DiRT Showdown review for PS3, Xbox 360

Platform: PS3
Also On: Xbox 360
Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: Codemasters
Medium: Blu-ray
Players: Multi
Online: Yes

DiRT Showdown feels a bit more like a stop-gap in Codemasters racing franchise than an actual follow-up to DiRT 3, but you certainly get the feeling that?s intentional after sitting down to play it. After all, it liberally re-uses assets from DiRT 3, like menu design, style, font and so on, to the point that it almost feels like an expansion pack. But I will say that the additional demolition modes, which seem to be the biggest addition included, are pretty much worth the asking price, and make for a really fun addition to the core DiRT model of racing.

The racing itself also feels a lot different. The controls have been altered for a more arcade like experience instead of the hybrid simulation feel of the last game. And while racing events are present, along with returning Gymkhana runs, the demolition modes are certainly at the forefront. The slightly dumbed down feel of the racing takes a bit of adjusting to, especially since I felt that DiRT 3 really nailed that fine line between accessibility and simulation quite well, but once you adjust to the difference you?ll find yourself having a lot of fun here.

But let?s focus in on the demolition stuff for a minute. DiRT Showdown?s focus on demolition derby events is reflected not only in the events themselves, but also in the car selection you can choose from. The game doesn?t bother too much with real-world car models, even though there are some present here. Instead, the focus is on these hybrid, scrap yard style vehicles that look like they?ve been cobbled together from every random piece of junk found in the local city junkyard.

Each vehicle has three stats that can be upgraded using in-game cash earned from completing events. These stats increase the overall health of the car, which is shown in-game as a meter, along with the power of the vehicle to inflict damage, and the handling. As you pour cash into these stats you?ll increase the overall ranking of your vehicle, which doesn?t seem to matter much for the events you can participate in. Vehicle progress in single player carries over to multiplayer and vice versa, and you?ll earn cash in multiplayer matches that can be brought into the single player portion of the game making for a pretty seamless experience there.

The demolition events consist of things like Rampage, which sees you entering a bowl like arena and just smashing the hell out of every other car around you. Different impacts earn you varying points, which are increased based on how hard that impact is. You?ll gain extra points for landing the killing blow on a vehicle, but since these events are time based losing all your health doesn?t meant that it?s game over, instead you?ll just respawn to go at it again. At the last 30 seconds or so of the match, points become doubled, which can turn the tables on the current standings quickly, allowing players to come from behind for an unexpected win.

The stand out demolition mode for me, though, was Knock Out. Knock Out puts players on a platform suspended above the bowl arena, with everyone trying to knock each other off of said platform to score 1000 points for doing so. If you?re knocked out you just make your way back up one of the many ramps positioned around the platform to re-enter the fight, and this mode becomes fast and frantic quickly. It?s a blast to play online, more so with friends, and will see you screaming and laughing simultaneously at your T.V. I easily played more of this particular mode than anything else DiRT Showdown had to offer, and I sincerely hope this particular mode makes its way into future DiRT titles down the road.

Again, besides the demolition modes, you?ve got a number of race modes and some Gymkhana tracks to check out. Race modes consist of returning events like Head 2 Head, Eight Ball, and so on. The Gymkhana modes are less open events this time out and more structured tracks with designed goals, involving a set path to perform tricks on and compete for best time with other players online or against the CPU. There are also two open Gymkhana areas to check out separate from campaign mode, which is another feature returning from DiRT 3, complete with hidden packages to locate and a set number of tricks to perform. Disappointing is the fact that at least one of the two stages is lifted entirely from DiRT 3, and it would have been nice to see all new content for this particular mode.

Codemaster?s RaceNet feature plays heavily into this game as well, which you can register for on their website prior to playing the game, and acts as an online hub to track progress and compare scores and time against other players. There?s a helpful wall in game that?s not unlike the feature popularized by Criterion?s Need for Speed Most Wanted, which allows you to send out challenges to friends playing the game, and constantly compare ranking with your friends throughout the campaign.

Visually the game doesn?t seem to be much of a step up from DiRT 3, and to a certain degree isn?t as striking. It lacks the variety of DiRT 3?s tracks, and there are just not enough location changes to make any one thing stand out for me. Everything runs smoothly though, which is definitely a plus, and I can?t say that I experienced any glaring technical glitches like frame rate drops, screen tearing and so on throughout my experience.

The same goes for the multiplayer side of DiRT Showdown. I rarely had any connection issues or dropped games, and didn?t experience any significant lag either. I had little trouble finding full 8 player matches to participate in, even a couple weeks after release, which is nice to see. For the multiplayer side of things you can participate in solo or team events, and can choose from playlists that cycle through all events, or can pair your selections to race only, demolition only and so on.

Overall, I feel like DiRT Showdown is definitely worth checking out, but it?s certainly not on par with the experience that DiRT 3 delivered for me. The demolition modes are great additions here, but everything else just feels like tacked on, recycled content that I?ve already played in DiRT 3. Still, even recycled, that content manages to be just as fun as I remember it. So, unless you?re particularly burnt out on DiRT at the moment, I definitely think you should give Showdown a chance, and I think you?ll find that it?s worth checking out.

Grade: B