games / Reviews

Dirt: Showdown (Xbox 360) Review

June 25, 2012 | Posted by Marc Morrison

Ah, another DiRT game, how I was excited by you. When Dirt: Showdown was released I specifically requested the assignment to review it. I was a massive fan of Dirt 2, completing it fully, and somewhat enjoyed Dirt 3, despite some missteps. This new game is ostensibly a spin-off of the regular Dirt franchise and hopes to take it into some arcade like racing and the like. It’s not “Dirt 4”, but is trying to be its own thing.

And it largely falls flat on its face while doing so. After the first two hours of playing, completely the Pro cup, I was shocked at what they had done to the franchise. It is literally mind-boggling to me how this game is just not fun. Whatever Codemasters was trying to do, they either failed to achieve it or the entire game’s design point was fatally flawed.

A proper Dirt game is a good meld of arcade and simulation racing. You can get into the nitty gritty of simulation as you raced, tweaking gear ratios, ride height, suspension, etc. You didn’t have to though, which made it all the better. If you wanted to just jump into a car and race, you could, and probably do okay in it. The previous games were a mix of this and had a unique feeling when you raced. When you hit a jump, it could go a thousand different ways. In this game, it only goes one way, badly. Everything seems to go badly in this game. Showdown chucks out all the simulation stuff and goes full-bore into an arcade mindset. The engine, cars, and tracks aren’t built for it though, so it fails in this aspect.

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Prior Dirt games had a lot of event types, and this one follows that example. Some are good, some are middling, and some are terrible. You’re introduced to the career by the game dumping you into a race as it’s going on, Daytona USA style. You only have one lap to go though in the race and it’s done. This doesn’t start off with a great impression and it slowly sinks from there.

You start off with a list of cups, with only the Pro cup being unlocked first. As you enter the menu, you only see two events unlocked. When you beat one, the next event in the box opens up. There are four events for each row, and three rows, with a challenge race at the top, so that 13 races per cup. While the menus look different, this is all par for the course in the Dirt games, only having a few events to start with, and more to unlock as you go on. The way it’s presented in Showdown is a bit on the basic side but generally work. They are less cool than Dirt 2 but better than Dirt 3’s funky pyramid event lists.

I’m going to now list the race type/events, with some descriptions of them, in order of which you unlock them:

Race Off is the average style race. A track with a few jumps and such, but is a big oval design so you can race around on it.

Rampage is one of the new “race” styles. It isn’t a race at all but a destruction derby event. You’re in a circular arena with 7 other cars and you try and damage them by hitting them with your car. You gain more points with stronger hits or by attacking the weak point on a car (doing a T-Bone slam), or if it’s the fatal hit on an enemy car. This mode is ostensibly one of the big showcases of this game and it is just not fun. Enemy cars tend to focus on your car a bit too much as opposed to each other. The boost meter is, quite frankly, laughable because the amount of speed it gives you is negligible so you’re never going fast enough. When there are 30 second left in the round (out of a 3:00 minute time), you go into “double points”, where all the hits and slams are worth double points. However this can highly screw you up because the AI seems to put immense pressure on you to keep up the pace. During one event, I had 17,000 points; the guy next in line had around 8,000 points. By the end of the match, I had 19,000 points and he had about 21,000. That really isn’t fun to me.

Knockout is another new event type, in a similar vein of Rampage. The event takes place on a raised platform, and instead of trying to completely wreck cars you’re trying to drive them off the edge so they fall to the ground below. Damaging/wrecking other cars still nets you points but you can chain together knockout bonuses which give you multipliers. The big problem with this event is the time it takes you to brake in order to prevent your own car from going off the edge. The problem of speed also comes up when you’re trying to force someone off the platform and the boost not doing a damn thing.

OO Ball is far and away the worst event style in the game. It’s a race event where the track crosses and intersects itself in a few spots, like an eight formation, only with one or two more places of intersection. It’s also terrible. The reason is due to the intersection points. When you are in first place for two of the three laps, get to a point, get T-boned by the idiot in 4th place, and get so knocked out of the track you drop to 5th place, THAT IS NOT FUN . On occasions it does work out in your favor, having another racer make that mistake but by and large it hits you instead. The removal of the Flashback system from prior Dirt games is another factor. Had that system been kept in place it would’ve negated almost all my criticism of this event. If a car hit you, you could just rewind time back and try to avoid it. Not so in this game you’re just meant to take it. Given how squirrely the cars handle and the game seems dead set on making you intentionally mess up, its removal is somewhat insane. This is one of the worst game modes I’ve ever played, period.

Head 2 Head is the first event under the “Hoonigan” designation. It’s an event where you go up against one other driver to perform tricks and get them done as soon as possible. It’s a mixture of a normal race but with Gymkhana tricks thrown in. So you’ll have to drift around a corner, smash up some blocks, do a donut around a post, jump off a ramp, etc. I never really got Gymkhana in Dirt 3 and it’s not much better here. It does seem a bit easier to pull off certain tracks though. The races are pretty short; it’s just a matter of trying to hit all the trick targets as you go. Unlike in Dirt 3 though, this game does nothing to ease you into how to do a Gymkhana trick. Dirt 3 had a decent enough tutorial to get you going. This game just has the event but not the in-game help at all. Good luck if you’re just figuring the tricks out on your own.

Eliminator is another frustrating event within the game. It’s a typical event found in most games where there is a timer going down and when it expires the person in last place is eliminated, starting the time up again. An eliminator race is also what broke me for the game. You start off the event in last place and quickly have to get to advance so you’re not eliminated. It took me about 18 tries to do a single event which infuriated me. Even holding down the limp-wristed boost button did nothing because it, in fact, really doesn’t do anything in the game.

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Hard Target is the final in the destruction derby type of events. It involves you trying to avoid unstoppable enemy cars and try to survive for as long as possible. It’s essentially a survival mode from fighting games adapted to the racing world. The longer you do survive the higher in the rankings you will go. This is actually a pretty fun mode and not one I’ve seen in a lot of other racing games, except for maybe Burnout Paradise.

Domination is another one of those “this has been done in other racing games” type of event…and done better, I might add. The idea is the track is split up into four zones, and you have to have the highest speed as you pass different gates. The other cars are also passing through the gates so it becomes a battle of trying to work around them but keeping your speed up. Your race finish also gives you some points to be calculated in the final tally. Here’s the problem: This game has no speedometer . You know that number that you keep trying to see what the goal is? You never can know. The only two bits of information on your HUD are the health of your car (generally worthless) and your boost meter, which isn’t impactful at all. So this mode is about trying to make it as fast around the course as possible, but you’re never given any measuring tool as to see how fast your car is going, how fast other cars are going, or anything like that. Perfect.

Another “Hoonigan” type of event was the Smash Hunter . You are dropped into an obstacle course and told to run down blocks of different colors. So you’re told to run down five yellow blocks, then five green blocks, then five blue blocks and so on. You’re also rated on how fast you can complete the course. The Dirt series has had modes like this in prior games and it’s nothing new, but still can be fun. The removal of the Flash Back system though is again a sore point. It can be very aggravating to make a good run, mess up on the last part and have to start over. When the Flash Backs were in place it always gave you a chance to correct your mistakes. With them gone, it forces you to play more carefully but it removes the fun from the game. You’re not given a chance to really try any new strategies or to do anything special because you’re always penalized for it.

The last event type I saw was the final in the “Hoonigan” event class, this titled Trick Rush . You’re given an open area in which to do various Gymkhana tricks to do. Unlike in Head 2 Head there is no set number of tricks to do in a pattern, it is entirely up to you, and the only consideration is getting the highest number of points. Here’s a tip: smash into as many blocks as you can. They are plentiful, help boost your multiplier and are easy to hit. The game never explains at all what “Hoonigan” is which is kind of funny.

There is also the returning mission mode from Dirt 3 in this game now entitled Joyride . This is one of the improvements to the game. Functionally it is the exact same as in Dirt 3, however now you can see where the individual missions are located and how you can try and take them on. It’s nothing revolutionary but it is a step up from the first iteration of the mode, where you just had to Youtube where everything was located. You are to do tricks and find secret packages in the open environment.

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Graphics in this game are both good and bad. On the good side are the flame effects for ramp jumping, some of the car destruction is good, and the skybox is amazing, especially at night. The downside is the blandness of the environments, the lack of creativity with the car models and this game just not feeling “special” like the prior Dirt games did. There’s also a bizarre gameplay moment when you terminally damage a car and it goes into a green wireframe outline. This isn’t a bug but it is a design choice. It’s very odd to say the least.

Sound is decidedly not great in this go-round. The music is more schizophrenic than before going from European Techno, to American Punkrock, to British Rap. The music is all over the place and has no real coherence like the prior games did. Sound effects are pretty solid especially the fire effects and crash noises. Voice acting took a huge hit though. Prior games had a good blend of real drivers, British people, and American people. This game seems to only have one guy, Christian Stevenson doing work. He’s worked on the Dirt series before as a soundtrack guy and as a prior voice announcer. There used to be other options though for choosing different voices. Now there is just him. He sounds like he’s doing a full on Jeff Spicoli impersonation. I’m shocked he didn’t pull off a few bong rips as he did his lines. Some of the lines are, “T-Bone-a-Saurus”, “Life is way better when you’re spinning in it”, and my favorite, ”Perpendicular Awesomeness!!!”. I rest my case.

There is a fair amount of replayability with a few cavets. There is a Autolog (from NFS: Hot Pursuit) type system called “RaceNet”. You have to sign up on a Codemasters website but it’s the same principle, getting your friends and challenging them and such. It didn’t work for me because I have no other friends playing this game. It also takes a stupid long time to get it going. 4 out of 5 times when I fire the game up it tries to log on, waits a minute then fails out. I actually counted one and it took a minute and 2 seconds to finally display the “Unable to Connect to Racenet” error message. You can’t cancel this process so you just have to let it go. Aside from Racenet, there is the Joyride areas to explore, a level-based multiplayer system with a healthy amount of different events, solo and team based, a car upgrading mechanic (that doesn’t do anything) and so on. If you have a few friends who have this game, and are WAY into the Dirt franchise this game will serve you well. Even if you don’t, the online aspect is still decent enough, especially with a car-based “Capture the Flag” mode, to keep you entertained for a while. There is also the returning Youtube replay upload feature which takes forever, and errored out whenever I tried to do it.

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I really wanted to like this game. I thought it might’ve been a new direction for the Dirt franchise to make it a bit more mainstream but hopefully keep it fun. The horrible audio, the repetitive visuals, the half-assed boost mechanic, the terrible track design, and the worst track design possible keep me from enjoying the game on so many levels. Toss in the fact that there’s NO way to even judge your speed and you have to wonder what went wrong or if they even noticed the problems in the first place. Please, if you enjoy the Dirt games, stay away. And if you’ve never played a Dirt game, play Dirt 3 or (better yet) Dirt 2. You will thank me for this advice in the long run.

Graphics6.0Too few new environments, repetitive race tracks and a general “ugliness” abounds. Good fire effects, a nice skybox, and 60fps though. 
Gameplay6.5I wanted to like it, but it’s too messed up to be enjoyed. Cars don’t drive well, track design is a mess, destruction derby isn’t fun. NO SPEEDOMETER? Joyride is improved though. 
Sound4.0Music doesn’t fit at all in the game, sound effects are decent though. The announcer is a walking war crime, worse than Stryker from Burnout 3. 
Lasting Appeal7.5It’s somewhat dependent on you having friends on Racenet (and the bloody thing actually working), but multiplayer is fun and exploring the open areas is enjoyable. 
Fun Factor 4.0What a weird disaster. They tried to copy Burnout’s race style but didn’t understand what made those games fun. Stick with what you know. Intersecting tracks suck. 
Overall5.5   [ Not So Good ]  legend

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Marc Morrison

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