, DiRT 5 stops short of using its variable shutter speed to influence exposure, instead relying on a familiar exposure compensation slider in the UI menu that offers the ability to over or underexpose pretty much any scene that you are likely to find on track. A series of differing times of day further compliment this and, while not quite a minute-by-minute adjustment of the sun position, the 9 preset times along with the game's shifting weather do mean that there are a plethora of lighting conditions to make use of.
A little extra control over the available light always helps though and Codemasters obviously agree, having included a customisable light. Once activated, the omnidirectional sphere light can be manually positioned anywhere within the camera bounding sphere, snapped to the current camera view, and even tuned in brightness and colour using individual RGB control to competently serve as a fill or coloured key light.
A real array of photo mode possibilities start to present themselves...
This is a photo mode with an impressive implementation in many ways then, and the fundamentally strong tools are given some added creativity with a set of 27 colour filters, from which you will likely struggle to choose just one favourite, as well as some more stylised options like graphical overlays and a CRT filter complete with visible subpixels and tube curvature.
Some imperfections can also be added with chromatic aberration creating red / green fringing on everything except the cars by offsetting the colour channels, and a film grain effect that adds textured grain as expected. A few flaws do start to appear in this area of the photo mode though, the film grain in particular causes a peculiar banding effect at anything above the first 10 steps or so, and there are confusingly two separate vignette effects, each in a different section and each producing a different result.
- FILM GRAIN // DIRT 5 -
It also makes little sense that all filters are initially set to an intensity of zero, making your selections ineffective, overlays invisible, and letterbox crop un-cropped until this is cranked up. This is no big deal though, and does quickly benefit from the fact that all photo mode settings are retained until you reset them via the touchpad, even after restarting the game, but it is just the sort of thing that can be a little unintuitive for novice users.
Small quirks aside then, DiRT 5 has a photo mode that is very capable and makes up for its minor shortcomings with excellent usability and some key features that are ideal for taking advantage of the racing genre.
- FORD RS200 // DIRT 5 -
As with any racing title, the primary subject when it comes to photography is going to be the cars, and DiRT 5 has a pretty decent selection of them. With 59 to choose from in the base game, and 80+ for owners of the Year 1 pass, there are all-terrain machines across 13 categories that include the likes of iconic Group B rally and WRC cars, unlimited racing trucks, and even the odd specialist rock crawler or mud plugger.
As well as bringing individual handling characteristics and driving styles, these categories are also visually distinct and sport some all-time classic racing liveries as well as more bespoke sponsorships for you unlock as you progress in the game. Should the pre-made designs not be enough, there is also a fairly robust livery editor where it is possible to adapt some preset templates with a huge range of paint colours, patterns and branded stickers to give your machine a personal touch or even just a stock showroom finish.
- PORSCHE TAYCAN // DIRT 5 -
Levels of details are good too, with car models faithfully rendered both inside and out, giving plenty of reason to get up close to the tail lights of a Porsche or peer in through the engine cover of an RS200. Being the type of game DiRT is though, it is likely that the pristine bodywork won't last long. Bumps and scrapes result in body deformation, scratched paintwork and even lost panels, while the titular dirt wastes no time at all in plastering itself all over the cars as they power through water, mud and dust.
In fact, it is worth remembering that these water splashes and dust clouds, along with the showers of sparks that fly off whenever you hit a wall or bottom out in a dip lend themselves particularly well to the slow shutter speed and can add real emphasis to the action.
- CONFETTI // DIRT 5 -
Of course, all of this is intrinsically linked to the surroundings, and the multi-national locations bring an engaging range of differing terrains, surfaces and backdrops against which to capture your chosen machine. Whether up in the mountains or on a flat frozen river, the racing festival ensures that each location is laden with colourful banners, smoke flares and confetti to liven things up and create interesting ways to use the camera features.
Be sure to experiment with the time of day too, not only in the photo mode but in the custom race setup. For example, daytime on one track might see low flying aircraft leaving smoke trails overhead, visit the same track at night though and you'll find that the race is set against a glorious display of fireworks, oh and then there is the dynamic weather. With blazing sun, blizzards and thunderstorms, there is everything you need to find the right (and wrong) conditions for your shots, or just to marvel at water droplets streaming over your bonnet.
Going beyond the rocky hills and muddy tracks, DiRT 5 also has another, more creative game mode. "Playgrounds" lets players build their own insane arenas and challenging layouts complete with gymkhana stunts, jumps and even loops. Like a virtual Hotwheels set full of junkyard wrecks, giant dominoes and rainbow roads, this mode takes the already vibrant visuals and cranks them up to 11 as you pass each flaming checkpoint. In fact, the only mode that doesn't benefit from the camera tools is the online mode.
- BY // GEEKNAMEDMIKE -
While this is an understandable omission, it is a shame given that this is exactly the place that Codema