Dirt: Showdown is a different kind of Dirt, but it is still great
The Dirt series from Codemasters has had an interesting evolution since the first title arrived in 2007. Originally Colin McRae: Dirt, the game was filled with different events that featured a range of vehicles, such as rally cars, buggies and hill climbing big rigs. The sequel moved away from the traditional sport setup and went into the field of extreme sports, such as the X-Games, where rally events didn’t have the dominate focus by which the series is normally known. Codemasters took the feedback and made Dirt 3 more concentrated towards rally, but also threw in Gymkhana, an event that requires you to pull off skillful maneuvers in a constructed arena to gain points. It’s only been a year, but the next installment of the Dirt series is here. Named Dirt: Showdown, this sequel feels like a fully-fledged spin off (I guess that’s why it lacks a number) as it moves the Dirt series into the raw and mucky world of destruction derby.
A difference with Dirt: Showdown is its shift towards more arcade handling. Dirt was never a pure simulator for rally/dirt racing games; rather, it sat in between simulation and arcade racing, never too much of either. Once you experience the controls first hand while using nitro and see the forgiving handling, it’s clear that Dirt: Showdown aims to be more pick up and user friendly. I don’t mind that this spin-off has gone down this route because blasting around a corner at 80 MPH and drifting in the mud while some guy is on my tail, trying to get closer to ram me, feels exhilarating.
Showdown Tour is the main mode and consists of several events that cover a diverse range of racing. Returning are the Gymkhana events (named Hoonigan in this game) that you either loved or hated from Dirt 3. There are some slight changes to the formula for the Hoonigan mode as three modes make up this racing category. Trick Rush is basically the Gymkhana mode, with the same idea of pulling off as many tricks as possible in the allotted time given. Head 2 Head pits two racers together with their own obstacle course that they have to get through to be the first to finish – think super special stages in rally venues. The last Hoonigan is Smash Hunter, an event where you have to smash required colour blocks. These events are the weakest part of Dirt: Showdown. They are not bad, but just seem a bit out of place (just like in Dirt 3) compared the game’s main new type, Demolition.
Gameplay is much more engrossing in the Demolition events, where the spectacle of smashing metal on metal is required to win. There’s the typical Destruction Derby arena that pits cars to destroy each other to gain points, but Codemasters has thrown in some clever modes to put a twist on the fun of mangling up cars. Knock Out is one such game type. In this mode, all competitors start on an elevated platform and are rewarded points for forcing other cars off the edge. If you happen to get pushed off, you have to drive up the ramps to get back into the score zone. There are other modes, like hard target (survival) and 8-ball (race track with crossover points just waiting for people to collide into each other) that are quite self-explanatory, but still amusing to play.
Even the events that the game classes as “Race” aren’t safe from competitors colliding and bashing into each other. These lap based tracks are littered with signs, tires, ramps and barriers slyly waiting to catch you and send your car out of control. Mix them with the aggressive A.I. – quite possibly some of the best racing A.I. I’ve come across – and you have a cocktail for hectic, adrenaline filled racing. There’s never a quiet moment and racers always seem to be hot on your tail, tailgating you until the right moment to clip you. It can be annoying at times towards the end of the campaign when you have to do a whole race again because the A.I. took you out, but it’s a destruction derby race and it’s something that is bound to happen, so I kind of forgave it. The rewind feature that’s often in Codemasters racing games is absent for most events but Gymkhana, so no rewinding to “cheat” your way out of the smash in a race. Honestly, this made the crashes more personal for me, shouting “ARGH T**T!” when they make me their crash test dummy.
Working your way through the Showdown Tour is straight forward, with completed events opening up more. All this is displayed in tower blocks, presented with the well known Codemasters’ extravagant and stylish game menus. There’s nothing special about the way the career is done. It’s simple and straight to the point. Building on the social aspects, Codemasters allows you to send challenges to any of your friends from any of the career events. Think of the Autolog – although Codemasters calls theirs RaceNet – from Need for Speed and you’ll have an idea about how the leaderboards in Showdown Tour mode work. RaceNet can be used to check out your friends’ stats and what they are doing, plus gamers can take part in special RaceNet events. YouTube makes a return so you can upload your best crashes and wins to your channel.
As a distraction, Joyride makes its return and even features the same Battersea Power Station from Dirt 3, along with the new Yokohama Docks. It follows the same method as before, with each location containing 75 tasks to beat and hidden items to find. I personally didn’t think much of this mode in Dirt 3, and I still don’t think much of it now. It’s a feature that lets you drive around doing the required moves to complete challenges, but you’re doing the same moves over and over again and I just got bored of it.
One detail that must be noted is that license cars are absent from all events but Gymkhana. Original designed cars look close to clones of real cars, and I never felt that I was missing them. Tuning is also gone and replaced with a system that lets you spend cash to upgrade one of three stats to improve performance. Dirt: Showdown removes all things that stop you from doing what you want to do – some hardcore destruction racing.
Offline multiplayer is jammed with all the same race types for two players. If you take the game online, you can play these modes in team play or solo. Just like with Dirt 3, Showdown includes Party mode, a feature that can only be played in multiplayer. Party mode is huge fun because the game types are based around modes that would feel home in a first-person shooter. Did you ever think that you would be playing capture the flag with a rally car? Connection wise, I never had any problem with lag, as it was smooth during my afternoons playing the game online.
By now, we’ve come to expect brilliant looking racing games from Codemasters and Dirt: Showdown is no different. Tracks are filled with plenty of details that we take for granted. The cars smash brilliantly, with doors and bonnets breaking off and wheels flying away, leaving cars to create sparks on the ground with their metal leftovers. There’s a strange absence of the cockpit view – left with just the outside and bumper view – but I wonder if this is to send a message that Showdown isn’t a normal Dirt game. Cars sound good, as always from Codemasters, and license music makes up the soundtrack, featuring artists ranging from The Qemists, Danny Byrd and Nero. One detail that did bug me was the commentator. He comes out with some annoying lines and repeats phrases too much, such as speaking about the type of crashes or the action that’s going on. There’s only so much T-boning one guy can take before the commentator gets muted.
Dirt: Showdown is a different kind of Dirt. It’s a more raw and dirty Dirt that takes itself less seriously, but allows for people to have much more fun with its stress-free handling, arcade style gameplay and joyous destruction. Serious fans might be a little peeved that this series has gone this way, but it’s only been a year since Dirt 3, and this title is a spin-off, so don’t worry about your Dirt going away as I’m sure Dirt 4 will be next. If you want a game that brings back the pleasure of playing destruction derby, you should try Codemasters’ attempt. It will undoubtedly give you loud, banging entertainment, alone or with buddies.