Codemasters have always been up there with the best when it comes to creating exciting racing games, and following on from the success of DiRT3 comes DiRT Showdown. Taking a leap away from the rallying action found in the “real” DiRT games, Showdown instead focusses on one key feature: utter carnage.
Obviously, taking a well loved series in a new direction is a brave move. People might be looking at this expecting more DiRT-like rallying action, but that’s nowhere to be seen. Instead we’ve got a range of event styles that will test both your driving skills and aggression to the max, both against the AI and online against other crash-happy nutters. All of this is wrapped around Codemasters’ new Racenet system, serving as a way to connect friends, deliver challenges and generally let you show off just how amazing you are at smashing other cars into much smaller pieces.
Starting your Showdown career on the single player campaign is a wise move. Not only does it give you a chance to try out the various game modes available without looking like a clueless cock against your friends, but with races awarding you cash prizes and unlocking new cars for you to buy with your winnings it’s also an opportunity for you to build up your arsenal a bit. The events will get delivered to you in much the same way as in DiRT3 – you’ll work your way up four series, each one increasing in challenge. Each series has a decent number of events which, amongst others, require you to cause as much damage as possible in a Demolition Derby style arena and complete races filled with cross-overs that make you hold your breath every time you approach in case you get thumped from the side at 80mph. While this has potential to cause some grief, it’s the very nature of the game and for every occasion that you lose a lead after being caught on a cross-over you’ll do the same to another driver later on. It’s a lottery, and makes the racing very tense right up until the final few metres. There are a fair few other games modes to be had; smashing a series of coloured blocks in the specified order is more tough and far more addictive than it sounds, surviving for as long as possible while several other cars try to smash you up is fun in a panicked type way, and there’s quite a bit more besides.
The campaign will keep you going for a fair while as it is and gets pretty tricky later down the line, but with each event offering an opportunity to use Racenet to challenge your friends to beat your time or score you’ll be going back to previous events just to shave off a bit of time or add a few hundred to that amazing score that turned out to be not so amazing after all. It might not have the same draw as Need for Speed’s Speedwall, but it’s a great addition to have if there’s a group of you who like to flash your competitive edge as much as possible. Half the fun of repeating events is just how good Showdown feels to play. The controls are razor sharp and give a perfect arcadey feel without being too over the top and unrealistic, and with Codemasters’ brilliant EGO engine in full effect everything looks the part too, with scenery bouncing off the cars and bumpers, doors and other car parts ending up scattered around the place liberally. One part of the presentation that isn’t so hot is the over the top and painfully bad announcers that blast over the tannoys at each event. It won’t ruin the game, but I found myself muttering under my breath about it a few times.
But it’s online where Showdown really goes to town. With a huge range of events on offer you can easily play for half an hour without playing the same type of event twice. Even with random online players you can have a blast, and if you mix a few friends into the action then personal battles start to mingle with the madness and hell break loose. It’s brilliant. It’s also unpredictable, with the lead changing hands multiple times during the course of an event right up until the final seconds, and there’s nothing more satisfying than snatching a victory at the last moment from the guy who’s had the lead from the very start. The only real problem comes in the arena-based games, when the scoring system seems to have some trouble determining not only who instigated the collision, but also how strong the coming together was. Huge smashes can sometimes be met with a weak score, and there’s odd occasions when you don’t get awarded the points if someone else has given them a tiny nudge just before you steam in. It’s something that could possibly be patched later on, but as it stands the scoring is a little wonky every now and then. But don’t let that put you off, the online games are fantastic fun and punting your friend side-on to stop them taking a hard fought win is immensely satisfying, even more so when a torrent of abuse comes your way. There are also Racenet challenges to be had, where a certain event is available for you to try out in order to get the best score or time possible, as well as the option to just drive freely around a couple of locations (including the Battersea Power Station that we saw in DiRT3) in order to complete small challenges and collect hidden items. Completing these unlocks more stuff for you to play around with, so it’s a worthwhile diversion.
When it boils down to it, the slightly random and chaotic nature of someof the events does mean that there’s a danger that things might wear a bit thin after a while, and I can’t see it having the same kind of longevity that GRiD enjoyed before the servers were shut down, but while things are in their prime DiRT Showdown is going to give its players huge enjoyment. Get round the commentator being an arse and take the occasionally strange scoring on the chin and you’ll have a ball. DiRT Showdown isn’t a true DiRT game, that much is clear, but it’s clearly got the Codemasters shine on it and sits proudly in their collection of brilliant racers. If you like the idea of a bit of car-based carnage, it should be sitting proudly in your collection too. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a car to t-bone at top speed.
Reviewed on PS3