If you do lay down a particularly good time in any event, there's an option at the bottom of the results screen that allows you to challenge your friends, a bit like EA's exemplary Autolog system in Need For Speed. Just select 'Challenges' from the main menu to see how you're faring in any given match with your mates next time you log in.
Above: Unbeatable? Select 'Send Challenge' and throw down the gauntlet to your mates
However, it's not all brilliant online. Some of the capture the flag events like Transporter feel even less like DiRT, descending into what may as well be remote controlled car racing as everyone scrambles for the flag and the goal zones. This feeling is exacerbated by the collisions, which are probably the biggest area of consternation.
Firstly, let me say that the tech here is still impeccable. The EGO engine is the absolute best racing engine in terms of fluidity, versatility and spectacle on current machines, even outputting at 1080p on Xbox 360 (only 720p on PS3). But the impacts have inexplicably been toned down. Considering the whole point of populating the car rosters with many non-licensed vehicles was to avoid contractual limits on how much damage can be dealt, the amount of actual destruction is disappointingly feeble.
Above: The cars in the CG intro seem heavier and dent far more easily than the game's
Back on the original Xbox, TOCA Race Driver 2 let you rip entire corners off your car – something that carried over to Race Driver GRID. DiRT 2 saw doors, wing mirrors and more come off, complete with gorgeous crumple effects across the cars' bodies. So why are the vehicles in this deliberately arcadier offering so damn resilient? The crumpling is less pronounced, side panels warp but don't break and the wheels always stay on your car, no matter what you do – the best (worst) you can get is a puncture.
We've put together a crash montage from the highlights of our time with the game so far, which is still a tour-de-force for the 360 hardware, but not quite as dent-filled as we expected it would be.
As a result, the majority of impacts feel unsatisfying. Considering these cars have a health bar, replenishing nitrous and can respawn to the track when they flip, why can't we see terminal and spectacular smashes rip the car into two (or twenty) pieces? It's OK to then have the car flash for a bit before continuing along as before. Arcade gaming lets you do that, it's what makes it different from a sim. For whatever reason, DiRT Showdown seems unwilling to let you destroy the cars it's encouraging you to destroy.
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