By Dylan Moran
One of the first things which must be cleared up is that DiRT: Showdown is not DiRT 4. A lot of the buzz online has centred around this belief. So I repeat: DiRT: Showdown is not DiRT 4.
Instead, it’s a party game without arcade physics. It won’t punish you for drifting through a turn by sending you offline into a tree – because there aren’t any.
In Showdown you are not hooning through the forests of Finland or the Australian outback, you’re participating in the four-cylinder version of an arena spectacular.
If anything, this is more of a GRiD 2 than a DiRT 4. When GRiD came out in 2008 a lot of people were unsure how to take it – it was Codemasters, who had traditionally put out a lot of ‘simulation’ games that were frankly garbage, with the exclusion of their rally series.
GRiD was announced as a V8 Supercars 4 (TOCA Race Driver to you guys up in the Northern hemisphere) and nobody was expecting much.
But secretly Codemasters had found their own Rosetta Stone and solved the problem which crippled their previous games.
It took the same physics engine which had worked in DiRT 1, and improved the graphics, but the biggest change was they made racing fun again.
And so four years later they’re returning to that model. They’re taking the best game in their series and giving it a midget-car makeover.
While in the past Codemasters games have punished you for making contact with other cars, in Showdown they want you to get up close and personal.
It’s the first title in the DiRT line to include boost, which you earn for hitting your opponents. They all have their own health too, displayed above them, which earns you a massive boost increase for a knockout.
Unfortunately killing an opponent does not take them out of the race, leaving a wreck for you to navigate your way around like in GRiD. That feature was amazing. No, in Showdown, they just respawn after a few seconds. Sadface.
Codemasters' signature racing physics occupy their own tier on the genre's game mechanic totem pole - slightly less of a simulation than the likes of Gran Turismo and Forza at the top, a lot less arcadey than the Need for Speed titles below them.
That's not to suggest Showdown is a step downward though. On paper GRiD was the same concept just with roots more strictly based in racing.
Showdown came to be because when Codies analysed the online data from last year's DiRT 3 they found people were spending most of their online time in the Gymkhana mode. That's the one where you pretend you're Ken Block and do tricks like these for points.
In a nutshell, Showdown pulls together a bunch of different game modes - you've got the argy-bargy circuit races of DiRT, the destruction derby, the gymkhana - and gives them all sub-races.
For instance, while in GRiD you raced on a figure eight track for destruction derby, now there are a bunch of different derby modes.
One, aptly called 'Sumo' sees all the racers placed on an elevated circular platform trying to push their opponents off.
The Gymkhana modes are slightly disappointing in that they restrict the drivers now. There is still the occasional open-Gymkhana competition, but there are also ones where you have to follow a pre-set line doing tricks in order.
The physics though are definitely not going to promote skill to the top of the tree online. It’s a lot more forgiving.
As an intriguing aside, apart from the Gymkhana ‘Hoonigans’ mode where you compete against Block and his mates, all the cars and tracks are unlicensed.
It is highly unusual these days to see a game directly targeted at teens without car companies being interested, but it is great to see the designers and developers forced to flex their creative muscles.
The inclusion of total destruction could be what's causing the manufacturers' consternation, but we've recently seen them start to ease off the break peal when it comes to that feature; which is a must-have in any new racing title nowadays in order for them to be taken seriously.
Games like Forza and DiRT feature destruction and licensed car models, so the racing fan in me has immediate questions about that.
But with all said and done, it’s not a game to be taken extremely seriously. It’s a fun muck-around.
It's a fresh new take on the genre that brings a largely unappreciated sport, markets it toward youth and then reaps the rewards. There's no way Showdown can fail.
Courtesy of 3news.co.nz