Despite coming from a good pedigree that has proven to be entertaining in the past, Dirt Showdown in an uneven experience that wants to combine two racing elements into one cohesive experience yet fails in the process. Codemasters didn’t stumble by greatly altering the mechanics of Dirt, but the ensuing changes in race types and the general tone of an event results in a game that’s far removed from the skillful racing the series is known for and is also miles away from reaching the fun offered in games such as Burnout. With content that quickly becomes repetitive, Dirt Showdown ends up being the perfect example of what not to do when creating a spin-off for a popular game.
+ All the cars still feel good to drive and are totally responsive.
+ This may be the fourth game in the series, but the visuals in Dirt Showdown are as pleasant as ever.
+ The UI may not be as slick as past installments, but the game still sports a unique and highly effective presentation.
- Event types are dull, lack skill most of the time, and become old hat extremely fast.
- There’s not enough new content to actually justify Showdown being anything more than a DLC add-on pack or a mid-tier digital game.
- Gymkhana events still don’t necessarily capture the true essence and scope of the sport.
- The announcer redefines annoying.
As gamers we always expect something very specific from the games we play. Most of the time it’s standard to expect a game within a particular genre to deliver something such as a stealth game actually entailing stealth tactics to be utilized. But on top of games fulfilling their genre specific traits, it’s also common for specific franchise games to be held to a certain set of expectations that if in the hands of an able development team are usually met.
Take the Dirt franchise from Codemasters for example. For years the series has been looked upon as the go to game if not the sole top-tier game today that does justice to rally racing. With Dirt 3 the team at Codemasters once again gave us what we wanted (godly rally racing goodness) but on top of that they also expanded upon the stunt/extreme sports angle with gymkhana based action. Taking the skill based racing of gymkhana and inserting it into Dirt 3 wasn’t bad by any means and in fact most gamers wanted to see such a thing expanded upon. Now for better or worse gamers have gotten their wish with Dirt Showdown, a game in which repetition outweighs skill and in a way proves that too much of one particular thing doesn’t result in a perfect experience.
I may have stated it before, but just for the sake of letting my feelings and personal stance be known it should be stated that I’m not a complete racing freak. Yes, as a gamer I do like racing games, but I’ve never sunk 85 hours into any of the Gran Turismo or Forza games, I don’t have an elaborate racing rig set-up in my apartment, and nor do I watch Top Gear UK on a regular basis and critique racing techniques. But with that said I’ve always appreciated a good racing game, even if it doesn’t have an abundant amount of crashes, and I’ve always held the Dirt series in high regard. Many folks out there have had mix feelings concerning the breakdown of rally vs. stunt segments in the past two Dirt entries, but I thought it was good to have some variety. In the case of Dirt Showdown the game unfortunately proves that not everything can be as cool as we had hoped it would be.
One thing that I needed to remind myself constantly while playing Dirt Showdown is that it isn’t meant to be Dirt 4. While sharing the same name and being part of the Dirt franchise, Showdown is effectively a spinoff game and such a thing is represented as the game takes place in a different tournament, one with a more American flavor as opposed to the international journey found in the core Dirt games. Even with a different tone and events it was hard to look at Showdown as a different game since the core Dirt games are simply that damn good. Feeling such a thing may be a key reason as to why I didn’t enjoy Dirt Showdown as much as I did, though in the end my feelings may have been because Showdown fails to make a positive impression simply because it’s designed poorly.
There’s only so much you can do with a racing game, especially one in which there have been three core entries over the last five years. With Dirt Showdown the team at Codemasters Southam opted to take the stunt based segments found in Dirt 3 and basically dedicate an entire game to that. Such a thing likely doesn’t sound bad on paper, but when executed the final result is one that lacks charm or the skill that is normally associated with the Dirt franchise. The core of Showdown is still built around partaking in events that are part of different tours. Completing an event will result in cash to buy or upgrade vehicles and netting a gold medal will unlock more events leading up to the grand finale. That may sound good and all but the big problem in Showdown is that even if I was on the third tour out of a combined four (each with 13 events) it felt like I was doing the same thing, which in the case of the game is simply driving aimlessly mashing stuff up in the hopes of getting excited.
The basic outline that Dirt Showdown offers is that it provides some gymkhana action, a circuit based racing event with a slight destruction derby edge, “traditional” racing events with a slight extreme edge, and all out wreck fests that are as hectic as you would imagine they would be. All of that may sound decent but shockingly enough it’s dull since all those events are played out endlessly and become boring by the 2nd tour. Codemasters Southam have used the same mechanics as found in Dirt 3 so on the technical side the cars control perfectly and don’t have any nagging problems like weight shifting issues or simply feeling floaty. Even with controls that would please the most veteran Dirt players out there, Showdown simply fails on capturing the same enjoyment that was to be had perfecting a rally race or even scoring 75K in an open gymkhana race event.
Looking at what Showdown attempts to do and how it fails is rather simple. Aside from the already mentioned issue of repetition, Showdown simply isn’t enthralling since it’s a game that has outright been dumbed down. Previously it was mentioned by Codemasters that Showdown was meant to appeal to a broader audience but in the end it feels like the game simply doesn’t know what the hell it wants to do. Does it want to be a trick based racer through the Gymkhana events or does it want to ape the destruction that was found in games like Motorstorm? I’ve always been a fan of arcade racers, especially ones in which smashing into other cars is encouraged, but partaking in such an event in Dirt Showdown feels odd and is for some reason lacking any inherent amounts of fun. The Knock Out event is a perfect example of such a thing since the whole point is to ram vehicles and score points. Things are enhanced ever so slightly since the action takes place on an elevated platform, but the bottom line is that it isn’t fun. Smashing cars to net a few points is easy though the key issue is that it becomes an overly hectic free for all as I tried to swerve and ram cars when I could to maintain my lead. The basis of Knock Out may be fun, but playing it over and over again just drained the enjoyment as does the sudden moment in which the final seconds of the event rewards all participants receiving double the points, thus it’s fairly easy to lose a lead in the last ten seconds of an event.
When looking at the Knock Out event I still don’t know what Codemasters Southam was trying to achieve. I guess they wanted an event that had a bit of levity to it and could be enjoyed by all since smashing cars is usually a universal form of enjoyment. I won’t harp too much on why the mode exists as it could’ve been fun in the same way that smashing stuff up in Motorstorm or Burnout is, but upon hitting a car in Showdown there’s no epic grand slow-mo moment to highlight parts flying in a beautifully orchestrated way that looks like a beautiful modern art painting. It’s simply smash car, opposing car turns wireframe green Matrix style and then disappears. Ok, so there is indeed a replay camera for hits that are deemed brutal like doing a t-bone, but such a thing actually required me to press a button and view a short replay that totally stopped the event. Having a replay feature like that kind of speaks volumes as to how this isn’t the type of game Codemasters Southam shouldn’t be making at all.
Despite being pushed more to the forefront, the Gymkhana based events in Dirt Showdown are still lacking an amount of depth that one would expect from such a thing. Presented on a somewhat smaller scale, the Gymkhana events in Showdown consist of head to head races in which the goal is to cross the finish line first after completing a series of tricks while the other key events involve scoring tricks in an open environment such as an industrial harbor. Since Showdown retains the same foundations as Dirt 3 the Gymkhana segments feel good, but the lack of any tutorial or easing into the events in the tour mode may result in players new to the franchise being totally lost.
Aside from that the disappointing thing about Showdown’s Gymkhana efforts is that they aren’t particularly deep in what needs to be done. It may still be difficult to effortlessly string four tricks together, but the Codemasters team still hasn’t created something that accurately captures the intense and awe-inspiring feeling that Ken Block’s famous Gymkhana videos have featured. A bit of freedom is offered in the Joyride mode which features different environmental challenges that can be tackled, but if you’ve played Dirt 3 then you may want to skip part of that mode as it features a stage featured in Dirt 3. Honestly, I don’t know what was more disappointing, the fact that Codemasters didn’t push Gymkhana more in a logical way or decided to reuse an entire mode for a new game.
To be honest the rest of Dirt Showdown and its accompanying events such as Smash Hunter (smash blocks in order via the skills of Gymkhana) and Eliminator are simply there and lack any true impact. A bit of challenge is thrown in here and there since the opposing A.I. racers don’t drive like a 75 year-old granny is behind the wheel, but there still is a bit of rubberbanding so in the instances in which I took the lead I sometimes never had my lead challenged or felt like the slightest mistake could result in me suddenly losing. The online events do obviously ratchet the tension a bit since some unique modes are offered, but I still wasn’t completely wowed since the base modes simply aren’t that much fun to begin with.
The only thing that didn’t disappoint me about Dirt Showdown, and this may be a cheap thing to say, is that the game was pretty to look at. At this point it may be expected for Dirt games to look good, but even on the fourth iteration of the series the engine that powers the game hasn’t aged and still manages to push out visuals that perform well and get key things across to the player. My car still would accumulate dirt or mud while racing in a rainy event and it would also unfortunately slowly start to fall apart if I opted to be reckless with a few maneuvers. Not seeing the plains of Africa or the dense streets of Tokyo was a bit disappointing since the action in Showdown takes place in a few key locales that are unfortunately used over and over again. But even in that circumstance I was impressed with the general direction of the game as the areas had a lively pop to them and simply looked nice upon viewing a replay.
Dirt Showdown isn’t a game that is 100% terrible as it just feels a bit misguided and in some ways unnecessary. Releasing an obvious stop-gap game until Dirt 4 is released is ok, but the direction Dirt Showdown went in and what it sought out to achieve ultimately comes across a game with a bit of an identity crisis. On one hand the game is trying to be an “elaborate” skill based Gymkhana experience but then it tries to be a faux arcade racer through the smash-up happy events it features. Dirt Showdown may still be stylish and feature some of the best feelings to be had while controlling a car in a racing game, but the game is simply dull and should’ve been released as a $20 digital game as opposed to a $60 retail title. Moving forward with another Dirt spin-off is still fine in my view, but more Gymkhana action and less hillbilly racing could result in a better experience.