2012 felt like an off-year for the racing genre. Outside of the return of Criterion’s brand of racing in Need For Speed: Most Wanted and the Xbox 360 exclusive Forza Horizon, the hype-train for similar games was pretty subdued. Among those that slipped under the cracks was Codemaster’s Dirt Showdown. This comes as a surprise considering their pedigree in the market and the success of 2011’s Dirt 3. While Showdown is a different approach to the rally racing scene that most are used to from the developer, it still offers an experience worth trying.
Past games in the Colin McRae/Dirt series have focused on the competitive and realistic approach to the Rally world. Most of the time, you were put in the driver’s seat of some of the best cars in the world and needed to win circuit courses or hold the fastest time in various trails across the globe. In Dirt 3, they included Gymkhana, an obstacle course race mode which had drivers perform various driving manoeuvres, including drifts and donuts, as fast as they can or completing a course with the highest amount of points.
Showdown is built around the popularity of Gymkhana. While there are still a few “traditional” race modes with an arcade spin, the focus has spread to include “demolition” and “hoonigan” race types, meant to give the player the experience of really causing or being part of the chaos.
The “demolition” modes bring back fond memories of watching demolition-derbies on television and classic games that focused on causing as much damage as possible to your opposition. Showdown features three race types that focus on carnage. In rampage, the objective is to cause as much damage to your opposition to rack up the most points in the given time frame. Everything from shunting, t-boning and completely destroying a car will earn you points. This is then taken one step farther in Knock-Out, where all the cars do the same thing on an elevated platform, with the objective to knock cars off it to earn maximum points.
The last of the demolition type modes is Hard-Target. This time, the tables have turned and the objective is to avoid the other cars for as long as possible. Rather than tying to cause damage, figuring ways of avoiding contact opens up for some really interesting scenarios. The longer you stay out there, the more opposition comes your way, all looking to take you out.
“Hoonigan” race modes are those similar to Gymkhana. Trick Rush is your standard points based mode where performing key-actions at specific areas on the course earn you points. Getting the highest possible point tally will require you to learn each course and finding the best way to chain those tricks. “Head-2-Head” has two cars race through a course in the hopes of reaching the finish line first but still having to perform similar actions to advance.
The only real down side to the trick aspects of the game are its limitations. Tricks can only take place in specific areas. If you want to perform a donut, you must do it in the specific spot where it is marked. Additionally, the number of point possibilities is fairly limited. Outside of drifting and donuts, the only other ways of earning points are smashing through specific barriers or leaping off ramps.
There are other modes on-top of the ones already mentioned. Races such as 8-ball, incorporate elements from both standard races and demolition. Having to race on a figure eight course and being cautious every time you reach a cross road can lead to some very interesting collision situations. Most races also include the ability to earn and use boost, a first for the series, which can also cause some really interesting situations when used correctly.
The variety of race types is what makes Showdown so much fun. When playing through the game’s career mode, the fact that there are so many different race types to encounter keeps things fresh for the most part. One race you may be trying to punch cars off a platform only to follow that up with a race through the street of Miami Beach.
The only real problem with the strong variety in race types is the limitations on the locales. The career mode is broken up into four difficulty levels which become unlocked as you complete the lesser ones. But both the way in which locations are made available and the number of locations that are included is less than ideal.
In the game’s first difficulty or “season”, Pro, there are only three locations available to race in: Miami, San Francisco and Yokohama. While you may have different race types to tackle, repeating the same three locations through a 13-race “season” is disappointing. As you make your way up the through the career, additional locations do become available but still occur at a very slow pace. In All-Star, the second “season”, areas such as Colorado, Michigan and Nevada open up but you then begin to repeat the same spots seen in Pro. Cities such as Los Angeles and Tokyo become available as you progress, but unless you continue through the game’s career, they may not be seen by more casual players unless played online or locally with friends.
Depending on your need for car variety, the number that is available in Showdown may also cause some disappointment. There are 29 cars but most of those are fictitious. This should not come as much of a surprise considering most manufacturers would not want their cars included in the demolition-type modes. The fictitious cars are pretty enjoyable and all offer something different and handle pretty well, but it won’t appease those who want more “realism” in their racing games. This is even more evident considering the recently released Most Wanted was able to combine chaos with real cars.
There is a pretty simple reason why Dirt Showdown slipped under the cracks for most people. When you look at what is available, while incredibly enjoyable, it pales in comparison to other full-featured racing games. When most racers offer both a large number of courses and cars, Showdown keeps things simple. Because of that, when Showdown launched in the spring of 2012 as a full-priced game, it certainly pushed people away. This does not feel like a $60 game but rather a 30-40 dollar expansion or even a $20 downloadable game.
Additionally, the turn around from Dirt 3 to Showdown was too short. Showdown hit store shelves only a year after the release of Dirt 3 and chance are, people were still having far too much fun with the 2011 game than wanting to already jump to something else. Even though Showdown shares more in common to the Motorstorm series than Dirt 3, it probably would have suited Codemasters more to hold onto this game until a later date or perhaps market and price it differently.
Even with the failure of marketing, Showdown is still quite an enjoyable experience when compared to other arcade racing titles. Again, when paired with Dirt 3, it feels more like an expansion rather than something original. Those who want more Dirt racing, then this may not be for you. On the other hand, if you enjoy Motorstorm and like crazy, arcade racing thrown at you, then this will do the job.