DiRT Showdown is without a doubt a crazy mix of the last game in the series and Sony’s awesome Destruction Derby. It’s feature packed and looks great, it’s also a whole lot of fun. So why is it then that all I want to do is smash some cars and forget about the rest?
Action is the name of the game here, whether you are playing the single player, challenges or multiplayer modes. Focusing on the single player, it’s clear that Codemasters has tried to mix things up a little, although not to much effect. You start off at the bottom of the ladder in career mode, working your way through a series of events which are made up of racing, Gymkhana style ‘ Hoonigan’ face-off’s and some good old fashion destruction derbies.
The racing takes on various forms; first up you have your standard races on obstacle ridden tracks. Here you’ll race around the track as quickly as you can, trying to get into that all important first place, while also trying to avoid contact with your opponent. What makes this difficult is that there are numerous obstacles, such as barrels, barriers and ramps between you and first place. While the ramps are most certainly helpful on occasion, the barrels and barriers certainly are not. The problem is that even the slightest nudge into these can have you spinning out, something that also regularly happens when trying to overtake an opponent on a bend. Domination mode meanwhile, is a slightly different take on the racing with checkpoints around the track. The time your record between checkpoints will determine your over all position in each sector, with the winner the one who gains the most points overall. There is also an Elimination race, which sees you trying to stay as close to first place as possible as the clock ticks down.
Hoonigan style races see you either going head to head in order to ‘out-trick’ your opponent based on a series of set tricks such as drifting or pulling off ‘doughnuts’ (which has you trying to drift around a pole). I personally found this very difficult, meaning that I generally failed every time. I’m sure there is some sort of technique to this but I never figured it out – looks like I won’t be out-tricking Ken Block any time soon. The same goes for the similar Trick Crush event, which is much like the Gymkhana mode in DiRT 3. Here you must perform a series of tricks in an industrial map while trying to earn the highest score; I failed. Perhaps my favourite of all the Hoonigan style racers was Smash Hunter, where you had to drive around a large track, smashing up various coloured blocks in order. It’s tough to do this on time, but it does help get you used to the handling of the cars.
Much more to my liking is the Destruction races, amongst which Knockout stood out from the crowd for me. In Knockout the cars all start on a raised platform, once the event begins you much crash into the other cars to gain points, with the main aim being to knock them out of the arena. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when you end up out of the arena yourself practically every time knock someone else out. Rampage mode meanwhile, is Destruction Derby at it’s finest. This mode takes place in a bowl shaped arena, with the main premise being to destroy any vehicle in your path. It’s great, destructive fun.
Other race types you’ll encounter in Destruction mode include 8 Ball, which sees you racing on a track shaped like, yes you guessed it, an ’8′. This presents its own problems, such as the cross-overs in which you run the risk of being T-Boned at every junction. The racing works well on this track and certainly has you on your toes as you try to avoid collisions while also concentrating on gaining or keeping first place. Finally there’s also Hard Target, which is similar to Rampage, with the only difference being that you are the target and must survive as long as possible in order to gain first place.
There is more to the game than just racing, as whenever you complete a race you’ll also gain cash, allowing you to buy new vehicles which you have unlocked for purchase by winning racers. There are a large range of trucks, sport and stock cars to unlock, more unusual looking than others. You can also unlock liveries, so if you’re fed up looking at the same old paint job then there’s no need to worry.
Another bonus of gaining cash is the ability to upgrade the stats on your car. This lets you improve the handling, power and the top speed. There are no other modification types other than boosting stats and liveries, but it least it lets you improve your favourite vehicles to use however you wish.
The single player mode is certainly packed full of events, which is backed up by other features such Crash Back, a new replay feature which pops up after a big collision. This allows you to view the crash back from other angles and even save and upload it to YouTube. Anything you upload can then be viewed on CodeMasters new social hub, RaceNet, which will also be used for providing weekly events, to track statistics, friend lists and more. You can also use Crash Back to rewind time, which is handy if you are as useless as racing games as I am, although this feature is limited, so you can’t use it constantly.
As you progress through the campaign you’ll find yourself racing on all manner of surfaces, from tarmac, to snow to mud. It’s very challenging, but I found that the more I played, the better I got, which is great for me because I don’t usually mix that well with racing games. Each of the cars seem decent enough to handle, although they can spin out quite easily, should you catch a ramp or have one of your annoying, but intelligent AI opponents clip you out of the race.
Once you tie a race up you can then send a challenge to a friend, teasing that about how well you done and inviting them to beat your score.
Away from the single player mode, you’ll also have the opportunity to play Joyride mode, which offers Hoonigan style racing in a free-roaming form. There are set challenges which can be completed in any order as well as items to collect. As you complete challenges within this mode, more are unlocked. It’s an ok addition really, if only to help you practice for the main event.
Elsewhere, you also have a split-screen multiplayer mode and of course, the main online mode. Taking it on to Xbox LIVE gives you access to all of the game modes from the single player event, split up into Racing, Hoonigan and Demolition. There are also the crazy party games, such as Smash & Grab and more, meaning that you can really play anyway you like. Obviously it’s a lot of fun playing with friends, so once you have finished up with the single player, this is an option that will keep you coming back for more should you have like minded friends.
DiRT Showdown is a mixed bag really. I do enjoy the racing, but am not really a fan of the Hoonigan modes. Saying that though, I love the Demolition modes so much that I wish the whole game was made up of just these. My only worry is that the game will eventually wear thin, since the single player campaign can become quite repetitive after a while. DiRT fans will no doubt love this game and it’s hard to argue that it’s a pretty full on package and certainly a sign of thing to come in terms of Codemasters RaceNet.
Rating: Good Review Policy (version tested: Xbox 360)
You can order your copy of DiRT Showdown here.