On paper DiRT Showdown reads like an arcade racing game dream come true. Developed by the same guys that brought us the nearly perfect DiRT 3, this spin-off of the series combines the classic presentation, superb visual style and incredible handling and physics of the other DiRT games with some new ideas. Instead of off-road racing, we now have destruction derbies, figure eight loop tracks and plenty of metal being smashed. Think of this as Codemasters’ version of Destruction Derby and you get the idea. What we end up with is a solid racer that feels less like a DiRT game, and more like an experiment missing a few key elements.
The one thing you can always recognize when you boot up Codemasters’ DiRT series is the presentation. They have some of the best menus and UIs in the genre. It is also readily apparent that online plays a huge role in Showdown. From the get-go you are presented with YouTube logins and social clubs to sign up for. If you choose to ignore, the game will remind you repeatedly over the course of your game. It is honestly best to just sign up for these things to curtail the incessant needling.
As I mentioned before this is not your ordinary DiRT game. This time around you will be participating in destruction derby-type modes such as figure-eight racing (the loop where you cross paths and chaos can ensue), king-of-the-hill type domination events and, of course, just smashing into each other in an oval. They have also brought back the Gymkhana mode from DiRT 3 but re-dubbed it “Hoonigan” for some peculiar reason. The tour mode remains largely untouched as you progress through each race earning medals and unlocking new events; it is just the events that have changed.
Standard racing remains much like you remember, with the handling Codemasters has become known for. All the cars grip the track with a nice weight to them, and crashes are spectacular; some of the best damage modeling in the business. The Domination mode is like a king of the hill match in which you try to force opponents off the raised platform to earn points. Destruction Derby is exactly what you would expect, and to be honest, the new Hoonigan mode truly feels like it was directly lifted from the previous game. There is plenty of diversity here, but it comes with its own set of baggage.
First and foremost, the Destruction Derby and Domination modes are plagued with a lack of consequence. Instead of fighting for your life and driving backwards trying to keep your car alive, you simply respawn. Think of it like a deathmatch in your favorite FPS game and get the idea. Domination is the same. Falling off the platform is only a minor convenience so you never have to worry about momentum carrying you off, simply drive right back up. This takes away some of the finality of events like this present in other games. It also erases the dynamic of their appeal both online and off.
The game also takes a step backwards when it comes to the vehicles on offer. There are only a dozen or so models, and most of them not based on real vehicles. The upgrade system has also taken a backseat, now offering only three areas of upgrade, so your cash is less important this go-around. Liveries make a return, but honestly I would have rather had a more in-depth vehicle tweaking system. A lot of Showdown feels like a stripped-down version of Codemasters’ more complete racers.
Finally, one of the most annoying aspects I ran into in the Tour mode is the AI. Often times the game had you lapping opponents in races, but completely dominating you in other events. There is no happy medium here. Dropping the difficulty down to easy makes some events far too simple, while others are still ridiculously tedious. I ran into this on more than one occasion and mostly during events outside of racing. The computer always seems to get that slight advantage at just the right time, making going back and getting all Gold medals a royal pain in the butt.
A lot of that is remedied when you hop online, though. All the events are here, and for the most part, they work well. The racing is much more interesting when playing against human players. That isn’t to say it comes without baggage. The other modes such as Destruction Derby and Domination have some weird latency issues. You will see cars teleporting around the map at times and flashing in place. This makes the accuracy required to really nail them frustrating at times. When it works, it is immensely enjoyable; when it doesn’t, it becomes a chore. Combine that with a small number of opponents and you get a simply average online experience.
The game looks great. If there is one thing Codemasters does well, it is presentation. I already mentioned the slick menu system, but everything else fits right in. The car models are immensely detailed, and the damage is incredible. Seeing two cars collide and swap paint is brutal. The tracks are varied enough to make them recognizable, and the frame rate keeps a solid clip going. The tone in Showdown though, feels brown and dirty and it fits the motif of the game. The presentation and graphics are one area you really can’t knock Showdown on too much.
Audio is not quite as impressive, but it gets the job done. The soundtrack is still fueled by adrenaline and speed. Heavy rock tracks mixed with some meaty techno fit the bill, and the announcer also returns. He’s not quite as annoying this go around, but still not being able to fully mute him is annoying since he feels the need to constantly spout out some truly ridiculous phrases.
DiRT Showdown is a solid racer that feels like it should be better than it ended up. On paper, I should love this game, but I felt it starting to wear out its welcome after a few hours. I also felt less motivated to keep pushing through the tour mode. If you know what you are getting into, it is definitely a solid title, just not something that will keep you playing for months to come. DiRT 3 is still one of my favorite racers this generation, and if you have the means, I would recommend sticking with that until the next proper entry in the series hits. If you are in the mood for something different, I definitely recommend giving Showdown a look.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.