In the video game industry, the most successful developers tend to specialize. That is truly the case with Codemasters, England’s well-known and revered publisher. For years, it’s been synonymous with the racing genre, thanks to its talented internal development studios. Though, after sending armchair racers into a tizzy over polished representations of F1, rally and track-based affairs, the company has decided to branch out into arcade space with its latest release, DiRT Showdown. Officially the fourth game released as part of one of this generation’s most successful racing franchises, it focuses on motorized mayhem, as opposed to simulation perfection.
Although it uses a similar tour structure to that of its predecessors, DiRT Showdown is a brand new beast, which transports players to improvised raceways located throughout the United States of America. It’s on those groomed and barricaded tracks, with their elemental conditions and constructed presentation, that the game shows off its differences. Gone are the navigators and a focus on pristine laps, having been replaced by the need to get to the finish line first using whatever means become necessary. Needing to cause a collision in order to sneak by and gain the pole? If done well, it will work, and you won’t be penalized at all. The same goes for the use of turbo, tricks and immobilizing rams, all of which play in throughout the tour’s myriad of events.
The main draw here is the aforementioned Showdown Tour, which is made up of four sponsored tiers, ranging from pro to legend. They’re all similar in design, with three rows full of events, which lead up to a winner takes all championship race. Though, where they differ is with regards to their presented challenge levels, average event length and introduced locations. This general design is seemingly used to represent a trip throughout the country, where the rookie works his way up from lowly single race circuits to three round events. However, it doesn’t ever achieve those heights, feeling more like a mix of random events spread across the American landscape.
Taking advantage of its fairground-like locations, DiRT Showdown features events that associate with three different categories: races, demolition derbies and stunt challenges. Needing little explanation, the first type employs rather straightforward arcade racing mechanics, although its vehicles possess health bars. If that green meter becomes fully depleted, it’s game over, resulting in an explosion that leaves wreckage for other racers to avoid. The same thing occurs during Elimination and 8-Ball (demolition) races, with the latter type getting its name from its courses’ figure eight designs, which end up sending racers into their opponents’ pathways.
In addition to the position-based competitions mentioned above, racing fans will also find points-based destruction derbies that allow respawns, knock out arenas, a one versus many survival variant, as well as crash, stunt and duel-based Gymkhana events. Unlike the races, which can become repetitive after a while, these arcade scenarios almost always have you on your toes. The reason for this is the fact that they require deft speed, smart steering and the knowledge of when to strike and when to hold up. The stakes are usually higher, and the competition is usually more challenging, adding extra interest to their designs. That’s not to say the races aren’t interesting, though. It’s just that they aren’t incredibly unique, and some of them get to be too long.
For the most part, the above-mentioned player versus computer action ran well, but there were a couple of noticeable issues. First off, there were times where opposing racers would crash against the wall and would then fail to recover, staying in the same position. That artificial intelligence gaffe took away from the game’s overall immersion, and was its most egregious issue. However, it also suffers from rare but debilitating frame rate slowdown, which occurred a couple of times during my play through. During those occasions, it seemed like the disc was about to freeze, but it only slowed down three or four times before getting back to normal.
With three different difficulty levels available to choose from and thirty vehicles available to unlock, purchase and upgrade using earned currency, there’s some replay value to be found in the Showdown Tour. However, a lot of it has to do with how players perform their first time through, as the achievement list’s greatest draw is an award for getting a golden first place trophy after finishing every competition. Though, with that being said, there’s no reward for picking a high difficulty.
Showing that Codemasters has learned from its competitors, DiRT Showdown includes a social challenge element, though it’s quite basic. Those who like to show off their scores and lap times can brag to their friends, but the messages’ recipients get a chance to have the last laugh. It’s similar to what you’ll find in an EA racing title, though not as prevalent or evolved. Still, it add extra reason for fans to return to previously-completed solo events. Though, in the end, it really depends on whether any of the folks on their friends lists end up picking up the game.
Adding extra solo content to the package is Joyride mode. Offering two open-world arenas made up of three separate sections, it tasks players with completing (basic) missions, earning milestones and picking up hidden packages. Though there’s a good amount of content to be found within this option, it’s wholly forgettable and lacks enjoyment. After all, there isn’t much fun to be found in ‘missions’ that ask you to crash through fences, jump over small ramps, or perform basic spins. On top of those variants, there’s not much else to be found.
As expected, an eight-player multiplayer mode is also present, requiring a one-time use pass for admission. Providing options for solo or team play, it culls events from the Showdown Tour and adds in a few party mode variants, including Speed Skirmish, Smash & Grab, and a capture the flag variant known as Transporter. It’s in this competitive arena where the game is at its best, though the online community isn’t overwhelmingly large as of yet. Though, full lobbies can be found, they’re not prevalent.
Unlike its predecessors, which were all about realism, DiRT Showdown takes a more colourful and energetic approach with its presentation. Its cars and trucks are cel-shaded this time around, with some great-looking liveries, and the courses themselves feature great flourishes like lit-up ferris wheels, visceral fireworks and quality weather effects. Adding on to those facets is a decent damage system, which demolishes the vehicles in a relatively realistic way, though the series’ core titles did a better job of that.
Providing the audible portion of the experience is a combination of high-energy music, arcade-style announcing and high-octane sound effects. Generally speaking, this combo works quite well and delivers the sense of fairground action that the game aims to portray, with quality music from licensed artists. The only downside to be found here is the announcing, which isn’t much to write home about and doesn’t add very much to the on-screen action.
Having been a fan of the DiRT franchise since its inception during the early part of this console generation, I had high hopes for DiRT Showdown. After all, despite its alterations, it’s still a part of one of the best genre series available. Now, did it end up living up to those expectations? Sort of. There’s a decent game to be found here, but it’s lacking a wow factor.
This article is based on a copy of the game that we received for review purposes.