Although retaining the extreme sports festival vibe adopted by the series since Dirt 2, Showdown goes the extra mile by shifting gears from strict point-to-point racing and time trials to more unhinged demolition derbies and stylish gymkhana events. While it’s true that many of the modes given prominence in Showdown’s events list are not entirely new to the series, the game’s emphasis on showmanship and spectacle help the series make a different, and in many ways, more effective splash than its predecessors.
What differentiates Showdown from the other games in the Dirt series is its less punishing handling. Across the board, the experience of driving feels far more tailored to the more flashy events at the core of the game. For instance, sliding around corners and pulling off doughnut rings in gymkhana events are much easier feats to perform. Even the starter cars feel appropriately capable so long as you’re considerate with your boost usage and braking. You can, however, buy new cars and bolster their specific upgrades as you gain more cash from completing and hopefully winning new events and challenges.
The events range from being pretty off-the-wall for the series to kind of drab and expected. Smash Hunter, which sees you smashing into sets of coloured blocks in the required order, is a highlight, as is the event inspired by the purest festival showcase of them all – the demolition derby (or Rampage as it’s known in this case). The concept of ramming your car into a gang of rival cars to accrue points is a simple albeit enjoyable pleasure. The gymkhana events introduced in last year’s Dirt 3 make a welcome return, throwing all of the more trick-centric manoeuvres your car can pull off into one single event-sized package. These are pretty challenging too, although when you begin to nail the movement and order that a course demands of you, it all becomes very satisfying. Unless a tail-spun car creates untold havoc and chaos on the busiest turn of a track, the more race-focused events are comparatively less interesting.
The Showdown Tour career mode is the main hub for the game’s content, which requires you to finish events you already have in your stream before unlocking new ones. Naturally, things get tougher the further you progress, and there’s a good balance of variety and difficulty throughout all four stages of the tour. There’s also a good variety of tracks and locations, including the night-time spark of Tokyo and the snowy bumps of Colorado. A more free-form mode called Joyride is a fun inclusion as well, letting you drive around a level with brief objectives to take on as you see fit. The game’s presentation, namely the bombastic menu design, goes a long way to dazzle, despite most of it just being fluff. That said, Showdown is visually impressive from top to bottom – the vibrant environments are really bolstered by some slick attention to detail and the cars smash up and roll around in some fun ways. It truly is a great-looking game.
Dirt Showdown opens up even more when you get online with some friends: all of the events found in the single-player portion work really well in a multiplayer setting. Other events exclusive to the online arena, such as Stash and Grab, which is a sort of capture-the-flag variant made specifically for road-rage addled drivers, are hugely enjoyable. Another nice addition is the option to play in teams, which is a logical inclusion given the score-heavy focus of most of the events best-suited to the mutliplayer. On the whole, the mutliplayer modes show off the hotly competitive nature of Showdown in a flattering light; plus the split-screen options for local play is an appreciated touch sorely lacking in a lot of games nowadays.
Although much of it feels familiar in terms of its structure and choice of modes, it’s the melting pot approach and presentational treatment of those familiar things which makes Dirt Showdown worthwhile. The online multiplayer shines too, and is just as accomplished as the main single-player component in its own right. If loose, arcade-friendly racing with a penchant for smashing stuff up sounds like something you’re in the market for, then Showdown will fit the bill just right.
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