DiRT Showdown Hands-On Preview – Pains, Flames And Automobiles
Written Friday, January 27, 2012 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Since the original DiRT graced our consoles way back in 2007, the franchise has been going through a bit of a transition. From being an out-and-out off-road rally game, to slowly encompassing more untraditional off-road events and finally taking on gymkhana in DiRT 3; it's never really stayed still for that long. That disappointed the traditional rally purist locked deep away in our hollow, cavernous hearts. In fact, it's a franchise that's had more facelifts than Sharon Osbourne herself. That's all about to change with DiRT Showdown though as the franchise finally bows to the demands of its fans and splinters in two. On the one hand, the crazy one with gold rings and diamond bracelets, DiRT Showdown; the other hand, with sweaty palms and dirty fingernails, DiRT 4 (or whatever it's called)... and we couldn't be happier.
In my day - which isn't as long back as you think you cheeky swine - SSD stood for solid-state drive, or at the very least (read, best) Swedish Softpornography Directory, but that's about to change. As far as you know now, SSD stands for 'Speed'; 'Style'; and 'Destruction,' the three core tenets of Showdown. The speed focus is in part down to the game's new boost mechanic – going fast is fun, right? – while the style refers to the "hoonigan" events, or as Codies are calling it, "gymkhana 2.0," and the destruction refers to smashing the shit out of anything that moves. It's as simple as that. DiRT Showdown is looking to put the entertainment back into sports entertainment and they're doing that by ripping up the rule book and going as over-the-top as they can without making it too ridiculous. So expect pyrotechnics, fireworks, crowds galore, commentators blaring updates over the PA system and more neon than a Vegas strip joint. After all, it's still meant to be believable.
Each of the three disciplines have entirely different and modified motors to get behind the wheel of, as well as different focuses: the straight up races – which are part of the speed pillar – not only introduce a boost mechanic into the fray, but they promote aggressive racing, sometimes underhanded driving as well, by rewarding you with boost as a result of said aggressive driving. The hoonigan aspects have been given more of a centre seat this time – if that's possible – with a bigger free-roam arena set in Yokohama, which is four times the size of Battersea, has hidden packages to nab, missions to complete and more of an emphasis on exploration. Last but not least, the destruction aspect – which ties into the straight up races too – revolves around a series of destruction fuelled modes like Knockout – think, King of the Hill – and Rampage, essentially the sorely missed Destruction Derby mode, which has been neglected in this particular genre for far too long. Kudos to Codemasters for its reintroduction!
It's a game that's been designed from the ground up for the action on offer, according to Codemasters, from the track design – with pinch points, track obstacles and crossovers intentionally introduced for ultimate chaos – to the actual handling engine, designed to make the gymkhana a little easier for newcomers, whilst still retaining the depth for those looking to hone their skills. Those who felt out of their depth with the gymkhana in DiRT 3 will be glad to hear that, and with more hand-holding in the tips and tricks along the way, this time you aren't thrown into the lion's den blindfolded and expected to fight your way out with a spoon.
Our hands-on took us down the more destructive route though, which we were more than comfortable with. Kicking things off under the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, it was time to get our destruction derby on in a mode called "Rampage" where players get points for the amount of damage they deal out. It's a timed event with infinite respawns – meaning when you wreck your car, you get the chance to rejoin the action – but everything can change in the final 30 seconds as the scores ramp up to double points. The San Fran stage is essentially a circular arena with eight ramps making up the spawn points for all the competitors, meaning the name of the game is putting the foot on the gas and causing some serious damage. With extra points for T-boning cars and causing terminal damage, it's just as much about tactics as it is split-second reactions, and although we were playing against the AI which was competent and aggressive, we can't help but think of the chaos that will unfold when this action heads online.
The more surprising of the two modes we went hands-on with though – after all, you kind of know what to expect with a destruction derby-esque mode – took us to the dusty Nevada track for a spot of 8-Ball. It's a race mode of sorts, but with a twist: use the boost to get ahead, drive dirty and earn even more boost. It's here where Codemasters' track design not only proves to be quite clever with its placement of pinch-points, but the mid-track crossover actually balances the race out perfectly. Steam too far ahead and you'll hit the arse end of the pack, or if you're lagging behind, whoever is first will have that same problem, allowing you to catch up. Throughout our time with the map we got hustled out of first place, had opponent AI leap over the top of us to get ahead and had AI ram into our back causing us to lose valuable time. It's frickin' chaos... and we loved it!
We may have only tasted a sample of what Codemasters are doing with their now splintered DiRT franchise, but frankly, we're just glad to see that the identity crisis it was having is all but over now. In splitting the franchise into two threads – traditional rally and sports entertainment – it's not only allowed the Codemasters team to free its arms a little in every facet of the more spectacle-based racing modes, but it's allowed them to truly shine in them too. The addition of the carnivàle atmosphere, the more aggressive racing – along with the more aggressive AI too – and the destruction derby, means that the splintering of the franchise is looking set to tailor two totally different DiRT experiences to two totally different off-road audiences. Or if you happen to like both, then you get twice the fun. Everyone's a winner!
DiRT Showdown is scheduled for a May 2012 release.