Spinning your wheels in Dirt Showdown

, | Game reviews

Dirt Showdown is all the in-between stuff from other racing games. It’s those filler events you had to play to get to the next actual race. Basically, driving game gametax, now given its own game. It’s as if someone lifted up all the rally races from the previous Dirts, swept out the detritus that was left, collected it into a tidy little pile, and then slapped a name on it. Dirt Showdown.

After the jump, the lowdown on Showdown

Dirt, formerly Colin McCrae Rally, is Codemasters’ series of increasingly arcade proportions. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The mostly unserious Dirt 2 had real personality and style. The driving felt wild and a little dangerous. The tracks are some of the finest level design you’ll see in any game, regardless of genre. But then Dirt 3 happened and it didn’t care so much about the tracks anymore. The wild driving was a little less wild. Now Dirt Showdown further dilutes whatever energy and personality was in this series. There’s no sense of danger or stakes. Cars bang into each other with all the fury of empty 2-liter soda bottles. Whunk, thunk, thump, thud, whump. It’s all very neat and canned, sadly hollow, with a sprinkle of physics but mostly a lot of gluey tires and magic downforce pressing everything into place until the camera untethers to neatly follow a neatly described spinout that might as well have been neatly drawn with a compass. Go ahead, put that directly on YouTube as if you actually did something. Dirt Showdown can do that for you, but with fewer editing options than non-Showdown Dirts.

At least the cars are visually funky this time around. Silly vans and stylish old timey coups are mixed in with the usual licensed rally cars that Codemasters paid for, so they might as well use them again. But the tracks are almost entirely forgettable, despite the game’s tentative attempt at a white trash aesthetic that recalls Test Drive: Eve of Destruction, which I’d rather be playing because it did things that Showdown is too restrained to even dream of doing. I can cast my mind’s eye back to Eve of Destruction and see what Dirt Showdown thinks it’s doing. Can we have a moment of silence for Eve of Destruction? Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince. Flights of rusty tow trucks winch thee to thy rest.

Not to say Showdown is a total loss. There’s nothing quite like the Tony Hawk arenas. Well, except for Dirt 3, which is where they started. In fact, one of the two multi-stage Tony Hawk arenas in Showdown is lifted wholesale from Dirt 3. Dirt: Deja Vu! To be fair, the Tony Hawking is one of Showdown’s best selling points. What red-blooded OCD gamer wouldn’t want to zip around an arena, checking missions off a list? Do this jump, skid around that pole, smash these colored bits, collect those floating doo-dads, and now you’ve unlocked a new area to do it all again. It’s the racing equivalent of an open-world game. And you might as well play this part of Showdown, because the actual racing isn’t pulling its weight, constrained by polite crashes, consequence-free physics, tightly wound tracks, and contrived AI. For some events, you just plasticly bang into other cars for a while until someone wins. You can go online for a grab bag of events against other players, but if I’m doing that, why wouldn’t I do it in Ubisoft’s far better Driver game, which has the same approach to multiplayer? At least Showdown does a mean splitscreen game, with support for two players as well as AI drivers in any mode.

Speaking of splitscreen, did I mention how much I miss Eve of Destruction?

2 stars
Xbox 360