DiRT-Showdown---Xbox-360-Review DiRT Showdown - Xbox 360 Review

   16/07/2012 at 09:09       Phil May       5 COMMENTS. - Score 3/5
 - DiRT Showdown, Codemasters, Multiformat, Destruction Derby, Dirt Track Racer

I find myself in the unusual position of reviewing a new game wot I bought. At the moment this is becoming a rare occurence and it worries me that I'm somehow irreparably lost to 'the hobby' - I still enjoy games and can still get wrapped up in a good one, but this year has systematically failed to get my gaming mojo going time and time again. 

Take DiRT Showdown then. The DiRT series was on a high after DiRT 3. The game actually injected some real rallying into a series that, till that point, had become slightly too obsessed with the 'Dudebro' thing of chucking overpowered cars around tight little arenas for the delectation of fat hot-dog-scoffing yanks. 

Rallying, at least any game that pretends to be affiliated in any way with Colin McRae should at least be the focus of the game, but though DiRT 3 gave us some proper point-to-point stuff, and had one of the best handling models of the series to date, Codemasters looked like they went and threw it all away for the sake of something lightweight, mainstream and dumbed down. 

At least that's the impression of DiRT Showdown I got from the demo. A terrible track selection, a pretty awful couple of cars to try, and the demo felt like it was steering in  entirely the wrong direction. 

Spotting the full game for a ridiculously reduced price while hoover shopping I thought I'd take a chance on it. I mean, if it even manages to capture a tiny bit of the essence of those classic old Destruction Derby games, surely it can't be all bad can it? 

The good news, in fact the rather unexpected news is that it does exactly that. If you can take a rather large mind rubber to your grey matter and eradicate your memory of the demo, you might actually start enjoying yourself. Remember, I'm in 'uber-cynical-the-games-industry-is-going-down-the-pan' mode here and I managed to enjoy this game immensely over the weekend, so the message is clear - if you see this for around the 15 quid mark, get on it!

So let's dive into the game itself. It's split up into the usual tiered Codemasters career mode, the more instantaneous Joy Ride mode and a brace of multiplayer stuff (sadly, the multiplayer was a bust in this case, I guess the couple of people on my friends list who picked this up was wholly indicative of the big 'meh' this game got when it launched). For indirect competition, the game also taps into Codemasters RaceNet stuff so if by some miracle a bunch of people actually take my advice and do pick this up on the cheap (unlikely, I know) at least the league tables and leaderboards are there to nag you if your gaming peers start reaming your scores and track times. 

The game itself has one really annoying glitch that seems to happen every single time I play. Despite being installed, the game seems to pause for around 15-20 seconds every sodding time I play (usually at the start of my first race, and usually just as I'm winning) while it accesses the disk. I've no idea why, it just freezes the entire game, locks it solid, and then 20 seconds later or so, chucks you straight back into the action. It never does it again, just that one time but it's annoying enough to mention at the top of the review. 

The action itself is solid and playable stuff. Yes, the game is fairly dumbed down, and yes you'd have to be some kind of a muppet to lose any of the initial tier of races but once things hot up and once you start realising there's more to the game than just smashing the hell out of the opposition, you'll start to feel the burn. 

DiRT Showdown's races are divided between tight track racing, outright destruction derbies, 'hot target' games (where you basically have to stay alive as long as possible before the opposition smash your car to smithereens), Sumo (this is by far the most fun you can have with the game, this in multiplayer would be so much fun!) and hooning - basically showing off in a variety of overpowered classic and modern rally cars. 

At the start, you get to select from a brace of rather interesting looking vehicles - from hot rods to real banged-up banger racers. Nothing here is licensed aside from the rally cars, so you can have fun picking out your favourite muscle car lookey likeys from the stack on offer. 

With each win comes a bit of cash to either splash out on new cars or upgrades for your existing garage. Trading off buying that minty fresh / banged up to shit new model or improving your current car beyond its current class is the balancing act you'll have to perform in order to progress. Taking a class A car through a tier is great fun and piss easy but you might enjoy building up a bigger garage more. 

Cars are all equipped with a finite supply of nitrous, which slowly replenishes during the course of a race. Like in Ivan 'Ironman' Stewart's off road, a scrap of nitrous deployed at the right time can be the difference between first and last place, so use it wisely. 

Copious use of the handbrake in this game is encouraged, in fact the handling model for the cars isn't as bad as you'd imagine - though during tight races, cars seem to have a tendency to spin and face the opposite direction a little too easily. Remember the way that always used to happen in Project Gotham Racing? Some shitbag would always clip your rear bumper sending you into a spin just as you're about to snatch a victory? Same deal here. 

DiRT Showdown's only real problem is that as a late cheap buy it's worth a punt. As a full priced release, Codemasters were taking the piss a bit considering that there are merely 4 career tiers and a bunch of joyride events (which you can get through incredibly quickly) in the game, so it instantly feels a lot shallower and a lot more asset-stripped than its immediate predecessors. There's also that sodding Battersea Power Station hooning layout (again!) and a lot of track designs and layouts that seem eerily familiar. The new stuff is great though and figure-of-eight tracks (particularly the more complex ones later in the game) never get old for a bit of destruction-derby-like mayhem. 

Sadly for the series DiRT Showdown is a modern allegory of what's going horribly wrong with the industry as this generation's console hardware dribbles into its tea and wets itself while watching Jeremy Kyle. Games feel shallower and shallower as developers and publishers seek to maximise their profits on increasingly risky ventures so it's a little disheartening to see something as relatively safe as a mainstream-appeal racing game being strip-mined and reduced to a fairly lightweight experience, doubly so when you consider the average breadth and depth of this year's excellent crop of XBLA games. 

Let's hope that by the time DiRT 4 hits the shelves, Codemasters have learned a few valuable lessons. We love rallying, we love the silly and fun stuff too but less of it, and we like a game that lasts a little longer than a weekend, ta. 


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