DiRT Showdown Hands On (PS3, Xbox 360)

Ah London. You used to be a city containing museums and art galleries, theatres and restaurants; now you’re somewhere I either pass through, or visit to see games. Of course, the latter is somewhat preferable, and this time around it was to see the newest entry in the DiRT series, DiRT Showdown.

Now, there may be those of you who turn off as soon as you see the DiRT name but it’s worth clarifying that this is not another rally title. Don’t worry if you’re a long time fan, Codemasters have been keen to point out they’ll still be a DiRT 4 that’ll follow the traditional mould of the series, providing all the rallying you could possibly hope for.

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No, DiRT Showdown is a very literal spin-off, containing concepts and modes that were cut from DiRT 3. It seems that during the development of the last game Codemasters came to the conclusion that there were actually creating two games, titles that would be better served if they were to be split into separate entities.

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You see DiRT Showdown really isn’t a rally game, and it by no means handles by one. Whilst this hasn’t gone all the way to a complete arcade title, it’s much closer to that than it is to a simulation racer. The handling has been tweaked in a rather satisfying manner; drifts occur with almost no effort and the potential for chaos that the changes bring is simply wondrous.

[drop]Chaos is the right word too, and it’s pretty much the point. No this isn’t a Burnout clone, nothing of the sort. Whilst the general aim for much of the game is to cause as much mayhem as possible, it is generally a little more ordered than that.

The most structured of these modes is your traditional race. This is pretty typical fair, cross the line first to win, although with one minor twist; it’s completely bonkers. Codemasters have done this on purpose, deliberately narrowing the track in places to try and cause pile ups and adding ramps to send you into your opponents from above.

After just one attempt at the race in the build on show it was clear that this really does induce utter chaos. In fact the ramps probably help a little too much in this respect, as was evidenced when I sent my car high into the air, nearly ending up off the track, before smashing into a dirt bank that send me tumbling into my fellow racers. At this point everyone in the room burst out laughing, myself included. Showdown is certainly a game you’ll want to be playing with your friends.

This “play with your mates” concept is further enforced by the other two modes that were on show, 8 Ball and Rampage. 8 Ball is the logical extension of Codemasters aim to cause crashes in races, with the mayhem knocked up about as far as it can go whilst still actually racing other drivers. You’re put on a figure of eight track, with a crossover point in the middle. As was pointed out to me, when you’re in a race in most games you might pull out ahead of the competition, get a little too far ahead for anyone to crash into you (or for you to take them out). The figure of eight track solves this quite simply, if people are lagging behind you then you’ll meet them at the crossover point of the track. Oh they might be going at 90 degrees to your own direction, but that just makes it more interesting doesn’t it?

Calling it a crossover is a bit simple though, the Nevada track included in the preview build had a jump in the centre, meaning you could quite easily end up on the roof of someone else. I know this because it happened; the results were interesting to say the least.

The final mode in the preview is clearly the real star of the show though, and pretty much seems to be what a lot of the ideas in the game have been built out from. Rampage is an out-and-out demolition derby mode, no track or race times to distract you. Cause the most destruction? You win.

Of course, the scoring system is a little more complex than that, and works really well. If you hit someone nose to nose you’re not going to get as many points as for t-boning them, ostensibly because you’ll also take a lot of damage from a head on collision but I suspect it’s just because t-bones look much cooler. Boost into someone (this is the first Colin McRae game in which it features) and you’ll earn even more points for causing the most damage. What you really want to do is finish someone off, with a huge bonus coming your way if you manage it.

With all the destruction on offer the damage modelling is clearly important, and Codemasters have done sterling work here. Although you won’t see quite as much if you’re using licensed cars (strangely car manufacturers don’t like to see huge dents put into their creations), selecting from the fictional range on offer lets you get the most out of the work that’s been put into the engine.

[drop2]The amount of deformation the cars can take is simply stunning, and doesn’t cause any noticeable issues with the game’s graphical output to crop up either. There are points when you’ll pass cars that look like they should have clowns popping out of them rather than being in the race. Obviously your duty bound to put any car in this much pain out its misery, a well placed side swipe taking them out for good.

It’s not just the the destruction of cars that looks good either, the game in general looks wonderful. Everything is very well lit, and the cars look fantastic even when before you’ve managed to wreck them. Codemasters have also focussed a lot on populating the sky in the game, a portion of the screen that’s often ignored.

Given that it’s generally the top third of your view it does seem odd that many games simply have a blue sky with clouds above you. To counter this Showdown goes in the complete opposite direction, making things as over the top as possible. On the 8 Ball track in Nevada hot-air balloons surround the track, and they aren’t static either. It’s clear that the balloons are drifting serenely, with the odd flame being lit inside them to generate the all important lift.

This attention to detail isn’t limited to the sky though, in general it feels like they’ve really focussed on making the environments in Showdown as detailed (and as over the top) as possible. Given that you’re often screaming past these details, or seeing them flipped upside down as you tumble through the air, some might think them a little unnecessary, but it shows a level of care that’s rare to see.

If out and out destruction isn’t your thing (although I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be) Gymkhana has transitioned over from DiRT 3, although it’s been made a bit more friendly for beginners. It’s also shifted location from the shell of Battersea Power Station to Yokohoma docks, a location three times the size of the London land mark. Although this wasn’t in the preview build to try out, it does sound like they’ve taken comments about the mode in DiRT 3 on board and have done their utmost to improve something that was hardly poor in the first place.

DiRT Showdown is completely bonkers in the best possible way, and after not being quite sure what to expect it’s far to say that I was very impressed by what Codemasters have built. It’s the first racing game that’s really excited me in a while, and their approach to destruction feels fresh and well executed. Even if you don’t really feel like racing all that much, Rampage is enough to keep just about anyone entertained and will be brilliant if you have friends playing with you.

After just an hour and a bit I’m completely sold on Showdown, and can’t wait till it hits in May.

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12 Comments

  1. Sold.

    When’s it out? :)

    • May 25th.

      • Awesome, thanks Kris. Not too far off either. :)

        It sounds brilliant & the best part is that i can’t be blamed for crashing into people this time around… As it’s part of the game!!

        Commence the happy dance.

  2. Boom. Very glad i have this pre-order. Can’t wait even more now.
    Great review, too, as ever!

  3. Anyone else’s brain pop a letter “r” in there briefly? “spe… mayhem”

    • Not until you mentioned it.

      Now i can’t get it out of my mind. Thanks Mike! :)

  4. That sounds fine but i’m more interested now in what they’ve planned for Dirt 4, hopefully an actual rally game this time around.

  5. Added to my list of games for may! shaping up to be a hectic month game wise with Ghost Recon and Max Payne coming to my sweaty mits as well

  6. Looks like it’s moved more into the side of Dirt that I wasn’t really fond of. :/

  7. Had this pre-order since I saw the guest trailer, Dirt3 is an amazingly good racer. All I want to hear from Codies now is a new Tarmac racer ;)

  8. Depending on how many TSAers pick this up on PS3, I have to decide whether to go PC or PS3. PC for smoothness and graphical oomph, but PS3 for awesome multiplayer fun!

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