DiRT Showdown hands-on preview

Let’s be clear - this isn’t DiRT 4. Codemasters may be using the title, but DiRT Showdown is a spin-off that tones down the simulation in favor of more action oriented racing. That said, the game still retains the look of DiRT 4, and the cars still have a realistic weight to them, so don’t mistake it for a run of the mill, floaty arcade racer. While it’s definitely aiming for a more casual racing fan, Showdown still shows Codemasters' signature quality and attention to detail.

While it’s not a sequel, per se, Showdown builds off some of the ideas introduced in DiRT 3. The “Hoonigan” game mode is being pitched as Gymkhana 2.0, an update and revision to the free form trick racing mode introduced in D3. This mode rewards players for pulling off Ken Block style stunts that include jumps, controlled drifts and navigating tight quarters and driving lines. The bulk of the Gymkhana and Joyride racing will take place in DiRT Showdown's new Yokohama Complex. It's four times as big as D3’s DC Compound, and portions unlock as you explore and race in it.

The Destruction game mode features DiRT's first foray into Demolition Derby, allowing players to relish in the automotive carnage. Rampage is a points based version of demo derby, pitching you into a small area with enemy vehicles while attempting to knock as many of them out as possible. Health bars are visible above each car, and your available boost is based on how aggressive you drive. That's right, Showdown has a boost gauge, which makes it the first DiRT game to do so.

Hits are graded as Shunts, Slams, Barges, and T-bones, and extra points are awarded for the intensity of the hit. The final 30 seconds of each round award double points, and if you’re able to take down a few cars, huge upsets are possible. As you'd expect this is chaotic fun at its finest, filled with smokey burnouts, donuts and crushed metal.

Other modes pop up as well, including Smash Hunter, a variation on D3’s Smash Attack, where the driver must navigate specific driving line my crashing through colored blocks. Showdown's Speed mode puts the focus on the racing, though the course we played was in a figure eight configuration, meaning that mid race crashes were nearly inevitable.

Showdown also utilizes the same EGO engine as DiRT 3, and the game’s lighting effects and level of detail are just as good.

Simulation minded players will be a little let-down to hear that the game’s licensed vehicles are only available in the Hoonigan mode, though the massive level of damage your cars suffer in the destructive modes quickly renders them unrecognizable anyway. The demo derby vehicles run the gamut from crusty old American style wagons to hearses and mini-busses. We haven’t seen much of the licensed cars yet, though screens have shown the Ford Fiesta and Ford Mustang in action.

Showdown supports up to 8 players online as well as split screen for local play, putting a heavy emphasis on the multiplayer both off and online. Following in the footsteps of NFS’s Speedwall and Forza Motorsport 4’s online challenges, Showdown will allow you to wager money against friends via specific online events. Cars can be upgraded, allowing for players to pick a favorite and run with it for the entire game if they’re so inclined.

DiRT Showdown is slated for a May 25th release date on PS3, PC and 360. PC gamers will be happy to know Codemasters have dropped Games for Windows Live and adopted the much preferred Steamworks instead.

Down are up ell, ex why be?