I felt some initial trepidation toward Codemasters latest racing title, DiRT Showdown. Not because I didnâ€™t believe they are capable of putting out a great racing game - because their racing portfolio is growing ever larger and the stellar performances ever greater. And they did have enormous success with the Formula One license after all.
My hesitation stemmed from the fact that not only is the Colin McRae label no more (well that was gone with DiRT 3, which makes sense since the great man himself is no longer with us), but so was any attempt to be a rallying title. The DiRT series began with a stunning array of rallying, with a sprinkling of gymkhana and rallycross, and over the years the ratio has been flipped upside-down, to this latest version where point-to-point rallying is completely gone.
While this is not all bad - gymkhana and rallycross certainly deserve due credit for their heart stopping attention to high speed thrills, rather than the time based approach which many find too dull - I canâ€™t help but wonder where I will go for my traditional rallying fix now. In any case, DiRT Showdown wonâ€™t be that game...but it does provide something rather rare on current generation consoles, namely real crash and bash racing. DiRT Showdown is all about the thrills and spills - the bright lights, the demolition derby, the tricks and finesse in gymkhana, and more importantly the intense competition.
DiRT Showdown transports you into a series of tour events, with a range of challenges to choose from: demolition, gymkhana and racing. Winning these allows you to unlock more events, and ultimately progress through the tour to more advanced / difficult events. This is the same approach that has been applied in the past, largely because it works well. What becomes clear the minute you launch into your first event is that DiRT Showdown is not a title that takes itself too seriously...itâ€™s out to have fun. This is evident from the largely fictional cars in the game and the events, as well as the handling and graphic styling used.
The racing events are rough and tumble circuit races, as well as 8 ball races. The 8 ball races involve hurtling around a figure eight track which crosses over itself, which naturally causes complete carnage. This is an insane and thrilling mode because the race can completely alter within seconds. The straight circuits in the race-off events are as clean as it gets in DiRT Showdown (i.e. not very), but nonetheless the emphasis here is on winning a circuit race. Dominator race mode is about having the fastest times through sectors and gaining points for maintaining these throughout an event. Often when tailing your opponents you can only hope for them to get into a tangle themselves, allowing you to catch up...fortunately, this isnâ€™t rare.
The demolition events hit a soft spot, taking us back to the days of Demolition Derby. These events take full advantage of the damage model, placing players into a bowl or onto a platform where the goal is to destroy other cars, or push them off the platform. Another challenges the player to survive as long as possible. Each of these modes are excellent and fun, but even better online. The fact that the cars respawn takes away from the difficulty factor, but it adds to the fun factor, and overall seems a good choice given the direction DiRT Showdown has taken.
The gymkhana events challenge players to string together tricks, either to stack up points or head to head where you race against the likes of Ken Block. These modes are possibly the most challenging, really requiring players to concentrate and coax the car through tricky courses, which can be somewhat like threading a needle. Itâ€™s worth noting that only in gymkhana mode do players get to race some real cars, such as the Subaru Impreza, Ford Fiesta and Mitsubishi Lancer, amongst a few others.
The game looks and feels great but there is nothing very realistic about it. That said, itâ€™s still a pleasure to throw the car into a drift, or into a donut and then exit tidily. The graphics look great, particularly when there are fireworks and explosions going off around the track, such as when you hit a jump and flames rocket out of the platform as you launch. Furthermore the damage model is well implemented, with bits of the car flying off, doors hanging loose and bumpers crumpling. Each part of the car is destructible, and the cars as a whole have a total amount of damage they can take before they reset (a nice nod to the titleâ€™s arcade roots).
The multiplayer is a real highlight - mainly because itâ€™s more fun smashing up player controlled cars than it is getting one up on the AI. Online you have access to the same modes as offline, but some extras are thrown in - one real gem was the â€˜capture the flagâ€™ type mode where a player would pick up a treasure and have to be tagged by the other players, who try to steal the flag. Naturally all hell breaks loose as you try to keep away from other players in an exciting arena. Split-screen also makes an appearance, though as usual the game looks rather hideous in this mode - that said, itâ€™s nice to have the option, when too many games skip over providing it.
DiRT Showdown is an entirely different experience to many of the previous DiRT titles with traditional rallying now being completely wiped from the event list. This is a little sad, but in light of what DiRT Showdown is trying to achieve itâ€™s clearly not all bad. In itself it doesnâ€™t feel as though DiRT Showdown has as much content as weâ€™d like, but it does do a great job of bringing your friends (online and real) to the party to race against and this has to be commended. The crashes feel hard and real, and itâ€™s definitely an intense experience nudging an opponent off the top of a platform in the destruction derby modes, while trying to remain on it yourself. DiRT Showdown does a great job of bringing an action packed racing experience to the living room - but it wonâ€™t appeal to gamers looking for that rallying sim. Additionally it isnâ€™t focused on a racing career, such as the previous titles have been. But if that still sounds appealing, you wonâ€™t be disappointed....give it a try.