Realism off the menu in this carnival of carnage
REVIEW: DiRT Showdown (Xbox360, PlayStation 3, PC). Codemasters Games. $69.
Driving games seem to have been divided into two very distinct categories of late. At one end of the spectrum you'll find "serious" simulations like Gran Turismo or Forza, where everything from the engine growl to the door-shutting clunk is painstakingly reproduced as authentically as possible, and at the other end are the over-the-top, arcade-style racers where realism is abandoned in favour of adrenaline-fuelled thrills and cartoonish escapism.
DiRT Showdown falls firmly into the latter camp - a seriously silly spinoff from Codemasters' popular rally franchise that focuses on high-speed, high-impact gameplay and actively encourages the sort of driving that would have your car impounded and crushed before you could say sustained loss of traction.
Although certain sections of the game do involve a traditional race to the finish line, the majority of objectives involve crashing, smashing and outclassing your opponents in a series of collision-based contests that evoke memories of the fender-bending 90s classic Destruction Derby.
Some events are simple carnivals of carnage, requiring you to rack up points with moves like shunts, T-bones and spinouts, and reduce the rest of the field to a pile of twisted metal without wrecking your own vehicle. Others, like Hard Target, require you to survive as long as possible in an enclosed arena with more and more cars added to the fray, all hell-bent on taking you out. This mode is particularly enjoyable as you battle against the clock and try to avoid damage from every angle.
By far the most engaging is the Knockout event, a Sumo-style game which sees you trying to force rivals off an elevated platform while trying not to be rammed off the edge. This can be as frantic as it is frustrating, because all too often you'll miss your intended target and find yourself hurtling over the perimeter instead.
DiRT Showdown is clearly aimed at the boy racer market, and possibly the most appealing section of the game for this audience will be the "Hoonigan" challenges - a kind of petrolhead gymkhana where you're required to pull donuts, skids and drifts in a timed head-to-head contest with another driver. Style is as important as speed here, and missing a jump or not quite completing all 360 degrees of your donut will cost you valuable seconds.
The game's rejection of realism extends to the choice of vehicles on offer, with very few real-life models included. This is probably due to the devastating damage involved in almost every race - although manufacturers are happy to take advantage of the free advertising and exposure games can offer, they can get very protective of their creations if dings and dents ruin their gleaming bodywork.
As with all racing games, multiplayer is where the real fun is to be found, with the option of both online and split-screen play. All the events from the single-player mode are included, along with a few extra mini-games like Smash and Grab, a kind of playground tag in reverse, where vehicles battle to grab the loot and hold on to it for as long as possible, while everyone else tries to smash into the holder to grab it for themselves.
RaceNet is the game's online matchmaking service and is almost certain to feature heavily in future Codemasters titles. If you're familiar with EA's excellent Autolog system, you'll find it works in much the same way - allowing you to compete and compare results against your mates and issue challenges to players from your friend list as you battle to outdo each other's achievements. In addition to the buddy-based contests there are also regularly scheduled RaceNet events, which should inspire some community-based competition.
If you're looking for a fun-filled driving game that doesn't take itself too seriously, then DiRT Showdown won't disappoint. There's nothing revolutionary or particularly inventive about it, but it definitely isn't dull. If you prefer a more refined and realistic racing experience, look elsewhere, but for a pick-up-and-play racer it ticks all the right boxes.
- © Fairfax NZ News