Developer: Codemasters Racing Studio
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 1-2 split-screen, online multiplayer 2–8.
This is the fourth game in the DiRT series, the franchise that succeeded the world famous Colin McRae Rally games. DiRT Showdown strips away all semblance of simulation so that engine tuning, tyre choices, gear ratios and suspension settings are absent.
Make no mistake this is quite a departure for Codemasters and sets us up with an arcade all–action smash & crash fest, but rather than going for massive explosions and impossible physics like so many other arcade racers, it’s replete with Codemasters sublime (if simplified) vehicle handling, crash physics, extensive bodywork damage and raucous engine samples. With its varied selection of crash-bang events (including out-and-out demolition derby) Showdown feels more like a tribute or ‘spiritual successor’ to Reflections’ (who went on to make the Driver games) Destruction Derby games (on the original PlayStation) than an actual sequel to DiRT 3—and once you get it into your head that this isn’t DiRT 4 the thinking behind Showdown is no bad thing.
In keeping with the X-Games atmosphere and arcade-like feel there’s no cockpit view or manual gearbox, which might upset some. Showdown has some very believable AI opponents, that sometimes make mistakes and spin out on their own, as well as mix it up and show convincingly aggressive behaviour that sees them trying (and often succeeding) to spin you out, which can be really annoying when they do it on the last turn before the finish line! Fortunately the physical reactions between your vehicles are extremely equal (unlike some games in which the AI opponents are glued to the track), and so there’s nothing to stop you from doing the same to them. In keeping with the arcadey ethos you also have a limited boost gauge that recharges slowly, and wise use of this can make the difference between winning and losing.
As you'd expect from a Codemastres game online racing, both head to head and against ghosts, is supported throughout the various events; Demolition consists of Rampage, Knockout & 8-Ball, Hoonigan (Trick Rush & Head 2 Head), Racing (Race Off & Domination) and Party events; Transporter (capture the flag), Smash & Grab (tag with cars) and finally Speed Skirmish (collect the checkpoints in a maze-like arena) can be played solo or as a team. The game seems a little under populated as I speak, but I did manage to form a party amongst friends and take them into a team game online, which is a nice feature. Unlike most of Codemasters’ previous online racing games in which contact was frowned upon, in Showdown it’s part & parcel of the gameplay, a legitimate tactic in some events, and positively encouraged in others. Online Showdown plays really well, lag was barely evident and it felt just like playing the AI opponents in the career mode, with added profanities.
One big gripe I have with the game is that the Showdown Tour (career) events have one prize fund and that’s all, so if you replay an event you don’t win any extra prize money. This means that (without doing the maths) you won’t be able to earn enough money to buy all the vehicles in the game and upgrade them without playing online or winning a lot of challenges set by friends, and that seems a bit silly to me. What if you don’t like playing online, what if none of your friends have the game? So not only does Showdown step ever further away from the Colin McRae game’s rally-bred philosophy, but it seems to be forcing rather than tempting players to play online as well, which won’t sit well with McRae fans of old, and you can take that to the bank.
Apart from some wildly entertaining online races the Joyride mode is possibly the most fun I had in the game. Set in two HUGE play areas; Battersea Compound (will be familiar to DiRT 3 veterans) and Yokohama Docks, that are split into 6 areas that you unlock by completing Hooning challenges (jumps, smashes, slaloms, powerslides, donuts, much like the Gymkhana events in DiRT 3) and finding hidden packages. It’s a great idea and a good entry point into Hooning as the challenges range in difficulty from “easy-peasy” to “how the heck do I do that?!”
The vehicles look absolutely superb, with intricate detail and believable gaudy (and sometimes tatty and amateurish) paint jobs depending on the type of event. They dent, crumple and dirty-up in a pleasing way, but sometimes self-destruct in such an over-the-top fashion that it would appear that doors and other body panels are held on not with bolts, screws, rivets or even duct tape, but with chewing gum-and not the good stuff either. The various other environmental effects; lighting, weather, reflections, dust, tyre smoke, skid marks and even furrows in loose surfaces all help make the game look very pleasing to the eye, particularly in replays.
The vehicle roster is a really diverse mixture, from the classic Mini Cooper S and Ford Escort Mk II (both of which are surprisingly competitive and useful) through the Ford Fiesta, Scion tC, Subaru Impreza WRX STi GR, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X Jun, Saturn Sky, Ford Mustang GT, to a host of fictional off-road vehicles and stock car racers, even including a ’60s Le Mans-style racer called the Lombardi 336 LM (looks a lot like the stunning Ferrari 330 P4 I had a model of when I was a kid). The handling, power, and toughness (obviously particularly important in some events) genuinely varies between the models, and certain cars are definitely better suited to particular events.
You can understand the Demolition arenas all looking alike but despite using the Ego engine well and looking lovely the race tracks are all a bit too similar (with the exception of the Baja tracks that are recycled from Dirt 3) with only backdrops to distinguish one from another. They lack the wild outdoorness (it’s a word), elevation changes and spectacular scenery of games like FlatOut Ultimate Carnage and or Codemasters' very own 'open world' racer Fuel. This isn’t really a problem unless you're one of those who sits down to play the game for hours on end to finish the Showdown Tour career mode in two or three sittings, at which point despite a great deal of effort on Codemasters part the game can get to feel repetitive-but honestly, what racing/rallying game doesn’t?
After playing Showdown for a week or so I have to say that I’ve grown to really like it. It’s an interesting hotchpotch of events and disciplines, and, as long as you don’t think of it as a sequel to DiRT 3, it’s all good.
- Excellent visuals. - Fast and violent racing. - Perhaps surprisingly, all events work well online. - Joyride mode.
- The demolition events’ scoring seems a bit ‘hit and miss,’ - Gets repetitive. - The tracks could have been more exciting to race around. - Virtually forced to race online. - Feels a bit "dumbed down."