The DiRT series consistently pumps out some seriously good looking, and playing, racing games. They may not flirt too closely with realism, but when it comes to just-right handling and an empowered sense of track ownership, very few can compete. DiRT Showdown is a logical spinoff for the series, embracing the showtime spectacle that made up a large proportion of DiRT 3. The focus here is on novelty events and the tight delivery of gymkhana.
Codemasters once more impresses on the presentation front, with style dripping from every over-the-top menu animation, as massive squares drop down from the sky like giant amplifiers readying for a concert to the gods. The graphics are gorgeous, embracing the carnival atmosphere with fireworks on your final lap, throwing their flashpan light over the scene as you zoom across the finishing line. All the bells and whistles have been employed here, to the point where, for the first couple of hours at least, this feels very much like DiRT 4.
At first you don’t miss the rally events, so enamoured are you with the quick-fire delivery of different tracks and play-modes. Fun is delivered unto the player in sycophantic waves of playstyles. Rampage, Knock Out, 8 Ball, Trick Rush, Head 2 Head, Domination, Transporter, Smash & Grab – these titles mean nothing until you experience them and are shuffled together like a deck of cards so that you always desire “just one more race”.
Then there is Joyride, the open playstyle that returns from DiRT 3 whereby you are free to roam about the confines of Yokohama Docks and Battersea Compound, ticking off 75 trick-related missions and hunting down 40 hidden packages in each location. It almost doesn’t matter that Battersea Compound is a repeat from the previous game, you’re a better player now and the donuts and massive drifts come more easily, allowing you to master the on-screen indications of your currently highlighted challenge.
Of all the new modes, the destruction derby events are the biggest disappointment. Structurally, they work well, with several variations on the simple theme that add challenge to the singular task of remaining at the top of the score board. Knock Out, for instance, gives you bonus points for pushing vehicles off the edge of a raised platform, while 8 Ball sets all of you down on cross-over tracks, with T-junctions just begging for some major crashes. The issue is that there simply aren’t enough vehicles involved in the demolition events. Rather than eight cars, these derbies scream for twelve, fifteen, twenty or even thirty. This is perhaps impossible given the current engine, especially if the high frame rate is to be maintained, but why not at least try, Codemasters?
This brings us to the salient point. DiRT Showdown feels like a B game, like the spin-off it is. The simplified handling, which enacts a donut so easily that you don’t even need to guide the steering once it’s automatically locked in, the repeated environments, the short tracks that get re-used in parts for later events, the social networking features that feel like an artificial lengthener rather than an engaging challenge-comparison to your online friends, and the lack of long form time attacks.
Rally gets missed, its individual focus absent in favour of a simplified (yet still amazingly satisfying) driving model. While series fans will initially get a kick out of Showdown, the feeling that you have seen all of it before, just in a slightly different skin, quickly becomes an issue. The short events don’t really give you enough room to properly engage with the challenge system, because there’s very little you can do to improve upon times beyond simply having better luck and maybe not wiping out on a corner. Similarly, uploading your replays to YouTube may initially impress, but the automatic nature of the trick controls negates any skill kudos you may desire.
Still, it is fun, and the game does wear its intentions on its sleeve. The career is meaty if you care to invest, driving through lengthy Pro, Allstar, Champion and Legend tiers. There are also plenty of online options that allow you choose the exact kind of experience that you’re in the mood for (Party is our preferred haunt). In terms of value, DiRT Showdown offers more than enough hours of entertainment for its asking price (one that is quite cheap on PC if you shop around) and serves as a perfect entrée during the wait for DiRT 4.