DiRT Showdown Review
The DiRT franchise is well known for its authentic recreation of the intense sport of rally racing. But the latest iteration, DiRT Showdown, is more about thrill-a-minute action; it thrives on nasty collisions, crowd-pleasing stunt driving, and a healthy dose of flash. So if you’re looking for a simulated, in-depth off-road racer, just pass on by. Nothin’ to see here. But if you want to just sit back, gun the engine, and revel in the ensuing recklessness, pay attention.
Even though the game doesn’t adopt the hardcore simulated style of past installments, the graphics franchise fans have come to expect are in full effect. The cars are meticulously designed, there’s a ton of destructible objects in the environment (all of which are begging to get nailed), and the special effects are slick. The latter is much more of a focal point this time around, simply due to the madcap nature of the production. The damage modeling isn’t perfect and there aren’t enough tracks but other than that, the visuals won’t disappoint.
The audio gets a boost from great engine and impact effects, but gets crazy annoying due to some lame-o commentating. I’m fully aware that we’re supposed to tolerate a substantial cheese factor, especially in regards to the Destruction Derby, but there really should’ve been a way to mute the announcer. It’s just…grating. Beyond that, though, things are fine; the soundtrack fits the high-octane action, the overall sound balancing isn’t bad, and every metallic crunch will make you wince and grin simultaneously. That’s a very big plus.
Now, as I said above, you won’t be faced with realistic physics and a bevy of complex mechanical upgrades. DiRT Showdown hits you right in the jaw and focuses on keeping your adrenaline high throughout. The series faithful might be irked at this drastic gameplay shift, but Codemasters has proven they can produce a solid, invigorating arcade racer. The only problem is that it’s a little too light; even the skill-based Hoonigan events don’t really feel all that challenging, and I don’t think they tackled the Destruction Derby correctly. More cars should've been involved, for one.
But first, the simplified control: You won’t have any trouble wheeling your capable vehicle all over the track; strategic timing and pressure on the gas and brake pedal is mostly unnecessary. Just go flying into that turn at top speed and wrench the wheel in the desired direction…you’ll probably turn out all right. If you have to, pull up the hand brake and start drifting like a madman. I’m not saying it takes no ability or practice whatsoever; I’m merely comparing it to the rest of the franchise entries, all of which boasted a much steeper learning curve.
Perhaps the most entertaining part of the game is the Gymkhana event, which features a ton of tricks, sky-high jumps, and a whole lot of fireworks. This one will require a better understanding of the controls, and you’ll definitely want to master your vehicle so as to drive into the roaring crowd’s heart. Trick Rush has you attempting one or two particular tricks (doughnuts, for instance) and with each successfully completed trick, your multiplier rises. Toss in Hoonigan, which has plenty of panache as well, and you’ve got a nice mode lineup.
Oh, but wait, there’s the Demolition. Yeah, that’s right, bashing into other cars for fun. Each opponent has a health bar and if it’s erased, that car is done. There are obstacles and barriers to use to your advantage, and you can always deal more damage when hitting top speed just before impact. The commentating is irritating, as I said above, but the fun factor can’t be denied. Still, I have to say that with the respawning feature, it doesn’t feel quite right… On top of which, there never seem to be quite enough cars in the arena; 8 is too low a number, don’t you think? I was thinkin’ more like 15. The more the better, yes?
The other primary issue I have is that there just aren’t enough tracks and circuits. You’ve really seen it all within the first few hours and despite a few incredibly well designed environments, a few fall short of impressive. And when you factor in the somewhat repetitiveness imparted by these events, which have a lot more to do with showiness than racing or true competition, you’ve got a game that could wear thin all too soon. Lastly, the ease of pulling off tricks and stunts sort of ratchets down the satisfaction meter (but maybe that’s just me).
In order to enjoy the meat of the game, you’ve got to go through the Showdown Tour career mode, which consists of four stages, each with 15 separate events. Despite the low number of available arenas and circuits, this mode will let you see ‘em all and it’ll feel more dynamic. You’ll see everything from the Colorado snows to the sandy Baja areas, and you’ll even take to the streets in Tokyo. It’s not the most robust career mode you’ve ever played but it encompasses the majority of the game’s positive elements, so it’s an absolute must for players.
Then there’s the multiplayer. Obviously, this game was made with online competition in mind because that’s where the action livens up…big time. You wouldn’t call the single-player “watered down” – that’s a little extreme – but it’s clear when you go online that multiplayer brings out the best of Showdown. You can race solo or in teams and just about every available mode is better in the multiplayer realm. That’s a little disheartening but then again, it works very well due to the appreciated accessibility of this remodeled DiRT experience.
It ain’t a simulator. It’s not really even a straight-up racer. There’s a lot going on in DiRT Showdown and despite the small lack of satisfaction I personally noticed, and the relatively low number of environments, I had a lot of fun. Joyride is always a blast if you just want to relax after a long day, and although the Derby could’ve been better, nailing opponents never really gets boring. Multiplayer is where it’s at, too, so if you’ve got some willing friends, the game jumps from “well, it’s okay” to, “you gotta try it.” And don’t worry, realism fans, DiRT will return to its roots soon.
The Good: Great vehicle design and some special environmental detail. Solid visual and audio effects. Slick presentation overall. High accessibility. Lots of fun, crowd-pleasing modes. Online multiplayer cannot be missed.
The Bad: Less than mediocre commentary. Not enough circuit/arena diversity. Can feel repetitive with low fulfillment factor. Control may be oversimplified.
The Ugly: “This announcer guy really needs to shut up.”
6/18/2012 Ben Dutka