Game Preview: Biff, bash, smash. Crunch, mash, crush. Say hello to DiRT Showdown and be excellent to each other in a freewheeling orgy of beautiful panel-bending chaos.
This game makes so much sense! Totally separate to the fairly safe bet that it’ll shred the marketplace for this genre, it reeks of realised desire from Codemasters themselves. If they ever tell you in interviews that this is “the game they always wanted to make” – believe them.
It leverages the technology Codies has in its mature Ego engine, with the telling factor here being the quality of damage and deformation that it can handle with ease. There wasn’t much space to abuse that feature in Codemaster’s recent driving games like the F1 series and DiRT 3 – here they go bananas with twisted metal (which is also a top game, that).
Mostly, though, it smacks of pent up desire to let rip and break stuff in a frenzied orgy of thing-breaking. Not just stuff, but rules, man. There was a sniff of that in DiRT 3 with its various variations of ‘tag’ mode, but the rest of that game hemmed in the walls with its need to follow rally rules. The rigidity is worse in F1 and its immaculately tailored set of regulations.
DiRT Showdown chucks all that on a burning tire pile, with the developers dancing merrily around it singing “death to yo authoritah!”
Arcade or bust
It’s wild, crazy, driving action fun. There’s nothing remotely ‘sim’ about Showdown. Your choice of view is either 3rd-car view or bonnet cam. There’s only the barest hint of ‘physics’ in the handling, and there’s not even a manual gearbox option!
It’s pure smash driving, shaped into a few flavours of paths of destruction. There’s a Racing mode which you’ve seen before just a few times. The tracks are littered with obstacles to smash through, jump ramps to blast off, and if you’re in single player mode, an army of enemy cars. A bit of praise to the devs here, because other games of this kind have trouble getting the AI balanced between pushing you into the wall too much and actually pushing for the finish line. It’s pretty good with Showdown. You can biff’n’bash while still having a decent shot at winning.
I liked the Demolition Derby events best, mainly for the tricky location design. A very cool one is a Sumo Wrestling setup on a raised platform. Lining up bad guys just right so you t-bone them off the edge – without sailing off with them – is delightfully satisfying. Slapping physics in the face with a trout is the lovely way your car takes no damage at all if it rams another at full speed, yet imparts damage to the other car. It works the other way around, too, and is a cool mechanic for this mode, encouraging you to ram but not to be rammed.
Then there’s the fantastically-named ‘Hoonigan’ events, which weren’t deeply represented in the preview beta I played, sadly, because they look like a good bit. Hoonigan is all about freestyle free-roaming of areas designed to let you express your creative side via cunning stuntwork. It’s a bit of DiRT 3’s gymkhana, but with fewer witches’ hats and many more jumps and stunts.
Made for mates
All this is tailored for multiplayer. It’s with mates that Showdown shines and Codies has delivered more than just cars and environments here. The big happy news is that they have FINALLY ditched Games for Windows Live, in favour of Steam. This is not a good decision now – it was a good decision years ago – they’ve just finally done it.
In-game you see your Steam friends integrated into the game’s graphic style. Who’s online, easy messaging and best of all instant challenges are done so smoothly. You can issue a ‘Showdown Challenge’ and it matters not if your friends aren’t even online – when next they log in they’ll see what you’ve done and reply in kind with a run at whatever track they’re challenged at. It’s a bit like turn-based destruction driving. It’s neat, but of course the meat and potatoes are in a gathering of many in the live events.
A word of warning – stylistically, Showdown is like, totally rad, and every moment of the game is doused in flaming cock rock or crushing disco, with a voice over dude that’s just too California to be true. He’ll bash your ears constantly with doodisms like “perpendicular awesomeness!”, “what’s their problem with doors?” and many, many “Whoooa!” calls.
The high intensity vibe is double-dosed with non-stop pyrotechnics and laser light shows, and if you slow down enough to look at the cheering crowdm, they’re all Bill and Ted. If you’ve ever been to the Gold Coast Indycar weekend, it’s like that.
Also predictable, but not necessarily bad, is the unlock-to-progress method. Do well, earn money, buy or upgrade vehicles and open up new tracks and events. Sigh.
The vehicles span a pretty cool range, and encompass the sort you’d expect to see on any of those custom street car shows that are slowly taking over Foxtel. So: funny cars, 70’s cop show cars, hot trucks and utes, Model-T hot rod derivatives and if you crave something with sharper handling there’s modern rally cars and dirt buggies.
Unlike other games of the genre, the oversized and overweight yank muscle cars don’t impose too much of a handling penalty, which is nice. That said it’s quite clear this is a physics model optimised for control pads. I initially tested this with a wheel and it felt pretty yuck. Connecting a 360 controller and it all came good and felt right. Cars don’t like turning without some serious throttle to accompany turns. The technique is to stand on the anchors and hit the gas while turning – exactly like Ridge Racer circa 15 years ago.
But any snobbish dismissal of Showdown is uncool. It’s really good fun! It’ll be a huge hit online with audiences spanning the kiddie crowd all the way through to boozy Friday night sessions with racers needing to get their reckless on.