DiRT Showdown Review (PS3)

June 20, 2012Written by Paulmichael Contreras

I have to review dirt? I thought this was a PlayStation site! Why would you want me to review the stuff that we live on? Everyone knows pretty much everything there is to know about dirt. It doesn’t taste good, it – what’s that? Oh you meant DiRT: Showdown! Now the world’s starting to make sense again. Yes, the DiRT series of gritty, realistic racing is alive and kicking, with DiRT 3 having released just last year. With Showdown, it looks like Codemasters is going for the Burnout/Demolition Derby fans, with some events having purely destruction-based goals. Let’s find out if this new approach to a tried-and-true formula works in our review.

So what does this mean for fans of the traditional DiRT style of racing? Well, actually, although there are only two pure racing modes called “Race-Off” and “Domination,” plenty of the game’s other events such as “Head 2 Head” and “Smash Hunter” are fast-paced and mostly based on speed. You go through four tiers of events in the “Showdown Tour:” Pro, Allstar, Champion and Legend. As you conquer events, you are given prize money and can spend that on purchasing newly unlocked cars and/or upgrades for said cars. This is the first time in a long time, perhaps ever, in the series, that you can purchase cars and upgrades instead of being given them (though you are also given cars from time to time).

Those cars are not customizable in any traditional sense. Before each event, you can pick which vehicle you want to race/smash in, and you can choose to upgrade the Power, Strength, and Handling of each car to increase your chances of winning the event. Depending on how souped-up your ride is, it is graded from D to A. Although you cannot paint the cars or apply decals, you can choose between a handful of different paintjobs, each with a major sponsor such as Skin Industries, DC, or other typical sponsors of dirt sports.

All but a few very specific cars are fictitious, also a first for the series. A major part of this is likely due to the extensive damage that you suspect your cars to during the destructive events. In “Rampage,” for example, you are participating in a good ol’ fashioned destruction derby inside an arena, where points are awarded for smashing up opponents and bonuses given for knocking out a car. Unlike traditional destruction derbies, however, when your car is destroyed, you simply respawn and continue the destruction. This is all done with the DiRT series’ trademark simulation/arcade physics hybrid, so crunching cars feels visceral, dirty, and generally satisfying.

Some of Showdown‘s most interesting events are in the “Hoonigan” section, such as “Trick Rush,” which is similar to DiRT 3‘s “Gymkhana” mode of completing as many stunts as possible within a given set of time, and my personal favorite, “Smash Hunter,” which tasks you with smashing through a certain set of colored barrier that are made of small foam blocks. Smash the wrong color, and you have to backtrack to hit the right color. Hit the wrong color too many times, and restart the event. Last but certainly not least is “Head 2 Head,” which feels ripped right out of the X Games. You are tasked with completing a quick course while an opponent attempts to complete an identically mirrored course before you. It’s fast-paced, frantic, and pulse-pounding fun.

Since this is the DiRT series, you’d expect some tough AI, and Showdown most assuredly delivers. This is especially evident in the various destructive events. The AI is especially hard-hitting, and a win in the “Rampage” mode is very well-deserved. In races, at the Pro tier there does seem to be some easing up, and if you fall into last place expect to be fighting for second or first in very short order as the AI appears to suddenly become afraid of taking a corner at high speeds. There isn’t much of this in the later stages of the game, however, so you better get used to the physics in Showdown quickly.

Those physics feel like the perfect blend of arcade and simulation. You can drift around corners with ease, but overdo it and you’ll find yourself spun around. When racing, you can perform that classic police move known as the PIT maneuver on opponents, where while at high speed you bash their car’s rear half in an effort to spin them around while you pass right on by. This move is not without its risks, as you can keep in contact with the opponent’s car for too long and wind up spinning out with them as well. Of course, the AI cars can return the favor, and spin you out as well, so you have to remain vigilant and check your sides at all times. Slamming into opponents and using them as turn assists is also an option, and is seemingly encouraged in Showdown. This all makes for a visceral, intense, and fun racing experience that you can’t really get anywhere else.

Splitscreen is here! Splitscreen is here! Splitscreen is here! Yes, a feature hardly seen elsewhere, but one which makes perfect sense in a racing game, DiRT: Showdown includes splitscreen, a welcome addition. The game handles well, and there are no noticeable hiccups when the action gets intense. It is such a different experience, and great fun playing with another human being in the same room. A strange concept these days, unfortunately. I cannot stress enough how much I commend Codemasters for including such a great feature.

Speaking of great features, there’s one more I have yet to mention – Joyride. It’s pretty much what it sounds like, where you take a car of your choice and speed around a venue that was tailor-made to have fun in. There are a set of goals that you are given, such as spinning around objects, performing a certain amount of donuts, or jumping over a fence, drifting under a parked truck trailer, etc. It can get a bit repetitive, however unlocking new areas to burn rubber in is rewarding, and you’ll quickly find the time passing as you move swiftly from one goal to another.

Beyond splitscreen, online play also makes an appearance. Even over a wireless LAN connection, gameplay is smooth and generally lag-free. Voice chat is supported, as well as a party mode with people on your Friends List. This unlocks some modes exclusive to the Party mode, such as “Transporter,” a nail-biting take on Capture the Flag. Each race gains you experience, resulting in leveling up, which is reflected in a badge next to your username denoting what level you are currently at. Just because you are a level 1 noob does not mean you shouldn’t expect to win races against those of higher levels. In fact, on my very first race, my car was decidedly underpowered compared to all my other opponents. I just kept my line clean, spun out an opponent (who spewed some expletives my direction as I passed him by), and was in third place as we rounded the final corner. The battle for second ended up with both racers spun out, and I boosted my way to a win! It was exhilarating, and I loved taking a win in such fashion.

So is this a game diehard DiRT fans should take a look at? Perhaps not. If you’re expecting rally racing of any kind, this is not the game for you. But if you’re a fan of arcade racers with an emphasis on destruction, such as Burnout or Destruction Derby but with more realistic physics, then you have found your next game. The racing is fast, furious, dirty, and crash-heavy. But with DiRT‘s physics engine, it’s realistic enough that any wins or losses you come out with are due to your skill or lack thereof. Fans of destruction will definitely be satiated, as will most fans of the DiRT franchise. Splitscreen is great, online multiplayer is satisfying, and the game looks great. This is easily a buy for racing fans.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ The DiRT series we all know and love, splashed with Destruction Derby and Burnout.

+ Tons of varied event types, lots of cars to unlock, and splitscreen!

+/- A big stray from the DiRT series, very few customization options.

8.5 out of 10