Bumper cars for adults.
Surprising or not, I had a certain difficulty deciding my choice for last year's staff pick. I expected someone to choose Dark Souls, my default option, but no one did, leaving me to sweep my guilty pleasure aside: DiRT 3. I've never been mesmerized by the racing genre before, apart from the original Mario Kart, and after experiencing Forza Motorsport 3 and Gran Turismo 5 (including B-Spec), I thought I was done with simulation racers. Then DiRT 3 came around and blew me away with its mix of rally racing and Gymkana events, both bolstered by its attention to physics and simulation. It fulfills the desire of trying new things, a quality that DiRT Showdown attempts to satisfy as well.
Pun intended, DiRT Showdown is dirtier than DiRT 3. The civility of the racetrack where competitors quaintly evade one another and the respectful turn-taking of individual competitions have been thrown out the door, through the air, and into a car glass window (hopefully several). Vehicles are meant to punish and be punished in wild events on figure-8 tracks where collisions are expected, intentional, and glorious. Destruction derby describes only a part of it.
Conceptually, DiRT Showdown fills the hole that the Burnout series left behind while slipping in Codemaster's racing expertise. Finishing first in races means drifting around tight corners, taking care to note whether they're on gravel, snow, or asphalt, to earn nitro boosts for grabbing the gold medal and clobbering rivals without remorse. Demolition derby events focus on actively T-boning or colliding head-on into the competition; the deadlier the attack, the more points. With eight vehicles trying to wreck each other within a confined circle, the potential for violence is wondrously catastrophic, even more so during the last thirty seconds when all points are doubled.
Career mode will feature four tiers of increasingly difficult events, with multiple variations of racing, demolition, and Gymkana-based hoonigan. Beyond simple race-offs and lap attacks, race events also include Eliminator that removes the competitor in last place about every half lap and Domination where each racer tries to get the best lap time for specific section of a track. As for variety in Demolition, sometimes you'll merely need to stand your ground in Survival or stray away from the edge of the arena in King of the Ring. Gymkana events have evolved as well, featuring head-to-head competitions and Smash Hunter where you must ram through as many of your colored blocks as you can.
In line with the irreverant, destructive attitude, the simulations aspects will be toned down. There will only be one particular handling setting, though players can select from a garage of cars with different stats for handling, speed, and overall endurance. To balance that out, everything in the game is capable of two-player split-screen, a rarity nowadays, and eight player online modes will be available too, including special party mini-games. Joyride mode from DiRT 3 makes a comeback, complete with hidden packages, missions, and plenty of exploration.
Exploring off-road territory before DiRT 4 arrives, DiRT Showdown concentrates on the sillier, sadistic side of the franchise and celebrates with fireworks, gargantuan SUVs, and pure pandemonium. DiRT Showdown crashes into stores May 2012 for Xbox 360 and PS3.