DiRT Showdown comes from the newly created Codemasters Racing Studio. The publisher now has some of the best selling racing games on the market, notably the BAFTA award-winning F1 2011. The DiRT games legacy started with late Colin McRae series of rally games - great realistic rally simulations. It progressed into a far more generic rally title encapsulating all types of off-road vehicles based on locations across a variety of countries and regions.
Showdown takes the series into a new direction, but in a "I've seen this somewhere before" mould. Think of a strong Destruction Derby on the PlayStation 1 as a core ingredient, with a mix of Burnout Takedown and a sprinkling of Motorstorm. This isn't a bad thing, but after the first "race" I had this flashback of being about 17 years old playing a video game when I should have been revising for A' levels.
So the crux of the game is about carnage, damage and luck. Let's not beat around the bush, it is an arcade game - there isn't much skill involved, and most of the time it is down to luck where you finish in a race than being able to drive accurately and skillfully.
If you have played any of Codemasters' recent racing games you will feel at ease in working your way around the menus. It is built on the acclaimed Ego engine and graphically it is a very pretty looking game - lots of overused lens flare, special effects in the background, and very engaging and immersive racing locales. Codemasters, along with EA, are the leaders in front-end game presentation and there is no threat to this in this game - polished, executed well and clear.
But what of the actual gameplay? Addictive, annoying, infuriating, but you can't help but have "just one more go". This primarily comes down to the handling model which is great. You can thread the handbrake for precise drifting and control - useful in the drifting modes of the game but also in the closely fought traditional races in going rind a tight corner. There are a great number of varying racing modes, not all destruction style, but that still remains as a sub feature within. The key to success is being in the lead as you cross the finishing line - obviously. But his is down to luck and being in the right place at the right time more than anything else. I'll give you an example: a 5 lap race, consistent driving through 4 laps, and on the last lap a backmarker takes you out. There is zero point in having a clean race, you need to go in with the mentality of crashing into your competitors to win. You'll either see this as gratuitous fun or increasingly annoying. As a great fan of Codemasters' F1 series, I am all for the smooth consistent driving. But DiRT isn't that style of game and it would be unfair to mark it down for that.
That said though, I would imagine that doing a Destruction Derby with your closest mates online would be so much fun - friendly competitive rivalry taken to new levels in fun, short gaming sessions. There is a very nifty feature though as you are playing through the single player mode you can send challenges to friends in your network to get them to beat your latest score/time.
In summary though, it is a good and fun game - my 17-year old self playing Destruction Derby all over again. It will appeal to some who like pure fun racing gaming where little skill is required. But I'll hold out for Codemasters to provide in GRID 2 and F1 2012 for my racing pleasure.