DiRT Showdown Preview: “It’s the best-looking DiRT game we’ve done.”
I’ll admit it. Racing games? They’re not really my thing. More at home with a shotgun in my virtual hands than a steering wheel, I’ll confess that I’m more inclined to slip a shooter into my xbox than a racing game. That said, there’s something special about the DiRT series. I’d blame it on nostalgia (I grew up watching my dad spin cars around in Colin McRae’s Rally) but that’s probably a lie. The truth is, I’m just a teeny bit in love with this franchise.
DiRT 3 was just about as perfect as a racing sim could get. Slick, polished and unashamedly grown-up, it blew me away when I previewed it a few years back, and is today still one of few racers that I’ll voluntarily choose to play. But when news broke about this new but related Codies title, a ripple of fear ran through the community. If DiRT Showdown is taking a deliberate step away from DiRT 3‘s unapologetically grown-up facade … well, what was left?
“At the end of every project we always go back to the tools and think about what went well with the project, what were the avenues we could explore to increase performance,” says Showdown’s senior designer, Mike Chapman. “Certainly from DiRT 2 to DiRT 3, we had to get split-screen into there, so that had a lot of engine implications. DiRT 3 had a different look to DiRT 2; much more gritty, much more of a realistic style; the foliage, how why we managed the textures and lighting – it was a new set of challenges.”
“When we were creating DiRT 3, we wondered what [it] should be. Should it be that festival-style experience, or should we go more serious? We kind of struck a chord between the two, a kind of halfway house. That resonated with people; some people preferred DiRT 2, some people wanted to go more hard core with DiRT 3. So [Showdown] gave us the opportunity to split the franchise.”
“This is a highly polished, demolition derby-style experience,” Chapman continues. “There are three core game play styles – speed, style and destruction. We have racing events in there, and we have demolition derby events in there. We’ve also got the game’s answer to Gymkhana which is Hoonigan events, which can be seen […] as Gymkhana 2.0. So you’ve got these three separate gameplay styles that give much more variety than we’ve ever had before.”
Hmm. But didn’t DiRT 2 have loads of variety in the first place?
“[Yes,] the DiRT series has already had a lot of variety in there already, but the focus [now] has been to create this year’s answer to demolition derby – a really high-polished experience that’s going to support playing online, sending challenges between friends, and give us the opportunity of more in the future. There will be a DiRT 4,” he hastens to add, “but [Showdown] gives us the opportunity to focus on a more credible motorsport experience. It’s from the creators of DiRT. Once you’ve had some hands-on time, hopefully you’ll appreciate what we’ve done with it.”
And appreciate it I did.
Codies were generous with that hands-on time, and I was able to spend several hours in the company of Showdown to see for myself exactly how those three core game play styles – speed, style and destruction – translated onto the screen.
Talking of the modes? Where do I start? Chapman wasn’t wrong about the distinct modes. First up there’s Race Off and Domination for the unfettered race experience. Gymkhana is back, restyled somewhat as a Head-to-Head experience, mercifully improved now that it gives you a head’s up about what trick comes next (doesn’t stop me sucking at donuts, though). There’s also other stuff that I’m not allowed to tell you about, but rest easy knowing that I completed the first round of the single-player campaign in it’s entirety – a good dozen plus of different races and challenges – and not a single one sucked. Arguably the most enjoyable modes come in the shape of Rampage and Knock-out, demolition-derby-esque modes that were both gut-wrenchingly enjoyable and painfully addictive. Nah, there’s no Scotsman’s shouting “YOU’LL REGRET THAT!” … but it’s still bloody good fun. Trust me.
And during the multiplayer sessions, the room was stuffed with screams, shouts and cries of delight and frustration. We had an enviably good time.
From a personal perspective, I loved 8-Ball, a no-holds-barred track that takes everything that’s good about the racing mode and the demolition mode and mashes it all together. Taking the lead isn’t as much of a challenge as keeping it is – not to mention the impossible odds of keeping your vehicle fender-bender-free. Talking of which …
“We’ve always made changes, increasing the fidelity of the engine as we’ve progressed from game to game,” finishes Chapman. “But in terms of the engine itself, what we’ve change – at the core – is the damage engine. We’ve not got licensed cars in the demolition part of the game. They are based on real-world examples with a fictional spin on it. The chassis of the car will ripple and buckle based on impact. That’s pretty much been our focus for this game. It’s the best-looking DiRT game we’ve done – the lighting, when it all comes together … the atmosphere – I think we’ve done a really good job on that.”
“The main thing to stress is that DiRT 4 is coming,” Chapman reiterates, “but DiRT Showdown is something that should appeal to new fans of the series … and also something that existing fans should appreciate as well.”