DiRT 3 was a game for everyone who wanted to be, or be better than Ken Block on a virtual track (because on a real life track, it is nigh impossible). DiRT 3 introduced the Ken Block inspired gymkhana events, which set this racing game apart from all others in its genre. With superior graphics, impressive detailing and immersive gameplay, the game set a new benchmark for arcade style racing games.

DiRT Showdown, the sequel to DiRT 3 has now been launched with advanced Hoon, Crash and Race events. Showdown is an arcade styled racing game, with various solo, multiplayer and online gaming modes. We played the PC version of the game with a standard keyboard on all three difficulty levels.

But this game is all about bashing other cars and getting bashed up. And I’m not talking about light side-swipes or dents on the fender; insane T-Boning, head on crashes, bonnets, doors and debris flying around is what this game has to offer. After a while, the sounds of metal crunching seem like music. But does the Showdown really fit in the DiRT legacy?

The Game

Showdown Tour, the core of the game, consists of four levels that you have to master one after the other. You start with Pro, win your way through AllStar, become a Champion, and then finally prove that you are a Legend. Each level is a combination of different styles of racing, and securing a podium finish unlocks new levels, cars, upgrades, and cash (to buy the said cars and upgrades).

These four levels comprise of different styles of racing and arcade style car-wrecking. The basic Racing mode, which has three modes - Race Off, Domination and Elimination, is fairly easy. The tracks are easy to master and on Casual and Intermediate difficulty modes, you don’t have to be a pro gamer to win the races in the first go.

Elimination races, as the name suggests, eliminates the slowest ones during the race. Domination race, however, is a little more challenging, as the winner is decided by the most number of best times in sectors, instead of just who crosses the finish line first.

But as I moved through the levels, I got a little bored with the repetitive tracks and cars. On Casual and Intermediate modes, it was a no-brainer about how to win. All I had to do was boost down the straights and drift around the curves. By the time I had unlocked the “best” cars, I was just driving better cars on the same roads. Again. And again. Not so much fun.

What was really queer about the game was that I did not find any on screen speedometer, odometer or tachometer. Weird, I must say, because the Joyride mode has missions and achievements like running the car over a certain speed for a certain time; and anyway, what kind of racing game is it if you do not know your speed?

Maybe the developers were so obsessed with the derby style demolition that they decided to do away with the dials and have only the health and boost meter on screen. Or, it might just be to assert on the point that this game is all about crash-bang-wham – irrespective of what speed you are driving at.

But all said and done, the Demolition events are a lot of fun (read awesome). Be it Rampage, 8 Balls, Knock-Out or Hard Target, these demolition events are not for the kind and considerate. There are no holds barred in the arena as cars dart about trying to inflict damage. Needless to say, the more brutal the damage, more points you get.

The Knock-Out event turned out to be the most challenging of all. As if trying hard not to get wrecked wasn’t tough enough, the developers have put the cars on an elevated platform, and not getting pushed off the platform is something one has to worry about too. Why? Because it involves points.

The Hoon events, however, took some time for me to understand. Most of the tricks in these events involve drifting. I am no Ken Block, and can’t drift (either on a game or in real life) unless taught. There is no tutorial on how to use keyboard combinations to drift, perform donuts and all the complex stunts. I could only smash the containers around (I was happy, as I got points for smashing those boxes too).

There is a Joyride mode, like a free roam on GTA games (sans the drugs and guns, though), but it took me a long time to master the controls for trick racing in the Yokohama and Battersea compounds.

Again, game’s philosophy is clear – no crash course in Hooniganism. Only crashing around.

The Graphics

This is a game that demands high end graphic configuration on a PC, because it delivers really high-end graphic output. This game is definitely a feast for detail-lovers’ eyes.

Cars pick up dirt and sustain realistic and logical damage throughout the races. It’s not like the bonnet pops open when someone shunts your car from the rear. Rather, if you smash the car head on, the front end takes the hit, and shows it too. Debris from wrecked cars that litter the track, actually cause obstruction for drivers.

On default settings, the steering responded in a crisp fashion. Braking sensitivity, which is very crucial in this game, was also good. I tested the difference between the cars, and handling differed from model to model. After unlocking the cars and purchasing the upgrades and add-ons to the cars, the difference in handling was also evident.

The PC version of this game kept driving as simple and real as possible, which I found very convenient. One key each for throttle, turn, brake, boost and handbrake. The gamer has to use these keys to race and perform tricks. Like in real life, it’s up to the driver to use the existing controls to drift – no magic button to make the car drift down the hills.

There are other controls though, to look back, to the sides and change camera angles and all. What I really loved about this game was the Crashback feature. I could instantly replay those insane T-Bones and brutal head-ons during game play by hitting just one key. These replays can be instantly uploaded to YouTube too!

The lack of on-screen details, though, was a little disheartening. The only dial on the screen was that of the Health and Boost, two different aspects packed into one tyre-like dial.

The cars, however, looked great. The Race and Crash events offer fictional cars to choose from, but custom paint kits can be selected for every model. The detailing of the paint schemes too, is good. The Hoon events feature real life car models. Of course, it lists Block’s all too famous Ford Fiesta and Subaru Impreza, along with other saloons and muscle cars.

The soundtrack is aptly fast-paced and suits the tempo of the races and demolition modes of the game. The commentary, however, becomes a little repetitive. I could quite literally predict it after the umpteenth Rampage and Knock-Out rounds.

Codemasters Racing have linked up with Racenet and Steam to optimize multiplayer gaming experience. Scores can be shared online, and friends can also be added to play. The Multiplayer events like Smash and Grab, Transporter and Speed Skirmish can turn out to be really good party games.

Although the tracks become a little repetitive, the game stays fresh for a long time, as it keeps on offering more cars to race with, perform stunts, and of course, destroy. Maybe it’s just a really awesome trailer to what DiRT 4 might be.

Publisher: Codemasters

Developer: Codemasters

Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

Price: Rs 999

sabyasachi.b@thehindu.co.in

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