Dirt 5 Playgrounds hands-on: User-created chaos

We got a chance to spend some time with Dirt 5's Playground mode that allows players to build and play arena events.


It should be no surprise that the folks at Codemasters are preparing a new racing game set to arrive in time for the holiday season. In recent years, the publisher has become home to many of the premier racing game franchises in the industry. The centerpiece release for 2020 looks to be Dirt 5, the seventh entry in the series. Built on the foundation set by Dirt 4, the new game looks to straddle the line between console generations as well as push user-created content to the forefront. We got the opportunity to go hands-on with Dirt 5’s Playgrounds mode to get an idea of what players can look forward to when the game launches on October 16.

The Playground is what you make it

Dirt 5’s Playgrounds mode offers the opportunity to build out unique challenges and circuits using a custom-built toolset. The final creations can be shared online with the community where players can fight it out for leaderboard supremacy in a mode that promises a nearly endless supply of post-launch content. Creative types can choose their backdrop for the action and then decide which of the three main event types their concoction falls under: Gymkhana, Gate Crasher, and Smash Attack.

Gymkhana events offer players the ability to go freestyle by earning points and bonuses for pulling off tricks and combos with their rally cars. Gate Crasher is more of a traditional checkpoint race where players attempt to reach the final gate in the fastest time possible. Finally, Smash Attack tasks players with hitting designated inflatable objects that rack up points. Smash Attack stages can also have time penalty objects that must be avoided in order to earn the highest possible scores.

While each of the event types sounds rather straightforward when described as concepts, how they play out is much more chaotic thanks to the inventive or devious designs uploaded by community builders. The Playgrounds editor offers countless options for object placement while the Object Browser contains all the possible props or structures that can be used for event assembly. Navigating the editor and Object browser was simple and straightforward with the Xbox One S gamepad I used while playing.

Once you think you have your custom event ready to try out, you can drop into the game with a car and test it out. Obviously, higher quality events will require a good plan and lots of in-car testing. When an event in the editor is ready for prime time, you complete a run with the selected vehicle and then it gets uploaded for the community. To keep the leaderboards in check, all players must use the same ride that testing was completed with.

Hopping through the menu and jumping into Playgrounds events was simple and fast. As expected, the quality and polish varied between levels, but it was clear that the community’s brightest minds are going to produce loads of good content. While I found some of the Gate Crasher challenges frustratingly difficult to manage, I have no doubts that members of the Hard Game Club™ will be satisfied with the cruel, but fair designs that are sure to gain popularity

Gymkhana events offered the best opportunity to find out how the cars in Dirt 5 handle (as the build of the game provided was limited to Playground). Fans of Dirt 4 will likely be pleased, though Dirt Rally veterans will probably look elsewhere. The handling is very arcadey, which definitely fits the game’s aesthetic and the structure of the Playgrounds mode. 

Crossing it up

While the smaller arenas on display did not lend themselves to a deep dive into the visuals, the car models themselves looked really good. The game’s lighting and reflections were particularly strong. As a cross-generation game, it seems that Dirt 5 should be able to straddle the line between the aging consoles and the PS5/Xbox Series X. The versions of the game made for the new consoles have been announced to support 120Hz output, which should result in a very slick visual presentation and controller responsiveness that just wasn’t possible on older console hardware. With the more difficult Playgrounds events awaiting, precision input will be at a premium.

Dirt 5 and its Playground mode will launch on October 16, 2020, for Xbox One, PS4, and PC. The PS5 and Xbox Series X versions of the game will be launched later this year.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

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