A Disappointing Entry to a Great Series
Growing up as a kid, I had a varied exposure to racing games. From the ripe age of four, I started playing the original Midtown Madness and its sequel, Test Drive 5, Grand Turismo 3, and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (the original). While some of those games have a special place in my heart, Dirt 2 is undoubtedly one of my favorite racing games. The feel of the racing is great with its mix between realism and arcade handling, alongside the fact that rally racing is one of the best racing sports there is. So when Codemasters announced that Dirt Showdown was going to be a demolition derby style racing game, I was cautiously optimistic about their ability to pull it off: and I feel the same way walking away from the game.
When you start the game you’ll instantly feel right at home if you’ve played either Dirt 2 or 3. The style of the menus, loading screens, and the slightly-obnoxious camera pans are all reminiscent of the previous games; even the announcer that talks over the menus is back albeit with a new voice actor. You are presented with a few options when you start the game: career mode, joyride, and multiplayer.
We’ll start with the career mode of the game first since it’s where you’ll find most of the things that make Showdown special. The career mode is broken down into 4 tiers which the player must progress through to beat the game. Each tier has its own set of locations that the events take place in, and they each contain 16 events and then a final event to beat that specific tier. The way the events are broken down is that 2 are available to you at the beginning; earning a medal – which requires getting first, second, or third place – on one of those two opens up a new event. This continues until you unlock the final event, which means that over the course of each tier you’ll have an opportunity to skip one event without earning a medal on it and still proceed. The actual career setup feels fine since story isn’t something that the DiRT series is known for, and the ability to skip an event helps when you get stuck at one of the really bad ones, although you’ll probably never have to do so.
The events are the really meat of the game and when it comes to the events, they are broken down into three types: racing, demolition, and hoonigan. Each type of event comes with its own set of cars that can only be used for that specific event type. Cars are unlocked as you progress through the career and can be upgraded for money that is earned by beating the events. The problem with the car system is that buying cars that have been unlocked is made nearly completely unnecessary, especially in the racing mode. Because there is the upgrade system in place, I found that I could simply fully upgrade a cool looking cart that was the one of the two that was immediately unlocked in the game and use that to win all the races. In the demolition mode, buying new cars has more incentive because a bulkier car can take more damage, but again fully upgrading the first car was good enough. It should also be noted that the cars used for the racing and demolition modes are fake cars: none of them actually exist although inspiration can be seen (similar to the Grand Theft Auto cars). The exception to this is the hoonigan cars because they are real, licensed cars such as the Ford Fiesta, the Subaru Impreza, and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X. The hoonigan cars also cannot be upgraded, so to get a better car you actually have to buy one, although the differences seem minute. Overall, the variety of the cars is pretty good, although you’ll never be forced to see any. Halfway through the game was the first time I bought any cars for the racing and demolition modes and that was to see if there was any difference. As for the hoonigan mode, I actually really like the car selection, which again ranges from standard rally cars – that were mentioned before – to cars such as the original Mini Cooper S.
The different types of events each contain about a few different events which all have their own objectives. The race events are what we’ve seen from previous DiRT games; there is race off, domination, and elimination. The race off event is just a typical rally cross event that has eight drivers racing around a track to complete a certain amount of laps. The domination and elimination events are both just spin-offs of that concept. Domination has the track split into 4 different sections, and drivers to get the best time on each section with points being awarded corresponding to your position on that section of track and the player with the most points after 3 laps winning. Elimination has drivers racing around a track and the player is last place after every 15 seconds is eliminated with the last man standing being the winner. One of the new additions to the game is boost, which allows you to get a bit of extra speed. While it doesn’t change the game drastically, it does make it a bit easier to come out of corners at speed. These events all work well and are fun, although I expected them to be so since they’ve been present in the last few Dirt games and were fun in those games as well.
The demolition events are new and are one of the things that differentiate Showdown from previous titles. There are 4 types of demolition events that all focus around a single idea: smash other cars. As you’d expect there is your typical demolition derby event (called rampage) that has players facing off in an arena getting points for every hit and every car they total. One nice thing is that if you are taken down, you at least get to respawn. Knock out is similar to rampage in that it is a demolition derby, except that it takes place on an elevated platform and you can get additional points for knocking players out of the ring. Both of these events are timed (usually 3 minutes) and the last 30 seconds are double points. Personally, these events were not that fun, and I dreaded having to do them to continue the career. The problem is that even if you are in first place, when double point time comes around in the last 30 seconds of the match, you can easily lose that lead. Also, the game takes its sweet time respawning you into the match that wastes precious time and will have you hammering buttons wanting to get back in. Speaking of bad times, hard target is probably one of the worst events in the game. Hard target has the player trying to avoid other drivers striving to survive for the longest time in order to win while drivers are being added to the match periodically. The concept is good, but the problem comes from something that plagues the whole demolition event type: once you get hit once, it is extremely difficult to recover before you are again smashed by another driver. This mode essentially comes down to luck that none of the drivers hit you, because once one of them gets a good spin on you, they all do and that will end the match very quickly.
There is one great addition to the game though: 8 ball. 8 ball is similar to the race off event and has you completing laps and trying to come in first except the tracks are raced using demolition cars because they cross over themselves. So while you’re trying to come in first, you are also trying to avoid other drivers on the track. While this seems like it would be frustrating, it actually is a lot of fun. Even when you do get hit, you can usually catch up to the other drivers before too long, although it does have the same problem that once you get hit, everyone behind you hits you as well. The only real problem with this mode is that when you hit another driver, a huge alert comes out yelling “SIDE SWIPE!” or “T-BONE” and it wouldn’t be that bad except it blocks the road in front of you and it doesn't pause to say it either: the game keeps going. This is a problem that is present is the other racing type events too and can be extremely annoying, especially going around a turn with another car on you tailgate.
Finally, there are the hoonigan events, which are probably the best part of the game. The first type of hoonigan event is trick rush which has players completing tricks in an allotted amount of time to win the match. The second event is the head-to-head event which has two mirrored courses that players drive through completing certain tasks at certain points while racing towards the finish at the same time. Finally, there is the gate smashing event which has players in an open arena knocking down certain coloured gates while racing against the clock. All of these events are personally things that I find fun, and they also have the distinction of being the only events that get rewinds like the previous games. The one problem is that I can’t really name these as a huge positive for Showdown because they have been basically ripped from Dirt 3, levels and all.
Moving on, we also have the Joyride events which is another example of some fun hoonigan driving that was ripped straight from the last game. There are two levels in Joyride, one being a DC factory, and the other a shipyard, both of which were featured in the last Dirt game. On both of these levels, there are 75 missions to complete which have you jumping through the air, doing donuts and spins around the maps, and speeding around obstacles, and there is also collectibles to find on both maps which unlock rewards when you collect them all. Again, these are both fun to play, but they have no real staying power and are really only fun for the first 30 minutes you play them before burning out.
Finally, there is the multiplayer mode which has a few different modes then the single player game. There is Smash & Grab, which is an oddball type game where whoever holds onto “the loot” for the longest wins and smashing other cars gets you the loot. There is also transporter, which is CTF, and then there is speed skirmish, which has players driving through 6 check points before heading to the finish to win. I didn’t play much multiplayer but it seemed like it might be fun for a while.
A few odds and ends: for one, the graphics of the game are very pretty, and the cars and dust look great, although this isn’t surprising given how great DiRT 3 looked. The soundtrack to the game is also not bad, although there are few tracks that I’d honestly want to listen to outside of the game. Also, the loads times in the game are pretty poor. I found that even on a high-end PC, the game took at least a good 30 to 45 seconds to load. The racing and hoonigan events weren’t too bad, but the demolition events always caused the game to lock up and go into “not responding” on my PC until it finally decided to work again. This becomes an even bigger pain in the ass when you’re restarting a rampage event for the fifth time in a row and it takes a minute each time to load. This is really something that should have been worked out pre-release.
In conclusion, Dirt Showdown isn’t a bad game, but it isn’t a good game either. Most of the demolition events that make the game unique aren’t fun to play (save for 8 ball) and the stuff that is good about the game is something that can be found in the previous games. One of the biggest problems though, is that the game just feels like a cheaper downloadable title rather than a full $60 retail game. If you are really itching for a new Dirt game, then I’d at least wait till this drops in price, and if you weren’t a fan to start with, then I’d stay away from the game and go back and get a cheap copy of DiRT 3.