Dirt Showdown Multiplayer Hands-on Preview -- Rough Adversarial RallyingBy Miguel Concepcion - Posted Apr 19, 2012
From one perspective, Codemasters’ multi-discipline approach in Dirt 3 worked as planned. While many longtime Colin McRae/Dirt fans couldn’t connect with the game’s Gymkhana, Dirt 3 did prove that there was an audience for its stunt component. It was enough to warrant this full retail product spin-off, Dirt Showdown.
It’s a Dirt game with a huge arcade emphasis, ditching the impressively deep sim-like car functionality of past Dirts while still preserving much of the series "realistic" physics. One mode we’ve already tried is a destruction derby format where you’re being chased and attacked by AI-driven cars. The other is 8-ball, a very tense race on a four-leaf clover track that has potential for chaos as cars cross each other’s paths at the track’s intersection.
If the last three Dirts are any indication, we’re still a year away from expecting a proper Dirt 4 (which Codemasters was happy to confirm yet again). With Dirt: Showdown, has the developer/publisher actually managed to make the franchise output into an annual occurrence?
This latest preview session placed a heavy emphasis on Showdown’s multiplayer. Smash and Grab feels like a superb video game adaptation of bumper cars, or car tagging if you will. This mode features the same Capture The Flag gameplay from Dirt 3, where your team accumulates points for as long as someone on the team holds the flag. There are no goals or bases to take the flag to; just hold on to it as long as you can.
Dirt Showdown sets one of the Smash and Grab maps in a wide open, oval-shaped arena. I felt it catered well to both the flag holder and his seven pursuers. Both ends of the oval are natural spots to make wide U-turns, creating pulse-racing opportunities for opponents to anticipate the flag holder at the end of the turn. It easily rivals a similar mode from last year’s underrated Driver: San Francisco, making me realize how great it would be to have a Dirt Showdown map in an urban setting.
Give Smash and Grab a couple rounds, and you’ll see how knowing proper drift techniques can give you an edge, even in something as chaotic as this mode. That said, it’s great that Dirt Showdown has a Joyride mode that lets you hone your skills in a single-player setting. This includes practicing jumps, donuts, and weaving, motivated by a long list of stunt-related tasks. My favorite one was a demanding challenge of threading your car through a series of unbelievably narrow shipping containers in less than 15 seconds.
There’s just as much need for precision in Head-2-Head, a two-car face-off on mirrored tracks. Both competitors have to complete the same list of stunts (in a specific order) from drifting to making donuts to getting air to smashing through those yellow boxes. Assuming both competitors are skilled, it can easily become a game of milliseconds, especially when these races are short and offer little to no breathing room in between stunts. This Yokohama track found me crossing the finish line in less than 40 seconds, and I managed to pull off 12 stunts.
Following the popular trend of asynchronous multiplayer in many of today’s games, Dirt Showdown features a Challenges mode where you can dare friends to beat your times and scores in the game’s various modes. Aside from bragging rights, success in these Challenges will yield rewards of in-game currency.
So yes, there will be opportunities to buy upgrades, cars, and spruce up your profile so you could make it your own. Even better, Dirt Showdown offers two different progression paths in getting to the top rank car class. The game offers enough purchasable parts that any car can be upgraded to compete with the big boys. The equally viable alternative would be to simply buy one of the big boys down the line by scrimping and saving.
To help build hype, Codemasters is gearing up for a month-long pre-launch campaign tied to their new RaceNet community platform, linkable with PSN, Xbox Live, or Steam ID. Synced with their May 1 release of the Dirt Showdown demo, joining RaceNet will reward members with $20,000 of in-game cash to use in Showdown. Join during the demo window and you’ll be given a Founder Status award and an experience boost. The full retail game itself will be available on May 29.