Game: DiRT: Showdown
Developer: Codemasters Racing Studio
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows PC (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)
Racing games are almost always split into two distinct categories. Simulations, where absolutely every aspect of driving is modelled and detailed, making for the most realistic experience possible. Then, you have the other category: Arcade Racers. These titles dispense with such trivialities as keeping the racer safe, instead targeting the adrenaline rush that only a 100MPH crash can cause. DiRT: Showdown definitely falls into the latter category, but is it worth your hard earned coin?
GRAPHICS: Codemasters have long been the masters of stunning arcade racing game visuals, and Showdown is no exception. Whichever of the camera angles you choose to race with, you’ll be treated to some stunning imagery being rendered on your screen. The sun’s glare will distract you, muddy puddles will obscure your view as you splash through them and pieces of the racetrack will be knocked into the air momentarily blocking your view; it all builds to a superb level of immersion, especially given that most of the courses are based on real life locations.
The menus are very stylish too, with things happening behind them as you switch in and out of different screens. Everything is very much geared to a streamlined experience too, there’s rarely one button press too many, instead offering you the leanest path to get straight into the action. The ability to use the brand new Crashback feature. When you are involved in a major collision you can hit a button to watch it from multiple angles, before uploading the final clip to Youtube.
SOUND: Nowadays, the consumer will know exactly what kind of music is going to accompany an arcade racer and Showdown is no exception to this rule. Loud, almost garish music greets the player from the get go, but the frenetic action means that, on this occasion, it really is a match made in heaven. No racer that considers itself a contender for attention will be without authentic vehicle sounds either, but Codemasters have gone one further and created a festival atmosphere for the racing, with crowds cheering and counting the racer in each time.
The commentary will be divisive, though it has become traditional for a DiRT game now to have things remarked on throughout. Even the menus are populated with the commentator describing each new aspect the player discovers. Humour is attempted as well as simple explanatory discussion, with cheeky remarks being made at the player if they aren’t doing too well.
GAMEPLAY: Codemasters have been very clever about how Showdown reveals itself. At first you’ll get to do simple races, which, despite having great handling and a lovely sense of speed, could be done anywhere else. Then, the game explodes into life with a plethora of features and events. Modes like “Hard Target” appear, tasking you with surviving the onslaught of other racers, driving around an arena trying to finish in first place by staying alive for as long as possible; tremendous fun and tense to the last. Elimination is another tense affair, a simple case of requiring you to not be in last place when the countdown clock finishes, before starting again until you either fail, or finish first.
Knock Out brings fond memories of classic arcade-racing title, Destruction Derby, throwing you into an arena with seven other cars and saying “Hey, kill each other”. More points are awarded if you knock people out of the arena, before the final thirty seconds become double points time. Frustration at poor driving seeing you end up outside the arena, wasting those precious thirty seconds, makes way to elation as you push the leader out of the arena, grabbing a cool 3000 points for doing so. It’s fabulous.
Domination offers yet more variety. In this mode you have to get the fastest times throughout the track which has been split into sectors. Simple enough, but this offers one of the trickiest challenges at times, especially when you lose a zone on the last lap, knowing you can do nothing about it. Figure of Eight courses yet again channel Destruction Derby, basically a simple race but on a very open track, meaning that even in first place, if someone crosses in front of you, you’ll get totalled very quickly.
The exhausting list of modes continues with Hoonigan Gymkhana. This is a head-to-head event where you’ll have to performs donut spins around objects, smash things up, hit jumps and drift around corners. It’s exhilarating, visceral; it’s just bloody ace. Placing well in all of the events gains you cash, which allows you buy new vehicles and unlock upgrades for existing ones. It’s a tried and tested idea, if you’re failing then simply upgrade your favourite car to swing the balance of power toward you.
All of this is just the single player campaign which has masses of events to see you progress through four difficulty tiers before taking on the final race in each tier. The main menu also offers up Joyride mode. Taking you to places like Battersea Power Station, where you’ll race around a more open environment, gathering hidden packages and performing tricks, donuts, slides and jumps before unlocking the next section of the area. A welcome diversion and yet more pure action fun.
However, it’s not all good. At times there is some violent opponent AI rubber-banding. No matter how well you think you’re doing, you’ll never get far enough ahead of your opponents to allow for a mistake. Nothing is more frustrating than a perfect 4 laps, only to make a small mistake and see the entire pack of cars race past you, it’s demoralising and infuriating.
MULTIPLAYER: Right away, it’s worth mentioning that split-screen multiplayer is included in Showdown. Where so many developers choose to omit this mode, it’s a hugely welcome addition, especially for the Hoonigan Gymkhana style head-to-head events. Of course, you can take things online, and there all manner of options included, allowing you to tailor your online experience to match your needs. Party mode is another fantastic inclusion – Codemasters really have thought of everything when it comes to online – so you can choose which race types you want to play at any time.
Connecting to Racenet allows you to download challenges that Codemasters have created, which are listed with a time-limit (how long the event will be available for) giving you the chance to repeatedly attempt to beat the challenge and top the leaderboards. However, on top of all this, if you don’t fancy going against people in real time, you can use the Challenges menu to attempt to beat tasks set by people on your friends list.
LONGEVITY: If you combine the challenge mode with Racenet, you’ve already got a game that will keep giving and giving. Throw in a multiplayer mode that allows you to do whatever you want, the Joyride mode and a reasonably difficult single-player campaign and Showdown is genuinely great value for money.
VERDICT: If this is the future Codemasters are taking with their new racing studio, then colour me very excited. DiRT: Showdown rekindled a love of arcade racing I thought had long since left me. The variety and execution alleviates Showdown well above most other games of its ilk, making it a must purchase for all lovers of rallying, drifting, and to be honest, simple, good old fashioned fun.