FUEL, GRiD, TOCA, DiRTÖare just a few of the four-letter words used when referencing Codemasters (now Codemasters Racing) legendary racing franchises, and DiRT is probably their most famous, partly because it has seen the most sequels, although DiRT Showdown is hardly a sequel, thus the omission of a ď4Ē in the title. Showdown takes a lighthearted more casual approach to racing and demolition derby; a stark contrast to the realistic rally games of past DiRT titles. Everything about Showdown is over-the-top from the slam-bam menus to the amazing mix of techno house music, to the wild selection of cars and livery paint schemes and the crazy figure-eight and arena-style deathmatch derbies. Showdown assaults you from the moment you start the game until the moment you exit.
DiRT Showdown comes packed with racing content including a four-tier Showdown career mode that takes you through numerous events with each trophy cup counting towards unlocking more content. Youíll also earn cash that can be used to purchase cars and upgrades that will boost your vehicle through various grades of D through A. Interestingly enough, races are not class restricted Ė the computer will just make sure to match your AI opponents with whatever class ride you have chosen, so donít think you can upgrade your way to an easy win. The game is always highly competitive in all of its modes.
In addition to the core career you also have a Joyride mode that puts you in one of two large open-world areas that you are free to explore at your own leisure, checking off a lengthy list of stunts and locating numerous Showdown badges hidden around the level. These areas are quite large and divided into multiple sections with new areas becoming available when you hit certain milestones. At times Showdown felt like an adventure game, as I drove around looking for stashed badges, but trying to knock out the various skill challenges will return you to racing reality.
However, reality is where Showdown is lacking. I certainly donít mind the casual racing game, even if they are riding on the coattails of a franchise rooted in rally realism, but Showdown is just a bit too lax in its physics and driving controls; a fact that is most obvious when racing on the wide variety of track surfaces including dirt, snow, sand, and tarmac. There is almost no perceptible difference in the way a car handles or steers on any surface in this game. Iíve played plenty of racing games on snow and ice (Gran Turismo is a big one) where racing on ice was thrilling and treacherous, but in Showdown you can make high-speed sharp turns with little to no slipping. It is this unpredictable reality that makes it even more challenging when you are tasked with doing drifts and 360ís in the frequent head-to-head stunt battles. The game supports a wheel and I did try it with mine but the gameplay is so "arcade" that it just felt unnatural to play with a wheel; even using the hood camera - one of the two views available.
But for those looking to jump in and win some races and trash some cars, Showdown delivers with intense arena battles that reward you with each impact as well as knocking a car out of the elevated arena, a fiendish survival mode where a dozen or more computer cars are all coming after you and you need to avoid and minimize damage to survive the longest. And then you have races, some pure speed runs and others with crossovers and jumps where somebody is going to get hit eventually, as well as Domination races where the track is divided into segments and the fast speed through each segment holds that section for points. Iíll give Codemasters credit; for only having a handful of tracks they do a great job of mixing up the event types and a few visual tweaks to keep the game fresh for as long as it lasts. By the time you do see an event repeat, itís been long enough that you donít mind, and the way the unlocking system works, you always have at least two events available.
Visually, Showdown has a much more colorful and stylized (non-realistic) look about it. Gone are the pristine outdoor rally locations and glossy rally cars. Now we get all sorts of crazy jalopies, wagons, trucks, hotrods, and yes, even a few familiar rally cars to drive around even more stylized environments in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, and other distinct locations. To go with these vivid visuals are powerful sound effects including engine noises and crunching metal and one of the best soundtracks of any game Iíve played in the last two years; racing or otherwise. I loved every track, and there are so many that they donít repeat often, and when they do I was always excited to hear them again. On the audio flipside is one of the worst commentators Iíve ever heard. He is so loud and so obnoxious, and he savagely mutilates the English language in his feeble attempts to be hip and cool. I really wanted to turn him off but the options only allow you to turn him down.
Showdown takes an aggressive stance for multiplayer and social interaction with its own RaceNet service - Codemasters version of EAís Autolog. It handles news and announcements, sponsored tournaments with expiration dates, and your ability to issue and respond to challenges from other players on your friendsí list. You can even sync your YouTube account to the game and upload replay snippets directly to your channel Ė I say snippets because the game limits your clip to a measly 60 seconds. Online multiplayer modes are fairly straightforward and include traditional racing and demolition games with all the variations found in the career mode and a few online exclusives. Matchmaking is a bit sloppy and I did have some lag on a few events that had cars warping around the track or arena. I think Iíll be keeping my online play limited to the back and forth challenges of my friends.
DiRT Showdown is a crunchier more redneck version of Ridge Racer Unbounded that has more in common with Destruction Derby or FlatOut than any of the previous DiRT offerings, so for those going into this thinking itís DiRT 4 Ė itís NOT. This is fast and loose arcade racing and demolition carnage with a bit of festival flavor, which is perfectly acceptable and perfectly fun. I just think they should have dropped the DiRT moniker to avoid confusion.