With most driving games these days trading on at least some semblance of realism, there's a portion of the racing fandom who are feeling increasingly disenfranchised. It's the guys and gals who enter the first corner with the best of intentions, but then when the pack disappears off into the distance, they spin the steering wheel and head backwards around the track. Then they earn themselves a cascade of bad feedback from the serious sim heads and quit the game feeling grumpy.
DiRT Showdown is built specifically for this crows. There's no need to mind your manners here - a calculated crash is just as valid a tactic as slavishly following the racing line, and many of the circuits have crossovers designed to harpoon even Peter Perfect drivers. There can be no whiney excuses if you get taken out either, because picking your way through the chaos is the bulk of the challenge.
Whether or not the Wild West approach to racing regulations suits you personally, there's something undeniably egalitarian about the carnage. Besides, racing is only part of the story. Showdown is a real grab-bag of modes and mechanics, many of which take place in arenas rather than circuits. In addition to the Destruction Derby vibe, there's also a handful of licensed vehicles in a marginally more refined take on the Gymkhana mode from DiRT 3. It's a haphazard selection that's unceremoniously presented as a giant wall of challenges in single-player, with very little sense of cohesion. The structure also offers only very restricted flexibility if you're not interested in (or simply terrible at) certain events.
Loud and proud
That's DiRT Showdown's biggest problem: it's a broad but shallow package. With limited tracks and arenas to cater for the multitude of modes, it doesn't feel like any of the disciplines are given room to breathe. Although we should point out that's fine in the case of Smash Hunter - a tedious, clumsy variation on Gymkhana that we'd like to see smothered with one of its own stupid polystyrene signs. Otherwise, the various rulesets are fundamentally entertaining, but as the game never goes out of its way to surprise you, you'll have the measure of them after a couple of rounds. A heavier emphasis on one or two of the gametypes might have offered a stronger sense of progression but, as it is, Showdown can often feel like a selection of sideshow attractions rather than a main event.
Questionable structure aside, the component parts of the game are predictably strong - Codemasters simply doesn't make bad driving games. In spite of the ragged, rusted motors you'll be pedalling, the handling benefits from a crisp, more arcadey take on DiRT 3's physics. Given the choice, we'd have preferred a greater sense of chucking weight around, just to add some more sickening momentum to the inevitable impacts, but there's undeniable pleasure in persuading a heap of scrap metal into an inch-perfect slide.
It's also gorgeous. Those bland event walls give way to arenas and circuits that are positively crammed with decoration - with pyrotechnics, fireworks and laser light-shows the order of the day. Even the environments recycled from DiRT 3, such as Michigan, Baja and Shibuya have at least been adorned with enough fairy lights that they'd be visible from space. The entire game hammers along to a thumping, eclectic soundtrack that's pitch-perfect for the anarchic, more underground cousin of the DiRT series.