Okay, first things first here: If you are looking for a serious rally simulation then I'm afraid DiRT Showdown is not the game for you. If you're looking for a serious racer in any manner then it's not for you. Now, with that out of the way, if you're still here then read on for my thoughts on Codemasters' new smashathon, DiRT Showdown, a spin-off from their popular DiRT series.
All about spectacle, Showdown pits you against rival racers not in the typical drive clean and be first to the finish manner, but in a destroy all in your path and drag your cars scathed carcass over the finish line kind of way. It's all about the show here, with fireworks screaming from every corner and ramp, and cars getting totalled at every turn. Another word for it is simply this: Fun.
When booting up the game for the first time you are encouraged to go online with the game at every opportunity, the game wants your YouTube details to upload clips and highlights, it wants you to sign up to their tracking service RaceNet, with promise of free in-game money and a new liver and if you don't do it, it will remind you about it every subsequent time you load up the game. This game wants to be played online, but first we'll focus on the single player mode.
World Tour is the name of the game, and there are four categories with increasing difficulty: Pro, Champion, AllStar and Legend. Each category houses 13 races and events, using nearly all the game modes on offer, and the AI can put up a surprising fight given the nature of the game. Without the need to stick to straight racing lines, the AI will happily punt you all over the place every chance it gets, so it is at least a decent challenge before taking yourself online to challenge real people.
As well as the campaign, you also have a Joyride mode, where you select one of two large areas and are tasked with performing tricks and finding hidden packages; this mode relies heavily on the Gymkhana seen in DiRT3, performing donuts under forklifts and drifts under and around trucks and the like. It's a good diversion and handy at honing your driving skill with the more arcade-like handling present in the game.
That's about it for the single player, although there is also a Challenge option; however at time of playing there were no challenges available so I was unable to try it. Jumping online you can choose to compete in solo events or team events, and select a specific game mode or go through a random playlist of modes, which is a great option in order to keep things fresh as you smash your way around the world.
Game modes fit into four categories: Racing, Demolition, Party and Hoonigan. Racing has a standard racing mode and Domination, wherein you are required to get the fastest time in each sector to 'Dominate' it. The player with the most sectors dominated at the end wins. Demolition has Rampage, which is straight up Destruction Derby style with you and the other players in an arena and you just smash each other silly for points, with more points awarded for the harder hits. Knock Out is similar to this, only instead of just destroying other players, your objective is to knock them off the platform which the mode takes place on, earning points for each opponent successfully knocked off. 8 Ball is the last Demolition mode, taking place in a figure of 8 track, it is a race but it's all about damaging your opponents for advantage and hoping they hit other cars on the cross-roads while you try your hardest to avoid them. The Hoonigan category is all about tricks, with the Trick Rush mode where the player with the highest score wins, with higher points being awarded for better tricks, and Head 2 Head mode, where you are on a linear, thin track and you must perform a trick at each marker, ranging from donuts to drifts to getting air. The player who completes all tricks and crosses the finish line fastest wins this one. Finally, for Party modes, we have Transporter mode, which is a capture the flag (CTF) mode, Smash & Grab, which is similar to CTF, where the goal is for your team to grab the flag (loot) and hold on to it, the longer you hold the loot, the more points you get. Last is Speed Skirmish, where the objective is to race through every checkpoint in the map as fast as possible, by any route of your choosing.
Those are all the online modes, and there really isn't a bad one among them, the highlight usually being the utter chaos that ensues during a Smash and Grab event. The online is where the game pushes you to spend most of your time in this game, but thankfully it's worth every second once you're used to the events and know what you're doing. Good, simple fun that doesn't take itself seriously at all, with joyous arcade handling and a fitting soundtrack blazing in the background.
In other social matters, the game comes with a leaderboard on all tracks for each event which you can then use to send challenges to people on your friends list, which they can try to beat and issue a challenge to you to win your place back. As mentioned I didn't have access to this, since the game got delayed there isn't anyone on my friends list to challenge, but it's an addition I look forward to exploring once the game is released.
Graphically the game is as good as you should expect from a DiRT title from Codemasters, with great looking car models and tracks, with dirt covering your vehicle by races end and pieces of vehicle scattered around the track by the end of an event. The main problem in the presentation is the games need to cause that previously mentioned spectacle; in Domination mode, for example, once you take a sector or hold it you get a massive message on your screen and there's no joy in seeing "DOMINATED," or "OWNED," as you're travelling at high speed with a tight corner coming up. Alongside this, the games other major annoyance is the beyond obnoxious commentator, spitting lines such as "I'm sweating like a fat kid in a cake shop" or "Aww, it's like the two cars are kissing." The lines aren't funny, they serve no purpose and unfortunately there's no way to mute him altogether, for some reason it's been decided for you that you want to listen to him as you can only reduce the speech option in audio to 50%, so if you don't want to listen to him, you have to mute your TV.
Overall though, DiRT is a brilliant experience for those in need of some arcade destruction. Get some friends, set up a random playlist of events online and smash each other into oblivion. Whatever you do, don't make the DiRTstruction Derby joke. I thought I was being hilarious before I was told otherwise.
Good arcade fun and destruction
Typically good Codemasters graphics and soundtrack