It's always a difficult decision to not only change the direction of an established brand, such as DiRT, but to also change the focus of the whole studio, like Codemasters did, to racing.
So what do you do? You own the rally and the F1 market, what more can you do? Well, this is where Codemasters has done good, they've finally resurrected the fun side of real-life racing with their destructive offering in DiRT: Showdown. This is not some Burnout or Need for Speed game. Rather, this is a game which brings back destruction derby, real life 8-ball racing, crash events and the like. This game takes the hardcore mechanics of racing and applies it to the madness of these types of events.
To start we have 8-ball, a circuit of the same name which puts you in a race with seven other cars. The idea is to win the race in whatever fashion possible. Like with all other modes, you can destroy the vehicles on the track to effectively eliminate them from the race. But watch out for the cross sections in the track. If you're a little behind, or indeed in front of the pack, you could find yourself being side swiped by other vehicles.
Obviously there is the standard race which pits you agains other racers and the idea is to finish in the best position you can.
There are also two great destruction modes in the shape of Rampage and Knock Out. Rampage is a simple destruction derby type game where you have to smash the other cars to a pulp. You get rewarded points for the strength of the hit, the amount of damage you cause and whether you manage to completely terminate the vehicle. Equally in Knock Out you're on a raised platform and you're tasked with knocking the other cars out of the ring, consider it sumo car wrestling. Here you get less points for hits, but the big points come from actually knocking cars out of the ring. The great thing about these modes, and all the modes really, is that if your car is totalled by another vehicle you're not out of the game automatically. You respawn, and your points aren't docked. Instead you get a little bit of a time penalty, but despite that, you're thrown straight back into the action. These two modes are certainly my favourite.
But that's not the only fun you can have. Unlike other racers, once you've lost your position in the pack it's not too difficult to make up the time you've lost. So, for example, say you're in second or third place and you take a bad hit from one of your opponents and spin out, it's likely that you'd end up in eighth place and stay in that position to the end. But because there is so much carnage going on ahead and behind you can always fight your way back into the pack. You may not win, but you'll definitely find yourself one the podium if you work hard enough for it. The game doesn't let you feel like you're useless. And it's great to get everyone involved. For those that have more of a fighting and driving streak, there is enough to keep you challenged. For those that just want a good experience, there's something in it for you too without making you feel like you need to be a racing driving expert.
But we've not spoken about the other modes either, and more specifically Hoonigan. Hoonigan is a skill based level which sees you head to head against other players either online or in the single player campaign. This mode is effectively the Gymkhana mode from the previous, rally-focused DiRT games. Here you'll have to either drift, jump, donut or smash through barriers to complete the event. It's a lot easier than the previous Gymkhana modes and adds something a little more interesting for those that want a skill-based challenge.
Obviously, with every game you win there is a monetary reward. With this you can either upgrade vehicles you already have or you can buy new vehicles you unlock throughout the game campaign. One thing to note too is that XP points have been abolished, meaning you don't have to level up. As this is a more pick-up-and-play game, I think Codemasters has done the right thing to eliminate that.
The other thing to note about the game is that because there are hardly any licensed vehicles, Codemasters were able to really show off the damage on each vehicle. As a result the studio has freed you from bumper and cockpit camera's, but now you only have two views, the chase view and the hood view. From here you can see how much damage your vehicle has taken. But it's not only the damage which looks impressive. In fairness to Codemasters all the environments are exciting and there is so much going on around you that you really do feel frantic playing the game.
When we played the game we tried the online mode but unfortunately it failed to connect to any game. We've since tried it and it's working fine, so you should be able to enjoy taking down your friends.
And as we're talking about the online mode we had better mention the options you have. You can link your YouTube account to your profile and upload any of the crashes you have. We've got ours set up, and you can find our stuff on the Official Arabic Gamers YouTube channel. You can also send your friends challenges meaning that you can challenge them to finish a race faster than you, or get more points in a destruction game mode. This works in a very similar way to Autolog from EA's Need for Speed. There are also leader boards for you to compare how you stand against your friends playing the game.
All in all we're very impressed with the game. You have to remember, this is NOT a rally game. If you want a proper rally game, then get DiRT 3 or wait for DiRT 4. We've had our mothers and sisters playing the game, as well as some hardcore racing fans. Codemasters has done good, and you know what? It's great fun and a great realisation of a game which we've not seen since the 90s' offering of PC legend game Destruction Derby.