DiRT Showdown Review
The DiRT series has always straddled a fine line between engine-tweaking sobriety and instant arcadey thrills. Nowhere was this more apparent than in last year’s iteration DiRT 3.
Its colourful presentation, ‘banging’ soundtrack and horribly chummy commentators belied the fact that deep down, it was a proper rally simulation that rewarded sensible, considered play, whilst also providing enough fun for the vehicular-challenged.
DiRT Showdown is a different matter altogether, though. It’s still a DiRT game, with the customary Codemasters look and polish, but to use a cheap analogy, it’s the professional wrestling to DiRT 3’s MMA.
DiRT Showdown largely chucks the simulation aspects out of the sunroof and focuses on goonish, wholly irresponsible instant gratification. And bless it for doing so.
These elements were already present in DiRT 3, with the Gymkhana and Joyride modes, which focused more on trickery and other forms of vehicular abuse, but Showdown takes these elements, overdoses on blue Smarties and caffeine, and goes crazy with them.
As a result, Showdown ends up having a lot more in common with explosive action fare like PSone classic Destruction Derby or Revenge-era Burnout.
This will be a bone of contention to some, of course, and may prove too much for long time fans of the series. There will undeniably be a faction that’ll decry the lack of rallying or realism, and in a series that up until now had been primarily based on rallying (there’s a reason poor old Colin McRae had his name slapped on the box for the first two iterations), it seems like a pretty glaring omission.
There’s a lot more clutter in the sky, making for some really exciting landscapes.
However, the developers were clearly hankering for different things here. DiRT Showdown is clearly aimed at the type of person that just wants to unwind and engage in the type of shenanigans that would make Sheriff John Bunnell go apoplectic with fury.
DiRT Showdown is pretty obviously designed for the sociable. In addition to the obligatory racing, there are modes that would normally have more in common with the deranged cartoonish proclivities of Mario Kart.
Rampage, for instance, is pretty self explanatory. It’s a simple, no holds barred arena battle, where points are awarded for thrashing the heck out of the competition.
After years of being docked points for reckless play in driving simulations, it’s pretty refreshing to be rewarded for being an aggressive ignoramus raised on Carmageddon and action movies.
Knock Out mode is similar, but adds in a raised platform, affording you plenty of opportunity (as well as extra points) to knock off the competition. It’s anathema to those raised on the time-shaving DiRT games of old, but bloody good entertainment for the rest.
The racing itself has been made more accessible too. Rather than dawdle about with car balancing, Showdown just wants you to have fun, and nowhere is this philosophy more apparent than the addition of a boost button for you to breeze past the competition in a nitro-fuelled haze.
DiRT Showdown is still as gorgeous as ever.
The trick-based gameplay of Joyride and Gymkhana (now christened Hoonigan) return, although these too have been simplified, to the delight of some and chagrin of others.
Tricks such as donuts and drifts are much easier to perform now, so your inner, more politically correct Jeremy Clarkson will be sufficiently sated. There’s a carnival atmosphere to the game, and not just thanks to the party-focused gameplay additions.
The tracks eschew the realism of previous games in favour of a kaleidoscopic, larger than life look, replete with fireworks, moving background objects and a heavily saturated colour pallet.
Like all DiRT games, it looks gorgeous, but the fresh lick of day-glo, borderline cartoony paint is an aesthetically pleasing addition, and suits the more destructive, frivolous gameplay down to the scrap metal-strewn ground.
Unfortunately the obnoxious voiceovers and achingly negligible soundtrack from the previous game return, the commentator referring to you with a patronising surname while blurting out other witless asides.
However, as ear-grating as it is, the over-the-top presentation obviously makes more sense in the context of DiRT Showdown. It’d be nice if it let the engines and grinding metal on metal carnage do all the talking though.
The lack of rallying and focus on reckless aggression will prove too much for some, and there’s maybe an argument that Codemasters could have made a new franchise out of it, but such arguments would detract from the simple fact that DiRT Showdown succeeds in doing what it sets out to do, and that’s provide big dumb fun distraction for groups and single players alike.