Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360
Just one more go. In those three words you can summarise what makes a great game and in those three words you can also summarise DiRT Showdown. In my potentially excessive playtime building for this review I have been late for appointments, half achieved chores and forgot about food in the oven and regretted none of it. While some DiRT fans may see Showdown as a bit of a departure from the series or perhaps see it as nothing more than a filler for DiRT 4 it must be said that DiRT Showdown is a hell of a lot of fun.
The first thing that hits you when starting DiRT Showdown is the level of gloss and showmanship. Menus glide and whoosh around as a bizarre ensemble of dubstep and hair-rock assault your ears, it’s a sensory explosion that is at odds with other DiRT titles. While perhaps jarring to the player coming in expecting another standard DiRT game this presentation and level of bombast is entirely fitting with the rest of the game. And lurking just beyond this initial flourish is the in-game menu hub which immediately shows you what Codemasters have focussed on in Showdown, and that is variety.
Your first port of call will be to throw yourself into the campaign of Showdown which will see you work through four tournaments each with a number of races from a variety of disciplines, with only a top three finish allowing you to progress to the next challenge. There are straight up races which while great fun will begin to feel one of the weakest disciplines as skill frequently is superseded by luck. The AI does not present an overly difficult challenge but the cars can be quite feisty and will try to spin you out on corners any chance they get, frustration can ensue but you can quickly content yourself with the fact that you will do the same at any point you can. The Elimination mode sees the racing pack having the last placed car eliminated every fifteen seconds, and while it may not be revolutionary these rounds are fraught with tension and last gasp efforts that perfectly encapsulate arcade racing. The weakest element in the line-up for the pure racing disciplines is the Domination mode that breaks the track up into sections and sees you scoring maximum points for being the fastest racer for each sector. It feels quite weak as a game mode and success is determined only by you driving 'a bit quick'. By no means is this a bad mode, rather it doesn't show the level of balance and consideration that Codemasters have elsewhere in the carnage and skill department.
There are also more destruction-centric events such as a survival mode which will see you racing for your life as every car in the arena will be out to get you, surviving a few extra seconds could see the difference between a second or first place finish. There are also straight up destruction derbies with points awarded for different types of attack with the added value that when your car is wrecked you do not get put out of the game but are respawned with the penalty being the person who landed the final blow getting a large increase to their score. The highlight of the destructive end of Showdown’s spectrum is its Knock Out challenge which is a cross between destruction derby and sumo wrestling. While the scoring system seem to be sometimes inconsistent in judging if you get points for a knock-off the mode is filled with great moments of last ditch attacks, near misses and shouting at yourself for driving off the platform after an ill-judged boost attack. It’s fast, noisy, aggressive but most importantly it’s completely accessible and therein lies one of the most important things about DiRT Showdown. Anybody can pick up a controller and even with so many racing disciplines a new player will grasp exactly what they have to do within seconds, and there is even an ‘event info’ button to explain the scenario.
Upping the ante in terms of skillful driving there are also a few events that will give players seeking a skill challenge that much loved frustration you get from berating yourself after a bad run. There are head to head challenges that will see you racing against one other competitor as you try to beat them to the finish line while achieving all the goals inbetween such as smashing objects, completing donuts, pulling a satisfactory drift or even just catching some air. Thankfully there is some superb handling on display with the vehicles and Codemasters should be commended for providing the players with handling that can feel amazingly responsive but through the track varieties and scenarios will also need to be mastered. It’s a great combination and as you plough through a Smash Hunter course (an open track that has varying coloured blocks you must destroy in a certain order) you will experience joy as you drift with ease but also grip the controller with utter desperation as you try and hold onto a successful donut that will save you precious nanoseconds on your time. It can be joyous and frustrating but it’s never that infuriating kind of frustration as you will always know that it is within your ability to do better; press start, select restart and do it again!
As a solo experience DiRT Showdown is great fun, pure arcade racing with enough variety to keep you entertained for many an hour but is also a very social game. For example, on completion of an event you will see the player vs cpu scoreboard but you will also be shown a scoreboard that lists all of your friends. With the simple click of a button you can send a challenge to any of your friends to try and beat your time/score, it’s such a simple mechanic but in reality it drives that competitive high score duelling that used to be a staple of the gaming diet. On top of this there is also the ability to record and upload clips of your most impressive crashes, with a simple tap of R1 the game pauses and loads up a video replay, allowing you to add keyframes and render it out and upload directly to your Youtube account. It’s a nice touch and succeeds with its design idea of keeping the game relevant with these visual watercooler moments- however the upload time for videos is not lightning fast so choose wisely or you’ll be making a lot of tea to pass the time.
Online multiplayer is also available with the host able to modify the racing disciplines, number of rounds and more. With a fair amount of playtime I can safely say it seems to be one of the most optimised online experiences I have had in regards to network coding. Everything just seems to work as you want it to, no visible lag, no disconnections and no inexplicable bugs. Playing online by yourself or even with your friends in a party, which again is easy to setup, the smoothness of the play just never seemed to dip and again a lot of praise must go to Codemasters for this. Should you not fancy the online arena, which you should as the carnage is just joyous, you can also opt for a two-player split screen and pick your discipline, head to head or team based play, AI quantity and difficulty. It’s again all very seamless and enjoyable and you can set up a race of your choice and be spinning your best friend out on the last corner while laughing maniacally in no time at all.
The strangest dish in this delicious racing smorgasbord is the Joyride mode, a kind of open world challenge-oriented mode that sees you trying to complete a list of tasks and also collecting items. At best it is an interesting diversion from the hectic nature of the single player and online experience as you casually drive about ticking off tasks as you so wish and at worst it feels like an ill advised tacked on attempt at longevity. There is nothing wrong per se with this mode but it feels at odds with the edge of the seat carnage that is so prevalent in nearly every other inch of the game. In this scope of negatives with DiRT Showdown the loading times must also be mentioned as they do tend to err on the side of just long enough that you notice them. It can be quite a laborious process switching between events and when you hit ‘quit’ instead of ‘restart’ in an event you will groan at the prospect of the disproportionate wait you are about to enjoy. It’s a minor quibble and one that only serves to frustrate probably because you are wanting to get stuck back into the action.
When the dust settles after you take first place following a mid-air takedown followed by the sweetest drift on the last corner of the track you are unlikely to care too much about the loading times and even the largely questionable soundtrack won't provide any diminishing returns on your enjoyment. DiRT Showdown looks and plays every way that you would hope a great arcade racer would, it’s not deep and it’s not clever but it has character and fun by the bucketload. It may not be what some of the DiRT fans were wanting but disappointment in what something isn’t does not diminish what the game actually is; that is a colourful, loud, fun and accessible racer that will entertain you for a long time. Strap yourself in, crank up the volume, hit the boost button and wait for you eyes to bleed. Then do it again. Then thank me later.