Grab a friend, whack on Dirt Showdown and get ready for fist pumping, adrenaline-fuelled, bass thumping carnage!
Since Split/Second: Velocity I have been left with an awful pit in my stomach that I attempted to fill with mediocre racers like Motorstorm Apocalypse, trying desperately to get my fix of arcade racing action. For gamers to whom games like Forza and Gran Turismo are so much automotive showboating, there has been little to keep us on the edge of our seats, hungry for more flying metal than your average FPS and I’m delighted to say that Dirt Showdown goes a long way to cure the itch.
Starting up Dirt Showdown, you will immediately be invited to sign up to racenet, Codemaster’s proprietary stat-tracking service, for some free ingame cash and liveries. Next you’ll be prompted to choose your racer’s name and enter your youtube account details so that you may upload replays of your most spectacular crashes for the world to see given that you enter your included single-use code to enable this feature. Yes, Codemasters have made Showdown carry a very, very pronounced social networking side (there’s even a button specifically for seeing a replay of your most recent crash, which you’re encouraged to upload to show everyone). Whilst this may be great for the more competitive crowd with an extensive friends list and certain shortcomings they have to compensate for by challenging everyone to beat their fastest lap, it makes for so much unnecessary garnish on a very well presented and fun racer.
Perhaps “racer” isn’t the correct term for Dirt Showdown, as more often than not you are invited to crush your opponents in various aggressive game modes as opposed to simply crossing the finish line first. Dirt 3 introduced the new Gymkhana driving mode (think of it as dressage for cars) and Showdown simply took that idea and ran with it. Game modes are delightfully varied, including (but not limited to) such gems as “8-ball” which is a straight up race with tracks that cross over one another creating perilous pile-ups to “knock out”, a deathmatch-style wreck-a-thon where it’s crush or be crushed and “head 2 head”, a Gymkhana event in which you are pitted against a single opponent in an against the clock effort to perform various crazy stunts in the shortest time.
The single player career is well structured with a steady learning curve and features a wide variety of events to wipe out any hope of monotony. By doing well in events you earn cash which you can spend on unlocking more cars and improving the stats of owned ones. Car stats include “power”, “handling”, “strength” and “weight”, all of which are crucial to keeping you on the track and in one piece. Should you manage to hold it together long enough you’ll be treated to each of the four series’ finales, a monumental marathon of motoring madness called the “Pro Final”. You’ll need all of your agression and skill in these multi-tiered finals so you may want to replay a few races to squeeze the last few scraps of cash to tune up your ride to stand a chance of finishing.
On the subject of finishing, your heads-up display in races proudly shows a damage bar that you’ll soon learn to keep an eye on as the main way to earn precious nitrous is to collide with rival cars but taking too much of a beating will take a very real toll on your ability to race. Crashes are rewarded based on area and velocity, clipping a rival on a corner will give a meek prize but should you slam full-throttle into a straggling foe at a T junction your boost bar will max out, allowing you to burn some rubber and leave the competition in the dust. Damage done to your car is displayed in minute detail and it’s not uncommon to see doors and bumpers ripped off and strewing the tracks. One particularly gruesome race saw me finish with only three wheels intact, the remains of the fourth throwing up screeching sparks as fireworks burst overhead to welcome me to the finish line.
Codemasters have done an exemplary job in creating a soundtrack that fits the visual aesthetic like a glove. Dirt Showdown assaults players with a fast-paced rock, dance and hip-hop soundtrack, blaring in a festival-esque roar and graphically, Showdown does the same job admirably. From your first race that slides the player into controlling a moving vehicle mid-race to the aforementioned pyrotechnics, you feel as though you’re taking part in something big, like your favorite destruction derby pay-per-view where such paltry things as basic survival instinct are quelched in favor of causing colossal car collisions for cash.
Controls in Showdown feel natural and responsive if very simplified, one trigger accelerates, the other slams on the brakes and you need only use two buttons, mapped to boost and handbrake. Throwing out your back end into a kick-ass drift or donut is performed with a mere tap of the handbrake and whilst this is as far from the relative complexity these maneuvers demand in real life it does make for a title that is very approachable. Some hardcore racers will find this hand-holding rather offputting but we aren’t here for a racing sim, we’re here to get our carnage on.
Alongside the single player career is a sadly underwhelming online multiplayer experience. Whilst all the game modes and cars you have unlocked in the single player career are present, you’ll be subjected to the age-old problem of being up against racers with A-grade cars that wipe the floor with your D-class rides. This means that unless you can convince your rivals to play nice or have a lot of friends with a copy of the game to play with you’ll have a very rocky start to your multiplayer career. Failing that you have the option to stick with the single player until you unlock better cars but it’s never nice to have multiplayer roped off until you wade through the main game. It’s also obvious this type of pick-up-and-play title is tailor made for four player split screen, with such simple controls and appealing content but two player local play is the max, quite disappointing for a game that’s so geared towards showing off to your friends.
Finally, we have “Joyride”, a game mode that has eaten up hours of my time. It’s almost primal in it’s simplicity; you have a car and huge area filled with ramps, tunnels and obstacles to muck about in. Joyride is really the ultimate Gymkhana playground, there’s no time limits, no rivals and a mountain of challenges to beat and hidden packages to find so go crazy! With a bit of practice you’ll be drifting through warehouses, performing tight, precise donuts around obstacles and slamming your foot down to jump eighteen-wheelers, some of the challenges require top-tier car control and beating them feels so rewarding. I whole-heartedly recommend spending a bit of time in Joyride if you just want to let off a bit of steam or want a change of pace from smashing and crashing.
Wrapping up, Codemasters have really hit the nail on the head making Showdown into a spectacle that exemplifies balls-to-the-wall driving, mayhem and motorsport. Everything in Dirt Showdown is polished to a mirror sheen from the menus to the cars and the plethora of game modes are varied and fun. If multiplayer is your thing, however, you’ll need to do a lot of offline playing before you’ll be ready to take on the big boys online and if you have friends over expect to take turns.
An action packed crash-a-thon only let down by disappointing multiplayer
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