Codemasters takes a detour
With titles like Grid, Formula 1, and the Dirt series, Codemasters has built an impressive pedigree as a racing studio. But for those still not in the know about their latest effort, Dirt: Showdown’s something quite different, as it largely ditches the series’ rally-racing-simulator roots and instead feels more like an arcade demolition derby, with simple controls and a much greater emphasis on destruction.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. It’s different, sure—but fans of arcade racers should note that there’s still tons of fun to be had here, as well as new ways to connect with fellow fans.
When playing Showdown, the first thing you’ll notice is the ease and accessibility of the handling; I rarely found myself braking, even on some of the sharpest turns. Showdown also brings a boost mechanic to the series, which fits with the new arcade tone nicely.
Showdown still retains plenty of what makes Dirt its own, though, particularly with the online components. Associate producer Iain Smith says that a lot of these modes were inspired by much of the fan feedback and multiplayer success of Dirt 3. Fan favorites like Transporter mode make a return, but they come with several tweaks and additions to fit with Showdown’s pick-up-and-play mantra.
For example, think Transporter mode from Dirt 3, and you’ll have a good idea of the basics of a capture-the-flag, control-point variant called Smash and Grab. In this 4-on-4 contest, the objective is to grab a neutral flag on the map and hold it for as long as you can. If an enemy gets the flag first, you can steal it by crashing into the flag carrier—just make sure to keep your speed up. Crashing into a complete stop does you no good, as you’re just setting yourself up to get the flag stolen.
Seeing all eight cars smash into each other in one spot on the map—while the flag shifts from team to team—is a pretty common sight, in fact. It can be a bit chaotic, but it also feels satisfying to steal a flag and navigate out of the madness before the other team realizes what happened.
Smash and Grab also lends itself to the demolition derby feel that Showdown exudes. As a bit of an arcade twist, the last 30 seconds of each match doubles a bonus round, during which you get a multiplier for holding the flag. It’s meant as a way to encourage the losing team to make a comeback, but it’s really a two-way street: Either the losing team does start making a comeback, or the winning team decimates them further.
Gymkhana mode—prominently featured in Dirt 3—makes a return in Showdown, but with its own arcade twist. Titled Joyride, this mode puts players in an open track and tasks them with completing upward of 75 challenges, including drifting around corners, pulling perfect doughnuts, and landing huge jumps. To help keep track of them all, players do have the option of marking individual challenges as priority, even getting a little marker on where exactly to go to complete them. While the challenges themselves to have a bit of a sameness to them—you pull off the same 10 or so types of challenges but in different parts of the map— the layouts do mix things up and offer their own challenges.
The different techniques required to pull off the challenges are easier to pull off, too. Since the handling’s much more forgiving, doughnuts, drifting, and the like will be much more comfortable to those who’ve struggled with them in the past—and much easier for newcomers to get a handle on. Joyride also features an online variant, essentially a free-for-all where players compete to complete a set of challenges before everyone else.
With such a heavy emphasis on multiplayer, Codemasters is building their own service to help unify the community. RaceNet’s similar to services such as Need for Speed’s Autolog and Call of Duty’s Elite programs, offering an online hub that allows players to more readily connect with each other, as well as share race times, post challenges, and compete for in-game prizes. All these, along with other stats, will be tracked across all future Codemasters games, starting with Showdown.