Dirt: Showdown preview

The Dirt series embarks on all out fun in Showdown, and here’s a preview of the things to come…

There’s something eerily satisfying about using an opponent’s car as a brake. Sure, you could pull the trigger on your pad, slowing you down to a respectable speed, enabling you to smoothly guide your dirt buggy around the corner, but what’s the point in that when you can ignore the dual nannies of common sense and personal safety and slam into the car in front of you instead? Not only will this action give you the time you need to safely navigate the bend, it’s highly likely that you’ll send the driver of the other vehicle into a spin, buying yourself a few seconds of breathing space.

This is the sort of thinking that Dirt: Showdown encourages. It’s a game that wants you to push your luck, and wants you to recklessly endanger your own life and the life of the people around you. Whether you’re taking part in one of its many single player races, engaging in a spot of online multiplayer, thrashing through a demolition derby, or throwing some mad, car based shapes in the Hoonigan mode, Showdown wants you to have a smile on your face and a cackle in your lungs.

Chaos is very much at the top of the agenda, then, and the game provides you with plenty of opportunities to engage in a little mayhem. With smooth physics and a control mechanic designed to allow your driving hair down, everything is tailored to the arcade side of the driving game dichotomy. Whilst you’ll sometimes be driving real cars, and you’ll be throwing them around near some places you might recognise from the real world, that’s as close to boring old reality as Dirt: Showdown gets. This isn’t a game for the tinkerers, it’s a game for the thrill seekers.

There’s an emphasis on social gaming thrown in too. Challenges can be set, and gauntlets thrown down to your Xbox Live or PSN Friends list. It’s the sort of system that we’ve seen a lot of titles taking, asynchronous multiplayer that lets you take on your friends even when they’re not online. High score chasing is fun, but it’s even better when you get to make smug faces at friends and colleagues after grinding their pathetic race time into dust.

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Alongside the Challenges, you can also compete head to head in online and split screen multiplayer. As with the rest of the game, there’s a focus on fun, destruction and cackling running through the MP. There are straight up races, as well as crazed destruction derbies and head to head trick competitions, all presented in Codemaster’s inimitable style. There’s even a flag capture mode, a little like Halo‘s Oddball, that sees racers grabbing a flag and holding onto it for as long as they can to earn points. Throw in RaceNet, a new stat tracking system that acts as social network and number cruncher, and encourages you to show off the cars you’ve bought and pimped out.

Whilst there’s a lot of content thrown behind multiplayer here, the single player game is also full of some interesting looking tricks and additions. Figure of eight races offer up a crazed, quick fire dash, with danger thrown in from all sides as stragglers try and keep up with the pack, and inadvertently drive into the side of it. FPS style damage markers flash up as other racers careen into the side, front, and back of your car, letting you know where the damage is coming from.

Further distancing itself from the likes of Gran Turismo and Forza 4, a boost button gives your rally car or destruction derby racer a sudden burst of speed. It’s represented on your HUD, and you only have a certain amount, so using it wisely can give you the edge. Also displayed on your HUD is a health bar of sorts, that depletes as you’re smashed into by the hordes of other players and racers who are trying to take your crown.

All of this destruction and mayhem is rendered beautifully by the engine under the hood. Sparks fly as fenders grind against concrete walls, reflections in polished chrome twist and distort as you throw your ridiculous racing contraption around the tracks. Lights glow and glitter, mud and water splash and congeal, and the whole package makes you feel like you’re really hanging on for dear life.

Perhaps the most exciting divergence from the racing norm is the Hoonigan mode, a free roaming, trick pulling take on the mental driving skills displayed by YouTube sensation and WRC and Rally of America driver Ken Block. You’ll need to string together drifts, donuts and ridiculous jumps in order to finish these. Hoonigan is the game’s dark horse, a freestyle take on the racing game that owes as much to the Tony Hawk series as it does to Outrun. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how gamers take to the new mode, and whether the seemingly deft controls will be good enough to keep you on track.

Alongside high-tech racers like the one that Block uses in his world famous Gymkhana videos, you’ll get to drive a variety of brilliant looking vehicles. Souped up saloon cars, trucks with cooling systems jutting out of their bonnets, super powered minibuses, and pimped-out American classics. All of them daubed in a selection of paint jobs, and all of them designed to make throwing them around the track an absolute dream.

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Dirt: Showdown is looking like a brilliant mix of crazed party game and meaty single player experience. Whether you’re duking it out online, or shaving seconds off your friends’ challenge times, there’s a lot here for you to get your teeth into. Codemasters’ renewed focus on the online sphere will hopefully open up plenty of avenues for exciting content, as well as that addictive leaderboard climbing compulsion that the best arcade titles can offer. If you like loud noises, big crashes, and the screech of tyres on tarmac, then Dirt: Showdown should most definitely be on your radar.