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DiRT Showdown (Xbox 360) artwork

DiRT Showdown (Xbox 360) review

"If you're in the mood for a decent, accessible racing game, you can do a lot worse than DiRT Showdown. The trouble is that you can also do a lot better for a lot less money."

The last DiRT game I played was the original. It was a rally racing simulation, and as such, had very strict vehicle handling unless you were already into those types of games. I was not. We didn't get along very well. And that was before I plugged in the racing wheel--an adventure in hilarity, let me tell you.

DiRT has seen a few sequels since then, and now we're on its first spinoff. DiRT Showdown experiments sideways in its chosen genre, giving us an arcade-style racer with just the tiniest hint of sim elements. The objective's the same as ever: gain money and prestige by placing well in every event you come across, then use both to build your garage and upgrade the cars housed there. As proof of its mission statement, DiRT Showdown tries to shove as few details about the cars you drive in your face as possible, meaning you don't even get to see car stats. You can still upgrade your cars, but otherwise the only way to get a real feel for how each one handles is to drive every single one. This can prove to be a help or a hindrance, depending on the player.

This time around, instead of just rally racing, you have several events to choose from, such as demolition derbies, trick competitions, knockout elimination races, and nitro-fueled races where your boost is refilled my slamming into other cars. Most of these events are truly fun, but sometimes you run into real duds like Smash Hunter, where you're asked to knock over rows of tiny colored blocks in sequence. In addition to the main campaign, there's also a mission mode which gives you several tricks to try out in free-roaming arenas, online play with up to 8 players, and support for user-generated time challenges.

In the main campaign, Showdown Tour, you're provided a gauntlet of events that are available across four difficulty classes, with the variety serving to keep the proceedings fresh. Much like in Codemasters's own GRID, you still make money no matter how low you place, so there's always room for improvement and progression. High placements, however, are required to advance in the campaign itself, a dynamic that leaves room for challenge in an otherwise forgiving environment. The online works as well as you'd expect for a racing game, sporting decent netcode with few problems. The mission mode... is pretty much just there, but inoffensive nonetheless. In all, the actual gameplay and mechanics are fun and engaging.

That's the game in a nutshell, and everything else is trappings and atmosphere. The visuals are largely high-quality, especially when the game starts using tracks and weather conditions which aren't your standard asphalt in the sun. Snow is tranquil on the tracks and in the sky, rain splashes against the screen, and dirt tracks look gritty as needed. Sometimes there's a bit too much lighting and glare (sunsets in particular can really hurt), but otherwise this is a game that's easy on the eyes.

It's a shame, then, that the rest of Showdown's presentation is utterly garish. From initial boot-up, the game constantly asks you either for money during menus (in the form of a VIP Pass only available with a new copy; said VIP pass is also the only way to access online play, another strike against it) or to sign up for Codemasters's Racenet service. Most of this goes away once you input the VIP Pass code, but it's still an issue. Once you're past all that, you have to deal with an extremely annoying announcer, who you can fortunately turn off. The menus are all giant-sized, highly stylized graphics meant to look "larger than life" but which actually come off as trying too hard. They are so large, in fact, that deciphering their meaning can take far too long. The game also supports YouTube connectivity for replay uploads. Some people will find this useful and others will find it utterly inconsequential.

Finally, I'm going to come straight out and say that this is one of the worst soundtracks I've heard in a racer. There are over 40 tracks in the game. However, they sound very similar to each other, and unless you're hardcore into dubstep, the selection just isn't very good. Unlike other racing games which handle licensed soundtrack well by providing a well-rounded mix to cater to all tastes (reference the Midnight Club series), so much of the music here is just in-your-face blaring with little melody to be found. There's little here that motivates you to get up and race; it's instead rave music that just makes one reach for the custom soundtrack feature.

All of the above elements combine to create a bombastic presentation that can just be off-putting. Everything's a loud fireworks party to the point of distraction, akin to stepping back in time to the Mountain Dew-fueled "extreme" era of the 1990s. It's a shame because there's a quite decent, if simplistic, core game under the hood. However, as much as gameplay matters in the long run, a game also shouldn't assault one's senses during runtime. If you're in the mood for a decent, accessible racing game, you can do a lot worse than DiRT Showdown. The trouble is that you can also do a lot better for a lot less money. That, in the end, is this game's true failing.


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Freelance review by Jason Grant (July 09, 2012)

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