Saturday, 14 July 2012

Review: DIRT showdown

I have played numerous racing titles over my years as a gamer, and I have always had a soft spot for the more fantasy type of racing title.  Games such as Carmageddon, Burnout and Flatout have always had more lasting appeal for me personally compared to titles like Gran Turismo.  When I found that Codemasters had released a game featuring destruction derby style modes I had to play it.

The GUI is pretty unobtrusive and works well
DIRT Showdown is the latest in Codemasters series of racing titles that formerly held the Colin McRae moniker before his unfortunate death.  Showdown takes a sidestep from its predecessor DIRT 3 by focusing most of its gameplay on the destruction aspect, rather than the racing, rally and league based play.

There is no story to speak of in showdown as the game mostly follows a linear build up through several different difficulties of championship.  Each championship features events from all gameplay modes each having a bronze, silver and gold reward for finishing them first, second or third.  Finishing in the top three unlocks more events in each championship until you finally unlock the final event that usually has multiple races to complete, unlocking the next championship on the list.

Events take the form of races, demolition events and trick events.  Each are broken down into sub categories, so races will take the form of eliminator events which require you to stay in first until the all other competitors are counted out starting with the car in last.  Domination which sees you racing around the track as fast as you can to set the best times in each sector to win.  Finally there is race off which is the more traditional lap based event.  In all racing events its possible to destroy your opponents vehicles, but you also have to watch your health as you race because the AI can do the same to you.
Tracks range from dusty desert to snowy mountain and urban areas

Demolition events are the highlights of Showdown really.  Each one is a variant of some form of car destruction.  Rampage is a simple points based destruction derby with respawns, with points being awarded for smashing into opposing cars and wrecking them.  8 ball is a figure 8 track race, that sees pretty hair raising crossovers as the race progresses.  Hard target requires the player to stay alive as long as possible as more cars are dropped into the arena to hunt you down.  Finally knock out awards points for pushing other cars off a platform and for damaging them.

Trick events or Hoonigan as the game refers them are the holdover of DIRT 3, challenging you to take licensed vehicles around locations such as Battersea powerplant and Yokohama docks to complete stunts and timed trick races against an AI opponent.  These are the weakest part of Showdown to be honest and I had to wonder why they put them in.  I would have preferred more cars for the other modes or extra tracks instead.

Multiplayer allows upto 8 players to go at it in more traditional competitive gametypes.  Capture the flag, king of the hill and a checkpoint race mode fill out the multiplayer party mode, but most games I have seen online are demolition based, but its nice to see the extra variety added for multiplayer.  There is also a local splitscreen option that allows you and a friend to play your own customised races and demolition events.  A five round set of 10 minute rampages with 6 AI is immense fun and is what is likely to keep me coming back to DIRT Showdown, once I finish the singleplayer aspect.

Control wise the game is relatively simple.  On the consoles the usual right trigger for accelerate, left trigger brake and face buttons for handbrakes/boost are intact.  Anyone who has played DIRT 3 will have no issues getting back into the control scheme.  Anyone new will be happy that the controls are easy to pick up and play with straight away.
Trick events use real licensed vehicles unlike the other modes

The cars themselves handle very well, and I mean from a gameplay standpoint.  Its not going for the hardcore realism of games like Gran turismo or Forza Motorsport, aiming for a middle ground of responsive arcarde physics with the ability to drift, slide and spin when needed in each mode. 

Graphically Showdown has some really nice looking car models, but thats to be expected from codemasters who have been making driving games for a long time now.  Since wrecking each other is a main feature here the vehicles come apart pretty realistically.  Obviously it doesn't go too far, with things like engine blocks falling out of the cars or frames being twisted so badly it won't drive in a straight line.  The enviroments look good and the weather effects are passable, although I don't think they have any effect on the racing itself.  Again alot of the art assets of DIRT 3 are being recycled here, especially locations like Battersea and even some of the cars themselves.

Knock out looks like this most times, minus the sparks
Audio in Showdown is something of a mixed bag.  Other reviews and player feedback has called the in game announcer as annoying and extremely repetitive.  The announcer I found wasn't as bad as others have made out, but he is extremely repetitive and will get old fast.  The soundtrack for the game is also nothing that will blow you away.  The tracks aren't necessarily bad, its just they aren't say Motorstorm in quailty.  The sound effects though are pretty good all round.  Engines roar and struggle as they take more damage, metal screeches with each hit and crunches sound pretty satisfying.

Overall DIRT Showdown is a fun game.  It could be viewed as a complimentary game to DIRT 3 since the content on offer is less than its predecessor, but what it has is fun to experience.  I would recommend picking Showdown up when its a cheaper title like I did since it does not justify a full price purchase.  As of writing there is no significant DLC other then new car liveries, and there is no solid word if there will be any major additions such as new vehicles, tracks or modes.

SCORE: 7.5/10


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