Dirt Showdown Review
Written : Thursday, May 24, 2012
By: Richard Walker
Ever since DiRT 2 brought off-roading's 'extreme' aspects to the fore, embracing drivers like Travis Pastrana and Ken Block, the series has increasingly divided fans who've been screaming out for a return to the rally roots of old. There are those that love the OTT aspects and spectacle of the stunt-packed hoonigan and gymkhana events, as well as the variety of race types that this expanded outlook brought to the franchise. Then there are the purists that long for the simple mud and gravel of the original Colin McRae Rally games, with pure point-to-point rallying and none of the additional fripperies that DiRT brought to the table. DiRT Showdown is a strong statement of intent from Codemasters then, bringing the crash-happy extremity in spades, while DiRT 4 will hopefully look to return to the roots of the franchise with all that sliding around in the wet stuff.
Some also forget that while the DiRT series may have moved progressively further away from the rally games of old, there's never been a dip in quality. Codemasters has always been one of the most consistent developers of racing games in recent history, delivering back-to-back driving titles of unparalleled excellence. That's not a hyperbolic, overblown statement either. It's an indisputable fact. But with Codies shifting its focus to an out-and-out arcade racer for DiRT Showdown, has the studio created a product worthy of the DiRT label?
Masters of presentation, DiRT Showdown is another typically slick Codies' title that screams quality from the very moment you fire it up, sporting the usual brash DiRT style with bombastic commentary from Mr. Gnarly Rad, Christian Stevenson and lovely, bold menus. DiRT Showdown might be a spin-off, but it's every bit the fully-featured DiRT game as you'd normally expect, with plenty of different race types to choose from and one of the strongest multiplayer offerings yet. It's all topped off with RaceNet, a feature that in turn adds another dimension of connectivity to the game.
Using RaceNet you can issue challenges to friends and build your own persistent profile that'll move with you between Codemasters Racing titles, so you can get yourself set up for DiRT 4. If you're issued a challenge and beat it, you can earn extra cash that can be spent on vehicle upgrades and purchasing new rides to expand your garage, but of course the lion's share of currency is to be earned in the crux of DiRT Showdown. The Showdown Tour is where it's at in single-player though, offering an extensive selection of events to play through in exotic locations around the globe, like Miami, Nevada, Aspen, Yokohama and erm... Battersea.
Progression is simple, highlighting the fact that Showdown is DiRT at its most arcadey and stripped down. It doesn't even pretend to do anything beyond providing pure racing entertainment, with pyrotechnics and fireworks going off as you speed around courses, plough through obstacles and smash into your rivals. It's bright, uncomplicated fun that's wonderfully accessible to arcade racing fans of all kinds, starting things off gently with the Pro Tour, before progressively pouring on the heat as you rise through the ranks. From Pro to AllStar, Champion and Legend Tours, the racing action never gets too demanding though, and you're always earning cash to buy new cars and upgrades, keeping you constantly hooked. There is a slight lack of depth here though, as you merely jump from event to event and earn medals. That's about the long and short of it.
It goes without saying that if you're looking for the simple mud and gravel-based thrills of past DiRT titles, you won't find it here. Showdown is entirely devoted to the wilder, 'extreme' aspects introduced in the most recent DiRT games, so hoonigan and gymkhana events make a comeback with licensed vehicles and Ken Block in attendance, alongside new, more destructive disciplines like Rampage, 8 Ball and Knock Out. It's these events that most closely resemble the good old days of Destruction Derby, with Rampage bringing back the reckless abandon of smashing into other cars in a huge arena. Who needs depth anyway?
Like every other DiRT game before it, Showdown handles brilliantly, striking the perfect balance between weight and realism, while maintaining a level of immediacy that makes it so easy to pick up and play. Showdown Tour is where the majority of the single-player takes place, with full-contact Race-Offs, Head 2 Head trick events, Smash Hunter hoonigan, Domination (arguably the weakest of Showdown's offerings) and the full-fat demolition stuff to work through. Joyride meanwhile gives you the grounds of the Battersea Power Station Compound and Yokohama Docks to tear around, looking for hidden packages and completing missions. It's a good meaty offering and doesn't skimp on the content. The same goes for multiplayer.
Consisting of both solo and team events, DiRT Showdown's multiplayer is pretty expansive, running the whole gamut of OTT events, from Race-Off, Domination, Head 2 Head, Knock Out, Rampage and 8 Ball to special multiplayer events like the stunt-packed, hoonigan-based Trick Rush and the frantic jostling for a flag in both Transporter and Smash and Grab. In Transporter, you have to deliver the flag to your team's base to score a point, while in Smash and Grab you need to hold on to the loot for as long as humanly possible, without having it stolen by the opposition.
Obviously, the destructive events are even more insane in multiplayer, and modes like Speed Skirmish are incredibly intense as each player races to collect randomly designated checkpoints in one of the game's open compound arenas. Truly variety is the spice in DiRT Showdown multiplayer, as it is in the single-player Showdown Tour and Joyride modes, making Codies' latest racing foray every bit as content-laden and stuffed with features as its forebears. If not more so. Suffice to say that multiplayer is a blast, constantly raising a smirk as you go head-to-head with your rivals, racing and crashing for the win.
Showdown's trophy list is another great effort from Codemasters too, consisting of a good spread across all of the game's modes, allocating a good share to the Showdown Tour and Joyride, with a few neat little gameplay challenges thrown in for good measure. Clearly there's plenty of thought and consideration gone into this list, and it'll be a fun one to complete. Levelling your Fanbase Level online to level 20 and upgrading every car to 100% will pose a bit of a grind, as will completing the Joyride missions and collecting all of the hidden packages. If it's longevity you're after though, the trophies will keep you going when you've finished most of the core stuff.
DiRT Showdown is yet another brilliantly assured racer from Codemasters, building upon the blockbusting showtime elements of its predecessors, with more bombast and pizazz beyond what was introduced in DiRT 2 and 3. The purists will lament the complete lack of off-road racing, although the Race-Off, 8 Ball and Domination modes still present a modicum of relatively traditional driving competition to engage in until DiRT 4 shows up. The Showdown Tour is somewhat brief and lacking in depth or complexity, but don't overlook DiRT Showdown just because it isn't DiRT 4. Despite the balls-out spectacle, fireworks and wanton destruction, DiRT Showdown still has a lot to offer. Hell, the destruction derby of Rampage is worth the price of entry alone. Just don't go expecting any subtlety now, will you? Kaboom!
Hyperactive techno, rock, hip-hop and dance is hardly surprising for this kind of game, but it fits well enough. Christian Stevenson is back for the super-rad commentary, which like the soundtrack, fits Showdown like a snug crash helmet. Or something. Engines are suitably raspy and stuff.
Yet another achingly gorgeous effort from Codemasters, DiRT Showdown is a real looker. Sunlight gleams off pristine paintwork, before it's scratched and ground to crap. The damage model is stunning and the menus and presentation is second to none.
Typically superb stuff once again from the racing experts. DiRT Showdown is an unbridled joy to play, with great handling and some immensely entertaining score-based crashing. Multiplayer is marvellous too.
Showdown Tour is a little too straightforward and easy to complete, whereas collecting packages and completing missions in Joyride can be exhausted in a few sessions. Two player local split-screen and online multiplayer is where it's at, and batting challenges back and forth between friends adds endless rivalries. Leaderboards, RaceNet and YouTube integration, as well as the range of events and a huge garage of fictional and licensed vehicles round out a generous package.
A great trophy list that encourages you to dip into everything Showdown has to offer, with only a couple of nasty grinding tasks to complete.
Codemasters has delivered once again with DiRT Showdown. It's another superlative racer, even if it is a little one note. Unapologetically brash, bold and loud, DiRT Showdown is Codemasters' racing id unleashed. And it's freakin' great.