In modern times it seems that, in order to succeed, racing videogames need to be either stylish new revisions of the genre or all encompassing products. If you’re not in adrenaline pumping chases or aiming for strict realism, cross country sprints or on the home straight of global championship featuring the best competitors in the world, it can appear as though the only place you’ll end up is in the bargain bin. Style or simulation: whatever happened to just being good?
Codemasters happened, and with their striking DiRT and Race Driver: GRID titles, the current-generation’s alternative racing has been all-sewn-up. So far ahead of the competition is the EVO Engine that Codemasters have elected to diversify DiRT even further; DiRT 4 is on the way, but DiRT Showdown is a sidestep that sees the franchise move into brand new territory. And as would be expected, it’s doing it with that same unique delivery that propelled DiRT into pole position.
During Electronic Theatre’s hands-on time with DiRT Showdown we experienced two of the three disciplines that will be present in the final build: racing and demolition derby, with the ‘hoonigan’ events still kept under wraps. Even in these two thirds however, players are likely to find more than enough evidence that DiRT Showdown is a title worth keeping an eye on.
First on the agenda is the racing gameplay: two tracks were played, the first of which featured some decidedly aggressive opposition. Set on a track known as ‘8 Ball’ in Nevada, a simple figure of eight played host to some tightly fought competition. Players are encouraged to assault their opponents as much as they are to put their foot down; the rival vehicles are so hostile it’s often a case of retaliation than instigation. Racing around the circuit didn’t offer any moments of peace, short and tight as players hit bottlenecks where the track crosses, with the corner so quick that first place could easily run into fourth as they’re crossing the loop.
The second track saw the return of Baja style events from Colin McRae DiRT 2. Still as much of a battle as they were a race, laps on the Baja track saw the addition of a number of interactive elements, including jumps, tyre obstacles and small pools of water. Players can use these elements to their advantage, nudging their opponents into obstacles to slow them down or taking to the air with a quick engage of the boost. Yes, DiRT Showdown is the first DiRT videogame to incorporate a boost function, offering a steady increase in speed as opposed to a sudden rush. In the final build the boost meter will recharge by way of causing damage, though is this early build that mechanic hadn’t yet been implemented.
The third and final track Electronic Theatre experienced took place as a Rampage stage: a destruction derby set in a bowl. Playing to a three minute time limit (with the last thirty seconds offering double points), the player had to cause as much damage to opponent vehicles as possible while avoiding being taken out themselves. The scoring system hasn’t yet been finalised, but it was stated that powerful side impacts will grant the player more points than a head-on collision, and should you find yourself on the receiving end of one too many you’ll quickly respawn and get back into the action. Eight vehicles were active in the bowl at any one time, the same number that will be offered in online matches when the final build arrives.
Throughout all three of the tracks presented DiRT Showdown featured a fantastic visual design. That same unmistakeable DiRT look cast through darker, moody filter provides an appearance that differentiates the videogame from the main bloodline; DiRT Showdown is the angst ridden second cousin, still part of the family, but only invited around for birthdays and Christmas. And it knows it, with pyrotechnics illuminating the sky as bumpers and bonnets become airborne, and Kris Meeke offers a commentary that enthuses more about damage caused than distance travelled.
That which was available in this ‘pre-alpha’ build was very limited, but still provided ample demonstration of the direction DiRT Showdown will take the franchise. It’s an exciting new premise for a videogame series that’s currently the leader of it’s field, and even with just the two gameplay modes on show there’s enough to believe that DiRT Showdown has no intention of disappointing. The final videogame promises a number of mechanics that Electronic Theatre wasn’t able to witness – upgradeable vehicles, a campaign mode which allows players to choose which of the disciplines they champion, a selection of Party Mode multiplayer mini-games included the return of the popular Transporter mode and a number of social features including the ability to set challenges for friends – with all this couples with the fantastic new vision of the familiar DiRT gameplay, to say that DiRT Showdown has become one of our most anticipated racing titles of 2012 is an understatement.