Developer: Codemasters Racing
Publisher: Codemasters Racing
Platform: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PS3, PC
Release Date: Out Now (12th June in US)
Price: £39.99/ $39.99 (Available Here)
If players thought the transition from Colin McRae Rally to DiRT was a big one, the change of scene of DiRT to DiRT Showdown will likely shunt them for six into a conveniently placed pile of tyres. Gone are the rally-driving races against the clock; in their place, no holds barred street races and collision-packed destruction derbies. This game puts the DiRT in dirty play, with no rules other than to cross the finish line first if it’s a race, or cause the most destruction if it’s anything else. Ready for the showdown?
Although it’s clear from how established it is in such a short development time that the game has borrowed heavily from DiRT 3, there’s something about it which feels different that I can’t quite put my finger on. Whether it’s just the un-DiRT-3-like-ness of the situations you find yourself put in during DiRT Showdown or whether there’s been some subtle changes to handling under the hood, I’m not sure. Certainly handling leans towards the Gymkhana side of things, with that wild, unpredictable streak coming through when cornering, although a number of the muscle cars you use in destruction derby events and full contact races are relatively reliable.
The major new change to driving is the addition of boost. Before, a DiRT game could be described as a simulation; not so with this one. Blue flames erupt from the exhaust and the car accelerates rapidly – regardless of whether you’re boosting to get ahead or to smash into an opponent. You’re given a boost gauge which gradually recharges through periods of non-use, along with an accompanying health bar for the car – something else new and decidedly arcade for the game.
With DiRT Showdown the series is veering to the arcade side of the road, albeit intentionally. It’s hard to believe some of these events take place in real life, although I imagine the carnage had been exaggerated for the purpose of the game. The game definitely relies on players’ love for mangling their car and those of their opponents and I’m not denying the carnage comes with a sense of satisfaction through catering to the destructive tendencies of us all. Although ramming cars is the kind of menial task that doesn’t require a whole lot of brain power, both races and shunt-fests are more fun when played against another intelligent human being as opposed to AI.
Multiplayer supports up to eight players online and two locally, and further developments have been made to the online network. New this year comes Codemasters Racenet, an online service to track data and pick up bonus vehicles, as well as the option to seamlessly send a challenge directly after an event to someone on your friends list. YouTube integration also makes a return from DiRT 3 should any skilful or unusual occurrence compel you to share a video with the world.
A multi-tiered tour mode provides the option of some structure to your play, guiding you through the different kinds of events in various locations. That said, it is over and done with fairly quickly unless you’re the kind of person who gets hung up on coming in first place in every single event. There’s also ‘Joyride’ mode, which is essentially a couple of skate parks for the car, replacing the wooden board on wheels with a metal structure with an engine – on wheels. It plays a lot like one of the trailers for the game, with you going over jumps to a thumping dubstep bassline. Ultimately, though, it’s hard to differentiate between hoonigan and gymkhana and the stunt-based trials no longer feel special as they no longer feel new. Plus they were always an acquired taste anyway.
Visuals & Audio:
Fortunately the entire soundtrack isn’t dominated by dubstep, with some of the rock and country music you see in destruction derby promo reels thrown in for good measure, either to play in the menus of to go underneath the roar of your engine. Players of Burnout may recall the radio DJ who came over the car radio when driving and how he gradually got more irritating as you played the game long enough for him to be repeating himself. There isn’t the same feeling of the open road in DiRT Showdown, more so a feeling of closed-off organised events, so although there’s no annoying radio host there is the next best thing: an annoying commentator. His exclamations of ‘T-Bone!’ soon begin to grate.
Visuals, on the other hand, are looking similar to DiRT 3 with one main difference: authentic battle damage. If you’re a fan of rear-ending people (cheeky!) you can see near enough the entire front of the car bent in on itself. Or after a collision from the side what once were clean lines become misshapen and wonky. As previously mentioned, there’s some sadistic pleasure to be had from mangled metal, shattered glass and scratched-off paint jobs.
Speaking of paint jobs, there is a good selection of liveries and designs for the cars. They range from classic looking muscle car get-ups, to colourful artwork or sponsorship emblazoned, sticker covered more traditional-looking designs. In the end the cars bear little resemblance to the cool decals they started out with when they roll into the holding pen, bruised and battered, but nonetheless Codemasters have provided choice and design when it comes to making these mean machines look the part.
People weren’t sure what to expect when DiRT Showdown was unveiled, boost and all, but now the game is here I can reveal it’s entertaining while still having plenty of room for improvement. It’s similar in nature to Burnout, while not quite being at that level yet, though I guess the fact that the development team didn’t get it perfect first go proves they are in fact human. Even though it eventually grows tiresome, the carnage lets us fulfil our destructive urges virtually before we do something silly that we’ll regret in real life.