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DiRT Showdown review

AT A GLANCE
  • Tyres and cars flying everywhere
  • Large variety of gameplay modes
  • Beating your mates by a tenth of a second
  • Unsatisfying car damage and collisions
  • Stripped-back feeling compared to peers
  • Being referred to as 'They'

Despite the grumbles over damage, the option to hit R1 and trigger 'Crashback' mode and immediately relive your best smashes is most welcome, not least because you can now upload your best efforts straight to YouTube - so long as you've got the VIP pass that comes with the game or have bought one off XBLA/PSN.

Above: That's a keeper. Expect YouTube to be full of this sort of thing very soon

Incredibly, these mid-race replays don't let you use a rewind function like every other Codies racer game this side of DiRT 1 (at least outside of the free roam 'Joyride' areas). A surprising omission, but one we don't really miss, especially as the chaotic races are never unsalvageable, even after coming to a rest deep in the wall.

Call me by my name

Little touches like being addressed by name in the in-game commentary in previous entries have gone, not only replaced by a selectable nickname (which you only really get called once when you load the game up each time), but replaced with an incredibly impersonal 'they'. 'They did it' and 'they rear-ended them' sounds ludicrous. What's wrong with 'you'? 'You did it' has always worked before.

Above: It doesn't really matter what you choose - you'll mostly be called 'They'

All of the above probably sounds unfairly harsh on what is still a higher-quality game than most. And on the occasions that you find yourself in a close race in one of the better-looking environments, the game feels like a 10/10. Just look at this race (edited for length), which was arcade racing heaven and had us all cooing at the TV in the office:

With the close, aggressive racing and downright spectacular physics, the racing is by far the best bit of the game, running like a deluxe version of DiRT 2. But then you find yourself in another arena event, getting squashed between a concrete wall and a van travelling at 60mph and emerging with barely a dent while the announcer says "It's like watching two cars drive into each other… oh, wait – they are." That's when you start to wonder where the 'DiRT' in the title has actually gone.

Tough acts to follow

As a compare and contrast exercise, I loaded up DiRT 2 and even Race Driver GRID – and was very surprised. Both of those games are faster, for a start. Much faster. Showdown feels almost leaden in comparison. Also, it turns out DiRT 2 is almost impossible to play after you've been playing Showdown for hours and hours. The inertia and sense of sliding around the dirt tracks is far more pronounced than Showdown, which makes the new game feel like it's got the stabilisers on. I understand why they've done it, and it's arguably a plus point for the 'post pub' drunken play sessions it's undoubtedly aimed at.

But the other thing I noticed is that the feeling of quality is higher in the older games. Not in terms of overall graphical oomph (though GRID is still incredible, even almost four years to the day since it first came out), but in terms of attention to detail. On-board cameras look phenomenal in replays as you watch your driver go through his animations with sensational fluidity.

Above: This is Race Driver GRID - a four-year-old grandaddy of DiRT Showdown. Note how it still looks amazing and has 12 fully-destructible cars on the track

And GRID's helmet-cam racing has far more drama, especially when you hit the car in front and the windscreen smashes, simultaneously clearing your vision and making the race louder. By comparison, Showdown doesn't even have on-board cameras – presumably rendering all those interiors was deemed unnecessarily time-consuming. Despite all this, GRID has far more cars on the track at any one time.

You're also referred to by name in both the menus and the races, have context-sensitive commentary that extends beyond dudeisms and there's a sense of rivalry with named competitors, again referred to by the commentary by name. And while I appreciate Showdown is intended to be streamlined and uncomplicated, GRID's option to race for other teams to try new things but earn less XP is a very neat idea.

Finally, there are the crashes. One car spinning out, hitting a tyre wall and flipping in Race Driver GRID is more exciting to watch than similar incidents in Showdown, despite the extra gloss. Maybe it's the clouds of smoke, or perhaps the greater sensation of weight as it heaves through the air, but it's unquestionably better. And, to cap it off, all of this could happen in GRID's own full-fledged Destruction Derby figure-8 track - one of the biggest selling points of Showdown.

Better in isolation

Nonetheless, taken on its own merit, DiRT Showdown is a fantastic-looking game that's player-friendly and slickly presented. Its heart beats with the slickest version yet of Codemasters' phenomenal driving engine, ensuring every single new play gives you something amazing to enjoy. But it feels too reined in, so instead of being absolutely mental, it only feels 'pretty crazy'.

Above: We're still talking about a class act, technically far in advance of most racers

You're left with an enjoyable and highly playable racing game with loads to do and, just occasionally, some of the most exhilarating action in any racing game, ever. If only Codies had ramped up the damage and placed a bit more emphasis on racing events, this would be essential.

As it is, it's still a quality purchase for casual racing fans and undoubtedly a perfect gift for a child (and we mean that genuinely without any hint of derision). But for everyone else, it fails to surpass the still-incredible DiRT 2.

We played the Xbox 360 version of the game for this review

More Info

Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PC, PS3
Genre: Racing
Published by: Codemasters

15 comments

  • killswitchzero7 - June 20, 2012 1:54 p.m.

    only worth a rent
  • IceBlueKirby - May 25, 2012 12:03 a.m.

    Despite the crashes being somewhat underwhelming (they still looked good in the video, just not what I was expecting) I'll have to check this out, probably when I can find it cheap. I used to love Destruction Derby 64, but it hasn't aged well at all, so this seems a good replacement.
  • avantguardian - May 24, 2012 5:17 p.m.

    i echo the desire for grid 2. the first one, plus forza, makes a delicious racer sandwich.
  • DickSingh666 - June 17, 2012 8:13 p.m.

    Win
  • DarkSynopsis - May 24, 2012 4:22 p.m.

    I've loved pretty much any Codemasters Racing game to hit Xbox 360 and I really enjoyed DiRT 3 but all this Gymkhana stuff is a pain! It will be awhile before I pick this one up since it does not seem to focus on the Racing as much and that is the best part of the DiRT Games! I really hated having to do Gymkhana in DiRT 3. I'm with most others also that GRiD was pretty awesome and for some reason we have yet to see it get a sequel! We have even had 2 F1 games since it came out! WHY IS NO ONE OVER THERE WORKING ON IT!?
  • GR_JustinTowell - May 25, 2012 1:35 a.m.

    Actually, Gymkhana is an even smaller part of the main game than racing, and it's all over in about a minute each time. The Joyride mode is more stunt-based, so you need your Gymkhana skills there, but it's totally peripheral to the main game.
  • usmovers_02 - May 24, 2012 11:03 a.m.

    Why is it that the one Sequel everybody is asking for is the one we're not getting? All the Dirts are fine, they don't appeal to me but they are quality games. But how is it that Dirt has 3 games AND a spinoff while GRID doesn't even have one sequel? They're not counting TOCA as part of the GRID series are they? I'd LOVE to see a TOCA sequel because they tried for a more serious approach but I'm certainly willing to settle for GRID 2.
  • Dadyo238 - May 24, 2012 8:26 a.m.

    Why is it only 720p on PS3 when it's 1080p on Xbox 360? The PS3 is the more powerful machine, so shouldn't it be the other way?
  • GR_JustinTowell - May 24, 2012 9:54 a.m.

    The EGO engine just doesn't seem to run as well on PS3 for whatever reason. Just look at F1 2011. If it helps, I don't think it's native 1080p on Xbox, it looks upscaled to me. But the retail packaging says 720p on PS3, and 720p, 1080i and 1080p on 360.
  • Imgema - May 24, 2012 5:42 a.m.

    I played the demo and... ok, another racing game that is too dark and uses too much orange. As if they try to look that it takes place on Mars. Also, it runs at 30 fps, which i find unacceptable for racing games in this generation. I'd rather play the XBLA Daytona USA, it runs at 60 fps and it takes place on Earth.
  • GR_JustinTowell - May 25, 2012 1:36 a.m.

    Perhaps your TV's picture settings aren't quite right? I definitely wouldn't call it dark. Or orange!
  • Imgema - May 25, 2012 2:46 a.m.

    Well, every other game i have is bright and, well, looks ok. Its not just this game, many racing games have this kind of lighting (for their most part) that's full of style (i guess) but looks unnatural. They don't look as natural and bright as older racing games like Colin Mcray 05 which i'm playing right now and looks awesome.
  • Imgema - May 25, 2012 2:49 a.m.

    Sorry, i forgot to mention that, yeah, maybe its just the demo.
  • GR_JustinTowell - May 25, 2012 8:02 a.m.

    The old Colin McRae games were great, yeah. I spent so much time on the PSone original. As for the lighting, yes, I see what you mean. I think the sunset over the Baja track in that race video up there is just for effect, but it's not present in the majority of races, but does look rather beautiful while you're playing. I can't really fault the graphics in Showdown (though I'm very keen to see what EGO looks like on next-gen), it's more how it plays. But if you don't like the sunshiney orange filter, I see where you're coming from. GRID actually had quite a bit of that too. Sometimes it makes it look like CG, which is great. Other times... just orange :D
  • MasterBhater - May 24, 2012 4:02 a.m.

    The only reason I would buy this game is if it lived up to the high standards GRiD set, with the driving physics and the cockpit view and the amazing destruction derby figure-8 that it had (A track that I still play every once and a while to this day). According to your review, this game hasn't lived up to that, and the moment I heard "unsatisfying collisions" I was convinced: This game isn't worth buying.

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