Gradual corners and long, sweeping straights characterise the courses of DiRT Showdown, framed by pyrotechnics that spit bright, colored sparks into the air. Distortion-heavy guitars chug along in rhythm to the ruin. Heavy T-Bone! Light Slam! Shunt! “It’s like the two cars are kissing!” Piques the obnoxious commentator. “T-Bone straight into the side – the side of awesomeness!” A series of advertisments for Monster energy drink flick past while more pyrotechnics flash and burn on the sidelines. I crash headlong into the side of a car at the next intersection, and with the touch of a button I can replay the carnage. The moment repeats in slow motion, highlighting the destruction lovingly. Then I can upload the clip to YouTube, post the link to Twitter, and show the world my extreme skills.
If DiRT Showdown is about anything, it’s about connectivity and the attempt at over-the-top, extreme spectacle. Connect the game to your Twitter and YouTube accounts, tell your friends, challenge them to beat your lap times, and share your best moments. That connectivity is made simple and is appreciated. The race commentator’s inanities are less so, but in spite of this, DiRT Showdown hits the mark of its intended tone with plenty of color, and a soundtrack that plays like the kind of mix tape you might make for exciting summer drives.
Racing game devotees may call DiRT Showdown’s handling shallow, its cast of mostly fantasy cars underwhelming, and its courses overly simplistic. I can’t argue with these, but as merely a casual patron of the genre I must insist that these suit DiRT Showdown’s decidedly arcade style, and what I want from a racing game. Out the gate I’m a mess of a driver, but a short while later I’m sliding my racer around bends as smooth as silk – and I enjoy it. It’s accessible, if without the depth racing fans often demand.
No-holds-barred races to the finish are the usual order of the day in Showdown Tour, but there exist plenty of destruction derbies for the commentator to croon along to, as well. Trick runs feature too, as well as half a dozen other derivatives on all classes of event. Eliminator counts to fifteen, and at the end the driver in last place is removed from the fray, while the count begins again. Hard Target tasks drivers with avoiding incoming hostile vehicles for as long as possible. These are subtle variations on the basic race/destruction/trick game modes, but ones that break apart what would otherwise be crippling monotony.
This is arcade racing, and it does itself greatest justice in short bursts, before I tire of its relative shallowness. The same can be said for each of its modes. A destruction derby atop a podium can become exciting, but DiRT Showdown is no Burnout, and the vehicular massacre doesn’t have the same graphic, visceral joy of that franchise. Vehicles bend and break over the course of a match, but collisions seldom feel as destructive as they should, in spite of the game’s gratuitous instant replays. Each mode, taken on its own, is shallow. Taken together, the variety alone masquerades as depth for a time.
DiRT Showdown is a jack of all trades, master of none. When I’ve raced through the Showdown Tour I dabble in Joy Ride, where two uninteresting sandboxes hide collectibles and present me with ‘missions’ to donut around a certain piece of bland industrial equipment. I quickly pass over Joy Ride. A handful of new game modes are found online. Vehicular capture the flag? Sure, why not. Further variety only helps.
Eventually, DiRT Showdown’s strength becomes its weakness and its gambit of game modes can only endear themselves to me for a while. This is an arcade racer, coupled with destruction derby and trick modes that are as accessible as they are ultimately shallow. The deft-handed can absorb everything Showdown has and master it quickly; as soon as I’ve reached this stage, what am I left with? While the learning curve lasts, DiRT Showdown is unquestionably entertaining. Packaged and presented with neat appeal across the aural and visual planes, and with a lot to dabble in, it’s easy to like DiRT Showdown. It’s hard to love, however, and full commitment to another arcade racer comes with difficulty, even one with as much style as this.
Review based on PlayStation 3release.