Racing games are almost always simulation or arcade. The sim crowd includes your Forzas and Gran Turismos, while the arcade racers have hits like Burnout and Need For Speed Hot Pursuit. Codemasters’ DiRT series leaps from rally sim to arcade racer with Showdown. While there are still plenty of licensed rally and motorsport sponsors, there is a whole slew of other made-up vendors for the significant destruction events that Showdown brings to the table. In addition to being focused on arcade, casual-friendly gameplay, Showdown puts a strong effort into being online and social friendly.
DiRT Showdown’s single player component isn’t anything to snuff at. While not nearly as deep and intricate as a full on career mode, the Showdown Tour features sixty-odd challenges that give you a taste of all of the game’s event types. Events take place all over, from Miami to San Fran to Colorado to Tokyo, with different environmental themes on display. Event types include Knockout, Rampage, Raceoff, Domination, Hoonigan, and others, combining competitive racing with full on destruction. Finishing in the top three not only gives you money to purchase unlocked vehicles and upgrades, it unlocks the next event, too. The Intermediate difficulty provides a fair challenge without being too easy or too hard, but it’s still not as fun as playing with a friend via splitscreen, or with up to seven others online.
The Tour mode has proven to be fun and challenging, and also rewarding as more and more vehicles from the likes of Holbrook, Burton, and Scion are becoming available for purchase. Supplementing Tour is the Joy Ride mode, which sounds like a mode where you just free play on the game’s tracks. Fortunately, it’s better than that; in Joy Ride, you are tasked with completing 150 missions and locating 100 collectibles, if you’re up for it that is. A lofty reward is promised for finding all of the collectibles, but I don’t see myself sticking with that. Still, the heart of Joy Ride is giving players plenty of mini-challenges and milestones to strive for, while simultaneously giving you ample practice time on basic and advanced tactics. It’s a mode that invites players of all kinds, but is likely only to sustain for the more hardcore players (in this case, not me).
DiRT Showdown gets a lot right, but where I honestly had the most fun was in the destruction events, which I really didn’t expect coming out of this series. Expect full-on destruction derbys where the winner is the driver who survives and dishes out the most damage based on shunts, t-bones, strikes, and aggressive driving maneuvers. Bonus points are earned for taking out the current leader, and some events like Rampage and Knockout double the points for the final thirty seconds, creating an additional frenzy that is about as frantic as anything I have ever played in a racing game. Even in just playing against the CPU, I find the 8-ball races harrowing as I tried to boost through each intersection, not knowing if I would be nailed by an oncoming racer or just scoot by. Many times the collisions and escapes (such as in the Hard Target mode) are both thrilling and hilarious, just as is boosting towards an opponent only to whiff him completely and sail over the side of the track (like in Knockout). You can quickly replay crashes from a great view by pressing R1, and with your VIP pass, uploading these to Youtube is a snap. All of these positives are only amplified when playing with friends. I haven’t spent a whole lot of time online, but what I did play was fun and ran at least good, if not great. Splitscreen sessions worked nicely, and were a hoot.
Controls are simple and responsive. To give you an idea of how removed from the old DiRT games Showdown is, there isn’t even an option to use a manual transmission. No, instead, controls are kept very basic and friendly — R2 to accelerate, Circle for emergency brake (a must for drifting and donuts, which still gives me fits), X to Boost. Other than the leaderboard, the only thing you need to keep an eye on is your Health and Boost meters, the latter of which regenerates automatically. The health meter is key; nothing like leading an 8-ball race and then suddenly getting smashed one more time to deplete your health in the final lap (forcing a restart). Players can upgrade their favorite vehicles with money earned, but even these options are about as basic as can be, given that you can only upgrade Power, Strength, and Handling.
As for presentation, Showdown looks good, you could even say great, but I will say that despite nice animations, lots of color, and a smooth framerate, the resolution and texture quality is not as ‘strong’ as some of the AAA racers out there. That’s not to say the game doesn’t look good, but it does not look as realistic and modern as some of the best. Then again, this sacrifice is probably what makes splitscreen play possible, which for this particular racing game, I think is a fair trade indeed. Oh, and there’s lens flares.
The audio package is even more of a mixed offering; I could do without the omnipotent commentator who just talks too much, it’s goofy and annoying. The soundtrack is chock full of alt rock and punk tracks that I’d rather see replaced with (good) electronica. The effects are pretty good though, although there isn’t a whole heck of a lot to them. Other notes I had about the presentation include fairly long load times, clocking in around 30 seconds per event, despite a 2.4GB install; not a dealbreaker by any means, but I would have thought events, especially the small arena ones, would have loaded up quicker. Also, the post-race screens take just a bit long to get through, but that’s being nit picky. Oh, if you have friends with the game, sending them Challenges from your recently completely Tour events is easily done from the post-event screens.
With that, let’s cruise into the summary…