It’s important to issue a crucial warning at the top of this review: If you are a DiRT purist and play the series for its technical rally racing and unforgiving but authentic physics model, DiRT Showdown is not for you. If you relished the genius Gymkhana mode from DiRT 3 and find immense satisfaction in crashing cars, then by all means, dive in headfirst.
We’re not saying Codemasters Racing’s divergence isn’t a strong one, but DiRT Showdown is an unabashed attempt to lure in a mainstream American audience. Every aspect of the game’s design is focused on maxing out your adrenalin and keeping it pegged as long as you’re holding the controller.
Mainstream Appeal 101
The soundtrack is packed with continuous hard rock, dubstep, and progressive house tracks. Menus — a Codemasters Racing staple — resemble giant cinder blocks crashing down on each other with a thunderous boom. An in-game announcer hurls unmuteable (yes, this is a necessary word now) nauseating color commentary like this:
- “Slamming into that rear.”
- “That was so sweet, it made my teeth hurt.”
- “You spin me right round. Like a record. Baby.”
There is no tachometer, no control option for manual transmission, and an incredibly forgiving physics model even in snowy conditions. There is no tuning your ride between races; only upgradable attributes for handling, strength, and power. Your vehicle’s health and boost meters are all that matter; DiRT Showdown is hyper-focused on wrecking any opponent who stands in your way, and speeding to the finish line.
Don’t infer that this game isn’t heaps of fun; it’s just geared toward a different audience. It stands as a potential gateway to the franchise, but also represents a potential exit for DiRT veterans. So let’s talk about the fun factor.
DiRT Showdown takes several cues from demolition derbies. From 8 Ball to Knockout to Hard Target modes, your focus here is T-Boning, shunting, and otherwise mauling your opponents to either score points, or gather enough boost to cross the finish line in first place. It’s simplistic yes, but it also offers an addictive risk/reward component — while causing destruction on the track can earn you nitrous to get around the course faster, it can also render you damaged, sideways, and suddenly at the back of the pack.
Credit goes to the developers for crafting so many different modes out of this seemingly one-sided playstyle (though several elements of checkpoint-based and freestyle Gymkhana are thankfully in the mix). 8 Ball events are the most exciting with tight turns, overhead jumps, and junctions that can end in spectacular disaster if you’re not watching your flank. Hard Target puts you in an enclosed field with an increasing number of opponents gunning to take you — and only you — out. Survive as long as possible and use the course to your advantage to snag a podium finish. Several other twists to the formula are here and play just like they sound: Eliminator, Knock Out, and more, with the Gymkhana events adding a refreshing change of pace every so often. Gymkhana, by the way, is perfected here and evokes an early Tony Hawk vibe as you carefully plot your best run through the various trick opportunities.
90 minutes in, though, and I’d played about every variant Dirt Showdown had to offer. Aside from purchasing new liveries and vehicles with better specs, the sense of progression isn’t as compelling as other racing titles, even in the DiRT series. Earn trophies, buy more machines, advance through the seasons. Wash, rinse, repeat. Once I’d completed the second season (each season has roughly 12 events), I felt like I’d had an exciting and satisfying meal…but maybe not one I’d pay $60 for.
Simplicity: Blessing or Curse?
Multiplayer, however, is more of a highlight than ever, and combines all the events from the single player championships and throws in party modes from DiRT 3. Playing solo or with a team is a blast (and they haven’t forgotten you couch co-op players, either). See, where other games like Forza and Gran Turismo can lead to controller-throwing frustration in multiplayer matches (you know that guy who spoils every race by spinning you out), in DiRT Showdown it’s encouraged and rewarded, lending a more relaxed, fun environment to competitive and team multiplayer. Though again, it carries with it a simplistic leveling system that doesn’t seem to offer any tangible rewards other than bragging rights.
It’s that focus on simplicity that both makes and kills DiRT Showdown. For example, why can you only earn extra boost by crashing into opponents? Your meter will slowly increase just from driving, but why not reward players for drifting, snagging air, or overtaking? These are genre staples that have been implemented — and happily received — since Metropolis Street Racer.
Another missed opportunity: The Ego Engine, as it has in DiRT 2 and DiRT 3, looks phenomenal, but Codemasters has seen fit to compliment their luscious graphics with blaring (albeit decent) music, rumbling engine noises, and an obnoxious announcer. We want to hear bone-jarring crunches of metal and glass, especially in the pure destruction derby modes, but they’re significantly muted, if not absent.
Having played this series since it was called Colin McRae Rally – and having awarded the past two DiRT entries perfect scores — it was difficult evaluating this decidedly different fork in the franchise’s road. We’re not knocking it because it’s different, but because Codemasters didn’t embrace the changes as deeply as they should have. It’s a riot to play, and will provide anyone who likes racing games hours of enjoyment, but so much is missing: Perks beyond just earning boost, a rewarding progression system, and the lack of those heart-pounding sound effects of screeching metal and broken glass to complete the immersion.
- Release Date: June 12 2012
- Genre: Racing (Arcade)
- Platform: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
- Developer: Codemasters Racing
- Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
- ESRB Rating: E 10+
- MSRP: $59.99
Our Score: 3/5
Review Statement: The publisher provided VGW with an Xbox 360 version for the purpose of this review.