DiRT Showdown Review
- DiRT Showdown
- Colin McRae: DiRT
Made2Game DiRT Showdown Review Score: 6/10
Formats: PS3, Xbox 360
Format Reviewed: PS3
Reviewed by: Dave Harrison
Nobody likes to be disconnected from the things they love. Whether it’s the internet connection dying, a prematurely-ended phone call to a loved or James Cameron and co not creating the things you want (we didn’t want Titanic in 3D!), we like to feel connected, invested in the things that mean something to us. Dirk Gently was a great believer in the interconnectedness of all things, the way that all things naturally lead onto one another; so when something disconnected appears, it’s incredibly jarring.
Somewhat oddly then, I couldn’t stop thinking about disconnections in expectations whilst playing through DiRT: Showdown, the spinoff to the successful DiRT series created by Codemasters. In a somewhat beguiling departure from the series traditional bread and butter of rallying, Showdown instead concentrates more upon spectacular crashes and hi-octane events, bringing a more extreme sports feeling to a series previously more interested in mud and sector times.
Subtlety has left the building for this latest iteration then, although with a degree of success. Following a similar template in single player to previous iterations whereby you unlock events each time you finish on the podium for previous trials, Showdown has you completing a number of different racing disciplines from straightforward races to arena-based destruction derbies. Despite getting rid of a fair few event types from the previous DiRT iteration (including two fan favourites, Rally and Trailblazer), there is a decent amount of variation between each stage, although quality can vary. New mode “Domination” for example is a lot of fun; each stage is split into 4 different sectors, and players are tasked with trying to set as fast a time in each sector as possible over the course of a set number of laps. The faster their lap is in comparison to other players, the more points they score – and as we all know, point equals prizes. It’s a decent twist on the standard racing event, giving players the opportunity to try to maximise their lap time and drive as consistently quickly as possible whilst balancing their available boost (more on that new feature later) to try to gain those extra few tenths in sectors they may have struggled on in a previous lap. Points are also given for final places in the race, meaning potentially cheeky players trying to hang back to recharge boost and so forth won’t get away with their devious plans.
However, for every decent test of driving skill, there appears to be a throwaway smash ’n’ crash Rampage event or an utterly tedious smash the blocks obstacle course, which were arguably some of the weakest and most hateful parts of DiRT 3. In particular, the opinion-splitting Gymkhana events have returned, albeit in a modified form – instead of being presented with a Tony Hawks style adventure playground to be explored via 4 wheels and 500 horsepower, the now re-named “Hoonigan” events play more akin to a vehicular assault course. Players must perform tricks on a linear circuit faster than their opponents, akin to the classic head-to-head events except with more spinning about. In my opinion this new variation on the theme is an improvement as I hated the original structure as it felt horribly out of place in comparison to the focussed racing on offer in the rest of the game. Ironically though, with the new arena-based Rampage modes in Showdown, this structure that felt forced in the last outing may have been a much better fit this time round.
However, a definite improvement for the Hoonigan events is the handling, which has become markedly looser than before, making it much easier to get the car drifting and spinning as you’d like it. These new, more arcade-y controls also work well for the Rampage events, where a small turning circle is key to lining up your next smash into an unsuspecting opponent. However, the same cannot be said for the purer racing events, where handling now feels somewhat weightless and flimsy compared to what veterans of the series are used to, with loose spins and a lack of feedback creating a disappointingly wishy-washy driving experience with little difficulty curve in exchange for a more immediate arcade experience. The sudden appearance of health and boost bars in the bottom right corner of the screen will also irk long-time followers of the series – whereas cars used to react to crashes with tactile feedback such as loose steering if you damaged a wheel arch or engine failure if a rogue tree got in the way of your bonnet, this has been dumbed down to a simple percentage bar. Similarly, the addition of a boost bar increases the arcade thrills, but is ultimately unrealistic and takes away from what made the series such a pleasure in the first place. That there appears to be little skill in recharging said boost bar as well, it makes it feel totally superfluous, as if pandering to an audience that didn’t previously exist for the series.
However, with simplification comes accessibility, and this is one of Showdown’s main strengths. Whilst the DiRT series has always been fairly accessible to newcomers, Showdown takes this a step further, allowing even racing novices to get up to speed almost immediately, which bodes well for the multiplayer modes on offer. Indeed, the options available would point to Showdown being designed as more of a multiplayer and social offering, with each event sporting its own league table for friends to trade times and points scored. At the end of each trial, there is even an option to challenge a friend to beat your time, allowing for plenty of smack talk and bragging rights between pals. But whilst there is plenty to keep gamers occupied (and with Rampage events being the perfect arena to settle differences), I can’t help but feel that Showdown has kind of missed the point of its multiplayer offerings, in that the most fun to be had is when you’re sitting side by side with your opponents, yet there is only an arbitrary split screen mode. This is the kind of game that seems perfectly suited to 4-player split screen gaming; lightweight, loud and simple to play – all in all, perfect beers-in Saturday night gaming meant to played in the same room, not distanced by cables and internet waves. Despite the impressive array of online features, Showdown simply doesn’t play to its strengths in this case.
What we appear to have on our hands then is a decent racing game that will give anyone a good amount of fun, but not a game entirely deserving of the “DiRT” moniker – indeed, it bears more resemblance to Mario Kart than the rallying spectacle from which it takes its name. The U-turn Showdown has taken from its previous iteration is extremely jarring, to the point where it just seems like a totally different game aimed at a completely different audience; it could be read that, with many of the locations in the previously world-spanning game being swapped for predominately American locales, this is a game looking to please our Nascar loving friends over the water at the expense of a more global audience. Perhaps I’m just bitter that Codemasters have decided to make this rather than a more Rally focussed game or a sequel to the sadly sidelined Grid series, but Showdown isn’t the game I hoped for or wanted to play, and I’m sure that I’m not alone in feeling disconnected from a series that previously offered unique rallying action for players of all skill levels, from Sunday drivers to serious racers.
Words by Dave Harrison (Twitter: @SealofMadness)
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