Dirt Showdown isn’t a traditional Dirt game. This is one of those cases where a company uses an established brand in order to get people interested in a new game. But Dirt Showdown is a new game and you should absolutely be interested in it, regardless of branding.
There’s almost nothing of the now familiar Dirt mix of rally and gymkhana here. Ken Block does make his presence felt, certain events tasking you with a brief gymkhana-like series of donuts and drifts but it’s a marginal influence. A much greater influence is the old Reflections PlayStation and Saturn game, Destruction Derby.[drop]Showdown is, at least in the early stages of the career mode that I’ve had the chance to enjoy, a series of events that actively encourages collision. The races are the most conventional events and those still encourage a bit of jumping, boosting and a lot of crashing. There are also arena events which pit you against a group of opponents, scoring points for the kind of collisions and the speed behind the impact.
And that’s basically it. There are several variations on each theme, such as a raised platform that you barge opponents off for big points or a race track that’s got crossover points for high speed t-boning. It all comes down to a few very simple – and very entertaining – key functions though. You need to race to finish first, bashing and barging as you go, or you need to use the more protected areas of your vehicle to smash into the less protected areas of your opponents.
What’s not to enjoy about high speed car smashes?
In fact, the least enjoyable event in the preview section was certainly the Ken Block inspired “Hoonigan” event. This is the only one with real life branded cars – a Focus and a Scion TC – and it’s the only one that doesn’t encourage you to smash it up. You must drive through a tight course, breaking through barriers, drifting around corners and performing donuts around a pole.
Its a timed event and some of the mechanics are slightly at odds with elsewhere in the game. Donuts especially took a few goes to get the hang of, and the required precision never felt like a natural thing to be doing in this game, moments after I’d been steering an old rattler into the side of someone else on a dirt track.
The cars in all other events are only vaguely modelled on real-world vehicles and are not realistically named or badged. They don’t need to be. These are stock cars, old bangers with patched bodywork and DIY paint jobs. There are plenty of different models available to purchase in the early stages, with upgrades to power, strength and handling possible once you’ve earned some cash.
Each one has a satisfying weight to its handling which makes it enormously fun to smash them into each other.
You’re awarded more points in the arena events for harder impacts so getting your speed up before hitting someone is valuable. Unfortunately, the steering adjustments required to actually make contact with moving targets mean that high speed is also a difficulty multiplier. I found it initially very difficult to make up enough points to place well in these events but after a few attempts, the necessary tricks become clear and the points flow.[drop2]The cars and scenery are all modelled well enough and the presentation is as impressive as you’d expect from a Dirt game but the key to Showdown’s success will be in the gameplay. In that respect, Codemasters are getting everything right.
The cars handle well and the collisions are hefty and satisfying. It might be the case that things get a little repetitive as the career mode progresses but early signs are that there has been a lot of effort put into minor variations in gameplay and track design that will keep things interesting.
Dirt Showdown plays on a very simple concept for most of its appeal, though – smashing things up is fun. It’s not wrong either, there is a lot of satisfaction in seeing an opponent fly sideways off a platform raised 20 feet in the air. The destruction you can cause and the carnage that ensues is very rewarding, in a primeval way.
The single player career mode seems like it will be an engaging enough route through upgrades and slightly differing game mechanics that are progressively more enjoyable. But Where Dirt Showdown appears to have most potential is in its multiplayer options. These were not available in the preview code I had access to but the notion that each of the other cars in a destruction derby might be driven by a friend, each with a headset so I can hear their pain, is an extremely tempting one.