First, before we get going here, let me preface this review by saying this is NOT a DiRT off-road racing game like you are used to. Now, for those of you still with me, let me explain. For fans everywhere, DiRT has become a name synonymous with great racing games pumped out of Codemasters’ dev house. Fantastic graphics, physics, presentation; Codemasters is known for all of these qualities within its racing titles. DiRT Showdown brings two of these to the table, with one being noticeably absent – and with this being a demolition derby style of game, it is a lamentable omission.
Being a Codemasters title, this game looks fantastic. Car models are well detailed, and their trim schemes are varied. Tracks, while somewhat bland in design, are still layered with plenty of eye candy. Textures and colors pop from your screen and blur convincingly on acceleration. When you impact with another car, or object, the screen shakes jarringly, giving you a close experience to truly having your head tossed around. The menus and car selection is truly cool. Each event and car information menu is presented as a container. When you switch between menus, the containers rain in from the sky and land with a loud, booming thud onto one another. Needless to say, it never got old for me to see these events stacking up with each new unlock.
One area where this title falls short is the variety in tracks and cars. Trust me when I say, nostalgic players will feel right at home with this title. You have a small selection of cars which is unlocked with a simple cash award system. You win a race in 1st, 2nd or 3rd, or you get nothing. Once you accrue enough dough, it is off to the shop. Nope, just kidding, there is no shop. The car selection screen will have other cars available for purchase, and it is also here you can update one of the three or four attributes the cars have. No suspension tweaks, no weapons, no special power ups. In truth, each car is nearly identical at the start, and each paint job on the car is literally that, a paint job.
You can select any color scheme you want at the start of every race for your purchased cars, so you aren’t stuck deciding. Since the cars are so similar, it isn’t long before you can earn enough cash to make them all equal, or buy a new car or two. Once you have your vehicle, you are given two available events at the start. You must place in the events to unlock the next ones. You will see events for figure 8 smash ups, king of the hill style game modes, even some stunt events. However, what you won’t encounter is a huge number of tracks or modes. While it doesn’t become stale immediately, after the first couple of championships, you will be yearning for more variety.
Remember when I mentioned two of the three things Codemasters is known for? Have you guessed which is missing from this title? Yep. Physics. Before you toss the mouse down and go storming off in a fit of rage that ALL racing games MUST have a great physics engine, let me tell you the game is fun. Sure you bounce off the walls very rigidly, with speed and weight having little to no impact on the, erm, impact. Yes, each car falls apart and damages the same. Yes, each car degrades in performance the exact same way every time damage in incurred, no matter which vehicle. However, that is part of what makes this game work. It isn’t a horrible unbalanced mess like Twisted Metal was; where cars had a distinct advantage over one another. Rather, in this game, it makes an effort to give the illusion you are selecting your car type and appearance, but it is slyly making it even behind the scenes to prevent frustrating races.
Purists will hate this, but this isn’t a game for simulation junkies. This is an arcade game, harkening back to the 16 year old Demolition Derby title that graced the PS1. It is just arcade fun. You don’t even have an on-screen speedometer, you simply don’t need one. Just trust me on this, the physics model present in this game is more than enough to provide some awesome gaming moments. When you smack into a poor sod going full turbo, you will get a satisfying spray of parts and a bone crunching sound as to be expected. You can review an instant replay at any time, but if you make a particularly bone-jarring hit, it will prompt you to push a button to see a post rendered cut scene of your impact Speaking of, there is a nifty feature available when you make a monster hit that will allow you to upload the moment to YouTube.
The game does have a multiplayer component, but sadly, at the time of this review, I simply could not get into an online match. Not for lack of trying, but simply because I got tired of waiting in a lobby for 30 mins with another player waiting for a game to fill up to be played. Don’t go into this title expecting online to lengthen its bang for the buck. There is also a mode for single players to just drive around maps and complete challenges like collecting objects, making jumps, etc. but these are overall boring and not really a great addition to the game itself.
Shortcomings aside, Codemasters has delivered a very fast paced, slickly-presented arcade demolition derby that is more than capable of giving you some great entertainment value. Less than stellar car and track selection becomes lost under the awesome presentation and fun factor. Sure, this isn’t Gran Turismo, but rather a title that fills a void in a game library that has been sorely lacking, namely demolition derby.