Hopefully not a glimpse of things to come.
Dirt Showdown takes an interesting and bold move in a franchise that is known for it's quality controlling and fast paced off road rally racing that doesn't necessarily pay off, but why?First it's probably worth mentioning that I would consider myself a fan of the Dirt franchise, not to the extent that I will rush out and purchase each game day one, but enough to eventually get around to playing the latest entries. With that in mind I didn't have particularly high hopes for Dirt Showdown, which in my opinion takes the least interesting sections from Dirt 3, the gymkhana or 'hooning' as the game insists on calling it, from the side lines and places it into the limelight
To make up for the lack of racing we are given some semi successful modes such as Rampage, which can best be described as the awesome and classic game Destruction Derby updated for today. It's a lot of fun and while it can sometimes come down to luck a lot more than skill it's a neat little distraction, as is the variant mode Knock-Out, which scores the player for their ability to knock competitors off an elevated play surface that can be seen as some kind of auto sumo ring. Modes such as 8-Ball however suffer from the biggest issue I have with this game; so much of it is about luck. It's not uncommon when playing 8-Ball to have your race ended prematurely because of a random A.I car that side swipes you during one of the many cross track sections the mode is centred around. Early in a race this can be just a minor setback, but in some of the later races where your expected to race 8 laps around some of these courses it becomes downright depressing to have 7 laps of flawless driving wasted because of something that you have no control over. This wouldn’t be such a big issue however if not for the fact that the ability to rewind mid race that the series has become known for has been taken out of most of the modes of play.
Racing hasn't been completely removed from the series however, but what is left of it is almost entirely recycled from Dirt 3. Throughout the entire Showdown mode I don't think I noticed any unique or new locations (with the exceptions of San Francisco for Rampage and 8-Ball tracks and possibly the Miami track). Instead you’re driving around old tracks such as Tokyo, L.A, Michigan and Finland with only minor cosmetic changes to track layout in the form of a few oddly placed tire stacks and the occasional ramp which are best avoided unless you want to slow down.
This gives the Showdown mode, which is the main attraction the game has to offer, the unfortunate feeling that you've seen it all before and it's a feeling that creeps over you far too soon. After just the first of the four tournaments on offer I couldn't help but feel I had seen all the game had to show me, which makes it lucky that the career mode feels a lot shorter than the usual Dirt game. Rather than keeping me occupied for a few days of solid play, I managed to finish the entire Showdown mode with all gold’s in one sitting of just under 8 hours. Obviously I'm an outlier when it comes to finishing that mode in one sitting, but I put it down more to a compulsion to finish all games rather than anything in particular that was keeping me hooked to Dirt Showdown. This is more evident the further into Showdown mode you get, with each event requiring one, then two and finally three races to complete. This isn't really any different to how other games in the series have done it but rather than a new or interesting track to race on each time, you are instead treated to a track, then that track in reverse and then finally a slight variation of that track that varies so little that it's actually hard to remember what is different about it only moments after you've played it.
Graphically the game looks just as nice as Dirt 3, with some really nice car models of both licensed cars and for what I think is a series first, original cars. The original cars however run the gambit from interesting and fun old bangers with some really creative liveries to cars that wouldn't look out of place (design wise) in early burnout games, looking as close as they dare go to recognisable, licensed models. It’s also worth mentioning that the number of licensed cars is much lower than in previous entries at around 7 or 8 in total.
The sound design in the game is all over the place, with the majority of the soundtrack being a mix of Dubstep and rock music that wouldn't sound out of place in a WWE game. Similarly, the sound effects in game, from car engines to the noise as you smack into another car is great but constantly undermined by the whiny and ever present commentator who despite only having about 15 lines of original dialogue, all of which is spoken in an annoyingly stereotypical American "frat bro" tone is insistent on repeating them over and over again. Being told at the end of a race that it was an "Epic win bro!" is not to my taste and had me grating my teeth when thinking about the past of the series.
Overall Dirt Showdown isn't a bad game, it's just a disappointment. The new modes such as Rampage, Knock-out and Smash Hunter feel like, packaged together with the smaller roster of cars and the few tracks available to them would of made a neat downloadable game to keep us tided over while waiting for Dirt 4. The cynic in me can't help but feel that at one point this was the case, until someone higher up decided they wanted the full cash injection of a retail release and stuffed in previous Dirt 3 content with a few minor visual changes, but I really hope I'm wrong there. Here’s to hoping Dirt 4 is a more traditional Dirt game.