DiRT Showdown (PC)
In 1998 Codemasters released Colin McRae Rally and with it started down a path which has seen them become a hugely significant player in the driving genre. As the series has evolved and moved away from the original brand to the newer "DiRT" naming we have seen the gameplay evolve significantly to the point the most recent game, DiRT 3, included some rather fun arcade game segments based on gymkhana. These served as a nice change in pace from the racing and showed that when Codemasters are not creating more serious racers, like the excellent F1 2011, they know how to have some fun.
Released on the new Codemasters Racing label fun is what the subject of today's review is all about. In DiRT: Showdown we dispense with the normal time trials and rally gameplay associated with the franchise, moving to a much more arcade experience which focuses on destruction.
As mentioned above Showdown steps away from the off-road action of DiRT, the street racing of GRID or the more serious F1 franchise and carves its own niche in the Codemasters racing family. In this game we work our way towards the "Showdown Finals" taking on various styles of gameplay as we go and the game very much has a pick up and play feel. The controls are simple, the usual mix of steering with accelerate and break but we also have access to a handbrake for more advanced cornering or moves and a boost button which gives us a temporary increase in speed and therefore more powerful impacts, of which there are many.
The game features a wide range of game modes based over several locations, each with its own unique look and feel. Yoko Hama at sunset, San Francisco under floodlights and more. There is also a wide selection of vehicles to choose from, each with varying statistics which can help in particular game modes and as well as unlocking higher levels/events our success is rewarded with cash which can be used to buy new cars or upgrade existing models.
Playing through the game modes it was clear that each has a very distinct feel and there are three main categories, race based, destruction based and trick based. That said there is often some overlap, encouraging us to take out opponents as we race... or twists on the standard in events like Elimination. In that mode we must stay out of last place in a race as every 15 seconds the person there is knocked out with the last man standing winning the race. Elsewhere we have events like Ram Rage and Knock Out where we are placed in an arena with various opponents. Each car has a health meter and the aim is to crash into each as much as possible, until they are wrecked at which point the health bar replenishes and the car re-enters as new. Points are awarded for more powerful moves and boost once again makes an appearance with Knock Out being based on a platform where we can also gain points for throwing other cars off.
In terms of trick modes we can head off into Joyride, a separate game area, to achieve goals which mix drift, donut, smash and so on or throughout the main game and multiplayer we can play head to head over a timed course and various rounds.
Speaking of multiplayer and online, these are key aspects of Showdown. We can play local split screen, 8-player online racing, challenge your friends mode and YouTube integration to showcase the thrills and spills of each event. Codemasters will also be launching RaceNet, a new hub (free) which will bring together all of the studio's games and allow stat tracking and for signing up we gain addition in-game cash and items.
Graphics and Audio
For anyone who has played a recent Codemasters game from the DiRT or GRID franchises Showdown has a very familiar look and feel. It is especially close in visual style to DiRT 3 even in terms of the menu structure and available camera angles. When we then move into the main gameplay the use of Codemasters EGO engine is clearly evident, though the visual style is enhanced with the designers focusing on some rather lovely lighting effects, decent destruction models and quality use of fireworks, flames and the like. Essentially we are looking at DiRT presented as an extreme sport and on the whole it works well. It is also worth noting that the game also runs well on a wide range of systems as this is a mature engine now and we noted some nice touches in the review code such as plenty of items to crash through which then scatter across the track.
Audio also takes its inspiration from extreme sports with commentary running thorough, voiced enthusiastically with plenty of over the top descriptions... "T-Bone-alicious"... The car and crash sounds are suitably meaty with a very loud, mostly rock/metal orientated soundtrack playing at all times, well unless we are "killed" where the game goes into slow motion with a tweaked colour palette and near silence to add drama.
With DiRT Showdown it is clear that Codemasters want users to forget about the more serious aspects of racing and just sit down to have some fun. The graphics, particularly the use of lighting, look great. The audio suits the onscreen action and overall the gameplay is fast and frantic as it should be. It is also nice to have a game which is very much pick up and play with no need to invest hours at a time. We can drop into a game, play for a few mins and head off again having had a concentrated battle and plenty of enjoyment. Be warned though, this game is very in your face and so longer sessions can be a little draining (though not necessarily in a bad way).
We know that there will be DiRT (or more specifically Colin McRae) purists that won't care much for this title and would rather keep the franchise based on pure rally however it is so thoroughly enjoyable that given the chance there is something here for everyone. "Out of the box" we were best at race based events, loved the destruction and were dire at tricks but having mastered Donut's the game became even more fun so perseverance and some time to learn the skills offers rewards.
In terms of improvements it would be nice to have a few extra commentator lines, and chained destruction points would be great as we often found ourselves taking out multiple cars without the same rewards as smaller numbers but there is very little that detracts from the overall Showdown experience which is very much to the credit of Codemasters.
At £26.99 for the PC version of the game (Steam) it is hard not to recommend this version, that's a decent chunk below the console equivalent and with it we get some enhanced graphics which sweeten the deal. Loads of unlocks, varied events, entertaining online multiplayer, rewarding single player, fast, loud and most importantly fun.