Since its debut five years ago, the DiRT series has become one of my favorite racing franchises on the market. Its slick menu system immediately helped it stand out, and its rock-solid rally racing carried the torch laid down to it by the defunct Rallisport Challenge series from the previous gen. Showdown changes things up from rally racing to a more demolition derby-style. This means that anyone who loved the Destruction Derby series or Demolition Racer: No Exit will be right at home... for the most part.
Codemasters did keep enough of the series' trademark things like gate smashing, the gymtaka events, menu layout, and overall campaign mode progression to help it fit in with the rest of the series. There's a new, somewhat free-roaming mode that allows you to go around a little area at your leisure and explore to find packages and unlock things that I haven't seen before in any DiRT game or a demolition-based one either.
While that mode is basically a nice little training area that teaches you how to do as much as you can in a super-cramped area, the bulk of the single-player game is races spread across four different series: pro, all-star, champion, and legend, which all feature some common events like races and demo derbies, but also add their own new events as well and increase in difficulty steadily. You'll have a variety of competitions, from regular course races to dangerous crossover courses where you can get blindsided instantly if you aren't careful, destruction derbies, and a little twist on them that I love - a sumo ring version where you get 1,000 points for knocking someone out of the ring. It's a little twist that adds some strategy to the event since you can’t just go running full-boar or else you'll go sailing off and lose valuable smashing time in the process.
Eliminator races are also included, and get much harder as time goes on because of the remains of eliminated cars taking up quite a bit of real estate on the track. While you want to steer clear of them, sometimes you can't, or wind up getting slammed into them and then boom, you're eliminated and join the pile. The gymtaka events are back and if you're like me and were greatly frustrated by them in DiRT 3, you'll be glad to know that they're now quite a bit easier and can actually be completed by human beings without requiring super-human reflexes. Pulling off donuts is easier than ever, although it still requires some careful timing; it isn't as demanding as before. The core racing game is what you'd expect from a DiRT game. The controls are fantastic and unless you're not so gently nudged in a different direction, you'll always go exactly where you want to once you're used to each vehicle's quirks. Before playing the demo, I was concerned with how well the DiRT engine would translate to a demolition-style racer, but after playing that, I saw it could work, and after playing the full game, I see just how thrilling it can be. It allows for the same precise driving you'd expect, but with thrills like huge jumps allowing you to pounce on rivals, or slam someone into someone else.
Online play is fantastic and includes all the offline racing modes, but with essentially an unlimited amount of things to do and challenges to take on since you'll always face someone new. I played a ton of races at different times of the day expecting that at some point, lag would rear its ugly head but it never did. Surprisingly, online play is silky-smooth and it makes the experience that much more enjoyable when you know you probably be able to blame a loss or poor position on lag. You might wind up cursing the screen a bit since rewinds aren't available, but if you're relying on those to get by, you're not going to get that much better very quickly anyway.
Visually, Showdown looks very good, although the half decade-old engine is definitely showing its age to some degree. You'll notice some blurry textures and jagged edges in menus, but in-game, it's definitely got some life left in it. The car models look good, and there are a lot of impressive lighting effects on display as well. Beyond lens flare, there are some jaw-dropping real-time reflections viewable when you're using the hood cam - and you can see things like rain bead up on the hood, or during a championship race, see fireworks reflect off of it along with strings of lights.
Showdown's soundtrack impressed me quite a bit. While I'm not usually a fan of techno or dubstep, I liked how it was used here - to compliment the more rock-centric soundtrack in a way that fit the harder-edged style of the action comapred to the regular DiRT series. The sound effects are pretty good too. The crashing sounds needed to be more impactful here than other series games and they are, and I love the smaller effects - like the bonk sound that the pylons make when you slam into them, or the scraping of the metal when two cars are neck-and-neck. They're the kind of effects that impress, but probably won't make you go WOW in sheer amazement.
In the end, DiRT Showdown is an outstanding game and probably the most polished demolition-style racer out there. Online play is surprisingly smooth, and outside of relatively small issues like needing login data for Youtube and Codemasters' own Racenet service nearby, there isn't much I didn't enjoy about the experience as a whole. It's definitely a worthwhile purchase for either fans of the DiRT franchise or of demolition racers in general.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of DiRT Showdown provided by Codemasters.