Codies said openly not too long ago that being a racing game developer was the new priority. With a respectable stable that includes the (relatively) high end in F1, the rally scene in Dirt 3, the time comes to fill the less sophisticated end of the spectrum.
Who will play Dirt Showdown? Two types, I reckon. Kids and young teens who still get jollies from destruction without a purpose in a bright, brash environment complete with an announcer that won’t ever shut up (or can be shut up), and who is 100 per cent excitement.
The other kind of Showdown players will be those who need in their collection a game that can be fired up when friends are around, online probably, and feel like a bit of a bash to blow off steam. Possibly when just home from a great night out.
It’ll serve both types well.
Here’s a game that serves quick satisfaction in short doses. It’s a free and happy environment with little to challenge, or achieve. It’s about the biff, and just the biff. There’s near-zero element of actual racing, despite the presence of race tracks. Whether your opponents are AI or real people, the chances of finishing first are low because no matter how well you drive some bastard is going to take you out.
Races are short, just a handful of laps, and one of the key events features a figure eight (and varieties of that track), so something will bash into you at some point and send you spinning.
With all the complex appeals of racing itself removed from the equation, what’s left is a raucous and vacuous point-and-go bit of lightweight silliness. That’s fine, but near-everything is locked in the game, so at some point you need to dedicate yourself to the grind to get access to the bulk of the game you paid for.
That goes against the grain of the game itself. Winning a race means repeated attempts til you get lucky. Nailing the line only goes so far when the random collision generator spanners your attempts the bulk of the time.
This is worsened by the destruction derby mode, which runs on a timer when it really should be last-car-standing. You respawn when your car is wrecked, and so do they, negating much of the test of skill, other than to stay alive during your last spawn as the clock ticks down.
So you slog away to unlock tracks, cars and credits, then when the time comes, enjoy a bit of happy carnage with your buddies.
I understand the value of unlocks. I do. But here Showdown would have been a game better in touch with its whole if it was all open and sandbox from the beginning. There’s just too little feeling of reward, and worse, variety, to look forward to by putting in the hard yards. It’s a simple little toy, so let us just play with it, eh?
The simplicity suits the game and extends to the cars, which don’t have an in-car view, manual gearbox or even a speedo. It’s an almost guilty liberation to just go crazy without a care, which is of course what it’s all about.
One of the three modes is a slimmed down version of the Gymkhana event we first saw in Dirt 3. In Dirt 3, it took tricky balancing of the car’s inputs to coax it into a nice well-aimed drift or donut. Getting it right was tedious, but oh so satisfying when you nailed it. Showdown guarantees a faked sense of satisfaction by removing the skill requirement completely. It slices off a birthday cake sized slab of physics, so now you really only have to throw the wheel one way and stand on the gas to execute a perfect smoky drift.
Showdown is the first recent Codies game to ditch Games for Windows Live, and has switched to Steam as the core of its multiplayer action. That’s good. Very good. GFWL brings nothing and just gets in the way, and has been the cause of lost connections during multiplayer games.
The online integration really is impressive. It’s just too easy to use the included Youtube feature and whack up your stunts from within the game. Challenges can be issued to your chums, whether they’re online or not. It’s a nice buzz to log into the game and see your mate’s little achievement and then try and beat it.
Also new is Racenet, which will feature across all new Codemasters racing games. It’s a pretty stat heaven, at least in Showdown, and expanded functionality is expected in newer games as they appear.
Codies has explicitly stated that the big focus is on being a racing/driving game developer. Other non-racing projects have been pushed aside. So now with Showdown we have a game to fill the low end of the genre. That’s admirable, and allays fears that the Dirt series just got watered down. It hasn’t – it’s expanding. Downwards, in this case.
I can’t sign off, though, without having a go at the menus. My goodness, what an awful exercise in poor UI design. Yes, it’s pretty with big blocky 3D text, but to get to each screen takes too long as the new page dramatically animates into view. The entire game menu could have been a single screen… if you’re on PC there’s no mouse support, of goddam course, so you quickly memorise the sequence of up down etc arrow inputs to get to where you want. It’s a needlessly fruity bit of dressing that only serves to remind us that here’s a game where style is the boss and substance is on holidays.
If you already own Dirt 3, you’ve got a really nice thrash sim, and it includes almost all the multiplayer modes, plus a properly done Gymkhana. Buy Showdown if you fancy the idea of a quick-fix driving action game, all good, but don’t expect it to bring anything new to your collection of driving games if you’re a bit more passionate about the genre.