Down and dirty.
Fans of the DiRT franchise may not feel comfortable at first approaching DiRT Showdown. Where DiRT 3 is a technical rally racer with arcade stylings, DiRT Showdown is more of an arcade rally racer that highlights collisions, nitro boost, pyrotechnic effects, and wanton destruction. Paying attention to turns and drifts still matters if you want to earn first place finishes, but all of the technical jargon is meant to step aside lest it be crushed by the wheels of a monster truck.
That's just how DiRT Showdown wants to be perceived: rowdy, irreverent, and deliberately graceless. Tracks tend to be comprised of wide dirt roads littered with the occasional pile of tires and barrels for your vehicle to smash, as well as plenty of jump opportunities to catch some altitude. Meanwhile, AI opponents attempt to ram you off the road, spin you out, wreck your car into pieces, and do whatever it takes to bully you out of the competition. The commentator goes into a frenzy for every collision out on the racetrack, all while pyrotechnics and laser effects go off generously, making it seem as if the entire event takes place in a destruction derby carnival.
The trouble, though, is that in sacrificing and deemphasizing the franchise's usual technical strengths, the game gets caught being a jack of all trades but a master of none. In trying to reel in some simple-minded fun into the fold, it veers off into a strange in-between space where it's neither casual nor hardcore enough to stand out.
That might sound odd because car crashes and nitro boosts are almost always guaranteed to be entertaining. When DiRT Showdown focuses on those two specific aspects, particularly in demolition arena events like Rampage and Knock Out, it succeeds. Sometimes a seemingly solid hit doesn't seem to earn enough points in Rampage, but it's difficult to deny the satisfaction of T-boning an opponent at reckless speeds.
For the more traditional Race Off and 8-Ball modes, though, collisions just aren't worth the trouble. While 8-Ball tracks are designed to involve crossover pile-ups, which are exhilarating in theory, they cause more irritation than sadistic joy. Whether you're in the lead or in last place, a collision only serves to slow you down. Moreover, you're going so fast that it's just dumb luck if you make it through an intersection, and if you get into too many accidents, you're wrecked permanently.
At some point, DiRT Showdown needed to learn from Burnout Revenge. The reason collisions are welcome in Burnout is because they gain you boost, a longer boost bar, and you don't lose speed. Here, trading paint and doing a light shunt every once in a while doesn't hurt, though anything more than that runs the risk of swerving into a wall or stalling dead in your tracks. Electing to take an optional jump also usually slows you down. In a race against the clock, these spectacular collisions and jumps get in the way.
In addition, instead of being given new cars throughout the campaign like in DiRT 3, you're only given the right to unlock new cars here with in-game cash. What ends up happening is that you're better off saving money for the best cars available and upgrading them, skipping over the majority of the cars and thus a lot of the content.
Luckily, these mishaps only impact about one-third of the game. The two new Gymkhana events, Smash Hunter and Head To Head, are strong variations of the already strong trick-based motorsport event. In fact, I'm surprised Codemasters didn't just come out with a "DiRT Gymkhana". Smashing blocks in succession, trying to perform donuts and spins quickly, and competing against a rival take the Gymkhana events to a new level. Hopefully, DiRT 4 will include these new modes and then some.
Most of the flaws also fall by the wayside when competing in multiplayer, either local or online. The events are limited to five modes, but every one of them is fast and furious when you've got a full roster of competitors. You can even join the online community RaceNet for additional events, achievement tracking, and extra rewards.
Overall, DiRT Showdown is an enjoyable romp through the, well, dirtier side of the franchise. Some of the technical excitement, like nailing a corner with precision and adjusting the car specifications to match the conditions of the road, is lost in the transition unless you set the difficulty to Advanced. But most of the new modes still manage to be entertaining, all with the graphical polish and varied tracks the series is known for. DiRT fans will be pleased about this offshoot, at least somewhat, until the DiRT 4 rolls around.