Release Date: 6/12/12
A couple of years ago Codemasters released a game called GRID, a racing game that covered a wide variety of racing style from all over the world. One of the American style races was a demolition derby type of race, and was hands down one of my favorite race types in the game. Despite the fact that it was only a fraction of the actual game, it was the one I played over and over again. I must not be alone with enjoying that portion of the game, as Codemasters has now released a game that mostly focuses on that type of racing with DiRT Showdown.
I’m glad they did, because I can’t remember the last time I laughed with sheer maniacal glee when playing a racing game.
I am a huge fan of the old Destruction Derby games on the original Playstation, it was in fact the first game I played on the system so that is probably why this type of game has a special place in my heart. I’ve never understood how when technology made such large advances in graphics and the ability to create complex physics engines for video games, why more of these kind of games do not exist. We have the technology to create beautiful car crashes and yet over time games dedicated to smashing cars into each other have become more scarce.
DiRT Showdown has beautiful car crashes. Every car has an amazing amount of detail to them, and when selecting a car you can also choose from a wide variety of different pre-made paint jobs to apply to the vehicle. You can tell they had fun both designing the cars and paint jobs, with the non-licensed demolition derby cars looking like something that you might see in a movie like Mad Max, and some fun paint jobs, like the hearse whose No Fear sponsored paint job makes the vehicle look suspiciously like Ecto 1 from Ghostbusters. That attention to detail carries over to the damage models. Pieces fly off, doors bow inwards, paint shears off, and so on. After about 45 seconds into a Rampage race, the demolition derby mode in the game, and you can tell that the cars involved have been in a fight.
Everything about the game looks and sounds great. Codemasters is never a slouch when it comes to the presentation of their games, and DiRT Showdown is no exception. The menu and loading screens will be familiar to those who have played DiRT or other Codemasters games. The tracks are laid out well and have various obstacles, like cones or barrels, and take place in different environments. The tracks that take place in the dirt or snow will leave a visible smear of dirt or snow on a car as the race goes on. The backgrounds are well detailed and even have slight differences in appearances depending on if it is day or night. My wife watching me play mentioned how much she loved how the Ferris wheel in one level looked at night when it was lit up, a detail I had not noticed since I was paying more attention to the race.
The background music is a fitting selection of different bands, from rock to alternative to dubstep. I’m not a fan of dubstep, but all of the music in the game is played on a level that adds to the experience without being noticeably distracting. I barely noticed it until I realized I was humming along to Rise Against during the loading screens. The cars have different engine sounds, even with your eyes closed you can tell the difference between the demolition derby cars and the Hoonigan event cars. The sounds of the cars slamming together is also well done, and there are some effects in the game like fireworks that burst along the sides of the track or a ramp that are nice small additions to the experience.
While the game was released under the DiRT label, this is a very different experience than the main DiRT games. While those games are great, DiRT Showdown is much less about careful racing lines and simulating rally racing. The game is an arcade style pedal to the floor type of game, and more about creating a fun experience based on demolition derby events. The game is divided up into different unlockable events in different difficulty categories. You have to unlock each series of races in order to move up to the next series. In order to work your way up the ladder you have to participate in different types of events, some of those are based around racing. There is the standard Race event which is first one to the finish line through a track littered with obstacles and ramps, the 8-Ball event, which is a figure eight style race, to Domination, where the goal is to get the best time versus other racers on different sections of a racetrack. That one is less about being in first and trying to gain and maintain control of the racetrack. There’s an Elimination race where the car in last place is eliminated and becomes an obstacle on the racetrack after a timer counts down. There are demolition style events, like Rampage, which pits different racers in an arena trying to destroy each other. In that mode points are given for different types of crashes, and destroyed cars respawn to get back into the action. There’s Knock Out, which is like Rampage, only it takes place on a platform and the goal is to knock the other cars off of the platform for points. There is also a survival style demolition style mode called Hard Target where all of the cars are just trying to smash your car and you have to survive as long as possible.
There are also Hoonigan events, these are like the Gymkhana events from DiRT3. While these are a fun addition, it also feels really out of place in the game. The Gymkhana cars are completely a completely different set of cars, and the events have nothing to do with smashing other cars. The Hoonigan events are timed events, there’s Head to Head, where you race against another driver to see who can quickly pull of a sequence of tricks on a limited track the fastest. There’s Trick Rush, where you pull off different car tricks for points within a time limit. Then there’s Smash Hunter, where you try and smash different colored obstacles in an arranged order, and try to do it the fastest.
Those are the Gymkhana events within the main Showdown Tour mode. There is a separate Joyride mode that lets you free roam different areas, and do missions and find hidden packages within them. This mode also uses the Gymkhana cars, and the missions within these are essentially trick challenges. Jump this, drift past that, donut everything.
I like the Hoonigan/Gymkhana events and modes, as doing the tricks are fun and the there are some pretty cool stunts to pull off in Joyride. The fact that you are doing stunts and burning rubber in these events makes it so that it doesn’t completely clash with the demolition derby style of the rest of the game, however as someone who really enjoys the demolition aspect of the game I tried to skip the Hoonigan stuff as much as possible. Which occasionally it is not possible, there are times in Showdown Tour where you need to place in an event I order to unlock the next one, and the only options will be Gymkhana events. I did enjoy these modes, I just did not enjoy the transition between the joy of smashing cars, to smashing specific colored boxes in order to progress. It made these events feel like a chore instead of a fun option.
Most of these modes can be played online, along with a bunch of other, online specific modes. The game is also the first to use Codemasters Racenet. This is an online portal that you can link to your game account, then can track and share the progress on social media sites. There are also specific Racenet challenges that can be played. Every week you can download a community challenge where you play a specific race in a specific vehicle and are competing against the times of the rest of the community. There are several other social features in DiRT Showdown, like DiRT3 you can upload Youtube videos directly from the game and send challenges to people on your friendslist. While I would’ve liked a server list to choose games from online, as it is set up currently the online is easy to get into a game, and every game I’ve so far played has been smooth with little to no noticeable lag. The online adds a lot of replayability to the game, and Racenet with the community events just add another layer on top of that for reason to keep coming back to the game.
The game controls perfectly. The right trigger accelerates, the left brakes, you can boost your speed with the A button and E-Brake with the B button. The Y button cycles between views, unlike the other DiRT games there are less views to choose from. While there is a wide hood view, there is no cockpit view. Left joystick controls steering, right joystick can move the camera around. The driving is faster and looser than a simulation game, but still feels great. The sense of speed is fantastic in the game, and the ability to boost is limited to a meter that slowly refills so it never feels like something that can be exploited.
There game can be played through one of three difficulty levels. The AI in the game is great on the medium difficulty level I played the Showdown Tour through. There is some mild rubber banding going on, but during the races the AI is aggressive and drives well, but you will also see the computer make mistakes as well as attack other cars aside from just the one you drive. Even though the game is being controlled by the computer, it is easy to get lost into the game and feel a grudge against a car that might’ve spun you out early in the race, and to feel redeemed when sideswiping it into a wall later on. The easiest difficulty level makes the game a little too easy, while the hardest difficult should provided a challenge for racing fans. The AI gets really aggressive on that level, and in the later stages of the Showdown Tour you not only have to win one race, but try to win several rounds of racing, which can be difficult when the AI treats you as though you just insulted its mother(motherboard?).
Demolition derby games have been around for a long time, and it is hard to really tread new ground in a genre which is essentially cars just smashing into each other, but the variety of modes and the way they’ve set up both the online and social features certainly make DiRT Showdown one of the more unique demolition games out there. The game might not appeal to racing fans who tastes lie strictly with the racing games that focus more on simulation over smashing, however I’d like to think that people who enjoy car racing enjoy both a good race and a good car crash.
As I mentioned, I am a big fan of demolition derby style games. DiRT Showdown is a fantastic addition to that particular niche of the racing genre, and I’ve highly enjoyed every minute I’ve spent with the game so far and plan on spending much more time with the title. I hope it sells enough to warrant a sequel or DLC in the future, because as much as I love it I would like to see a few improvements. While the game has the Rampage mode, and is a lot of fun, I’d like to see a dedicated demolition mode where no one respawns and it is last man standing, much like real life demo derbies. If not a separate race type than at least the option would be nice. Otherwise DiRT Showdown is an amazing game that further exemplifies the dedication and experience that Codemasters has at creating top tier racing games.
Appeal Factor: Great
FINAL SCORE: INCREDIBLE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
DiRT Showdown is the most pure fun I’ve had with a racing game in a while. If you like arcade style racing games that focus on speed and smashing into things then this is the game for you.