Dirt Showdown Hands On

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Developer: Codemasters / Publisher: Codemasters / Release date: May 2012 / Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

As I said in last year’s review, Dirt 3 was mind-blowingly excellent. It was feature-rich, beautiful, tight, and exceptionally fun. Typically I’ve had to wait a couple years between off-road excursions of the franchise, but this year, Codemasters has decided to give the world another Dirt game: Dirt Showdown.

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Taking it cues from the frantic, off-the-wall multiplayer modes in Dirt 3, Showdown is a completely different beast than you might be used to. If you’re love of racing lies with high speed drifts through corners as your co-driver shouts out the next set of bends, or you’re turned on by point-to-point stage racing, Showdown is not that (though Codemasters did quote us that “Dirt 4 will come and it will focus on the rally and be much more simulation”). No, Showdown is for those folk who like the craziness of the X-Games, the diabolic insanity of Gymkhana, and the chaotic joy of the aforementioned Dirt 3 multiplayer game types.

See, Showdown is all about the action sports crowd. It’s about fast, ridiculous arcade-style action. Of the three major spheres of gameplay in Showdown (racing, style, and destruction), only the style category features any licensed vehicles. The other two use non-specific cars, and this has allowed Codemasters to go crazy with the damage modeling, since they aren’t beholden to car maker restrictions.

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And thankfully, when you talk about destruction, there’s a whole wing of the game dedicated to it. I got a chance to try out Rampage, what is essentially an open car combat arena where ramming and destroying the seven other cars will grant you points. Once time runs out, whoever has the most points win. It’s a very standard deathmatch mode, with one twist: the final 30 seconds doubles all points, so even being last on the scoreboard won’t prevent a comeback.

8-Ball was another track I got to try, a cloverleaf dirt circuit raced across three laps. Due to the interlocking cloverleaf design, certain areas of the track featured dangerous intersections where collisions could happen between the leading cars and the vehicles behind. Sure enough, a truck side-swiped me and overturned my car a few corners before the end of the race; thankfully I still ended up winning. But the destruction element rears its head here, too, and you’ll be able to terminally damage other racers if you take them into the walls or ram them violently.

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There are a lot of cute touches to Showdown: flashbacks are now called crachsbacks, Gymkhana is now called “hoonigan” mode, after Ken Block’s fashion line and the general slang for anyone who drives aggressively and recklessly. There’s also a brand new joyride arena set in Yokohama, Japan for hoonigan hooligans that is promised to be four times as large as the Battersea area from Dirt 3.

It’s very clear that Dirt Showdown is a multiplayer-first experience. It’s over the top, stylistic, and a complete expansion upon the non-racing elements of previous Dirt games. Codemasters was quick to point out that Showdown is a new branch of the franchise, separate from the rally greatness they’ve already achieved. But like all Dirt games, this one so far seems to hit the right levels of fun and polish that the series is known for. The game is scheduled for a May release, so look for more details soon.

  1. Ahh, looks like Demolition Racer on the PS1 reborn. Cool.

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