Dirt Showdown [Preview] – Destruction dirty

29 Feb 2012  by   John Robertson

If the Dirt series is about the glory and carefully executed, almost balletic, spins and drifts of highly-tuned rally cars as they fly through rugged rural stages, then Dirt Showdown is the uglier, nastier little brother. More concerned with bent steel, bone shattering impacts and ploughing your opponents through the safety barrier, Dirt Showdown is about power. It’s not about finesse.
The world Dirt Showdown is attempting to depict is one of hastily built tracks, even more hastily built cars and spectators who think mullets, moonshine and road-kill make for one classy party.
Where Dirt has beautifully designed point-to-point races through Scandinavian forests and British countryside, Dirt Showdown has mud tracks lined with old tyres and an emphasis on building combos by attacking rather than overtaking. If you ever played Destruction Derby back on the PlayStation One, this will all sound very familiar. And, like me, if you liked Destruction Derby, this is all going to sound very promising.
Our first foray into Dirt Showdown took place on a figure of eight track that would, in real-life, have no chance of passing the rigorous FIA safety regulations. Those of you with a basic grasp of numerical digits will be able to pick up on the problem immediately; a figure of eight track must include a crossover point in which cars are going to pass while travelling in different directions.
Obviously, the track has been designed in the hope of inducing a bloodbath. Predictably, after a couple laps to allow the field to spread out, the crossover is every bit the scene of horror it’s supposed to be – broken cars litter the intersection as others plough through, turning what was a race track into a scrap yard.

The best tactic is to carefully pick your way through the mess and emerge on the other side with clear track in front of you. Thanks to the aggression levels of the AI, however, that’s much easier said than done. Your best bet is to actually pick a line early and try to drive through relatively unscathed, too much hesitation and those cars around you will shunt you into either the pile-up or the barriers. Neither is an easy place to escape from.
Handling and damage models have been brought over wholesale from Dirt 3, meaning everything looks and feels top notch. Cars handle with a precision that stands in stark contrast to on-screen carnage, allowing you to elegantly induce well-controlled drifts and donut out of sticky situations. No matter how good you are behind the wheel, though, you won’t be able to stay out of trouble forever; but it’s almost worth being sent flying just to remind yourself of how good a digital car can look when it has been bent and snapped from every angle.
That same care and attention to detail has been applied to the Baja course that we drove around, complete with many rows of fans, fireworks exploding in the distance and a smooth track that devolves into a series of deep trenches as cars complete laps.
Whereas the goal of the figure of eight track was to be first past the finish line, Rampage has an altogether more sinister objective. Like the glory days of Destruction Derby, this is a battle for survival as you’re thrown into a bowl and told to inflict all kinds of pain upon thy enemy.
Where it differs from Destruction Derby is in the scoring system. Rather than try to survive to the end, you need to score as many points as possible within a set time limit. Points are awarded based on the damage you deal per shunt, with bonus points dished out for wrecking a car completely. If you find yourself wrecked, you’re penalised by having to wait a few seconds but then you’re respawned at the edge of the arena and given another shot at causing havoc.

There are other modes, including a tweaked version of Dirt 3’s brilliant Gymkhana mode. Whilst we haven’t experienced it for ourselves, we’re told that the new Gymkhana has been made more accessible to those that found it a difficult act to get right in Dirt 3. Here’s hoping that doesn’t mean that it’s received the dreaded ‘dumbing down’ treatment, because personally I love it just as it is and do not want a simpler experience.
This is Codemasters we’re talking about, though. If anyone knows how to satisfy racing game fans it’s them.
Our hands-on time with Dirt Showdown has been painfully brief so far, but there’s already an inescapable attraction towards the idea it’s trying to execute. There’s been a lack of this type of game for far too long as developers have towed the line and created either a full-on simulation, or an arcade racer featuring insane power-ups and cars capable of stupid and meaningless speeds.
In a sense, Dirt Showdown is a simulator of a kind. It’s just that the type of driving that it’s simulating doesn’t lend itself to hitting the perfect racing line or tuning your car to within one percent of the ideal gear ratio. This is the down and dirty ugly duckling of the driving world, and it’s good to see it back in pixels and polygons. 

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