Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Megabits column: DiRT Showdown

Megabits of Gaming contributes a monthly column in Charged Middle East – a leading Dubai-based gadgets and games magazine that provides news, reviews and features on the latest home and consumer electronics.

Each month, Megabits takes a look at a new release in a gaming franchise and considers how its evolved over the years and what makes it great!
Here’s the latest of the articles from the July 2012 issue. For more about the magazine, check out its Facebook page after the jump.

Okay, hands up who likes smashing fast cars into each other? It’s a travesty that for all the racing games that have found their way onto our consoles in recent years, so few have managed to capture the thrills of the demolition derby.

Fortunately, the new label Codemasters Racing is giving us gamers what we want… DiRT Showdown is vehicular mayhem at its finest.

It’s somewhat refreshing that a driving game sees the light of day that doesn’t just rely on you crossing the finishing line first, but emphasises the importance of destroying your rivals while doing so. It’s a long time since Destruction Derby and its sequel appeared on the original PlayStation… a void that’s well and truly filled by the newest slant on the DiRT series.

Pulling together some of the winning elements from its predecessors, the developers have combined seat-of-your-pants racing with full on demolition derby carnage and skill-heavy Hoonigan events – based on the Gymkhana modes in DiRT 3. There’s even the Joyride mode, which allows you to skid and slalom your way around huge arenas to pull off tricks and sharpen your skills.

Amid thumping music, the menus and overall presentation is typically in your face and sets the scene nicely. There are fireworks, a loud-mouthed commentator and loads of cars on offer with brightly coloured paintjobs. Throw some crisp graphics into the mix and it’s a veritable feast to the senses.

Certainly, it’s all good clean mischievous fun. Common in games of this type is the pick up and play appeal; there are no complex control systems here, no heady scoring system or meaty tech trees and upgrades to fathom. Just grab your controller, hold down that accelerator button and go hell for leather to rear end an opponent. It’s sublime – and perfect for booting up for a quick race or two.

It was perhaps Reflection’s Destruction Derby (1995) that set the benchmark, with its sequel a year later offering improved visuals and a few more game modes. Points were earned by wrecking your opponents before they could consign you to the scrapheap. The damage engine in the HUD highlighted how much more punishment your car could take, with parts snapping off your car to emphasise each slam and shunt. The games were highly rated by the critics, the crumpled bonnets and blown out tyres offering a welcome sojourn from the traditional arcade style racers and driving simulators.

Speeding onto the PlayStation and PC a few years later, Demolition Racer (1999) was another notable foray into the genre. Various game modes were on offer including the self explanatory “Last Man Standing”, point scoring races in “Demolition” and the tense “Chicken” mode, where you drove around a track with all your rivals racing towards you.

Building on these inventive game modes, Test Drive: Eve of Destruction (2004) – also known as Driven to Destruction on European shores – looked the business. Its influences are clear in Codemaster’s latest effort too; DiRT Showdown borrowing some of the events such as Figure-8 races, Demolition Derby, Push-Off – wrecking opponents and shoving them off an elevated platform, and Survival.

A graphical overhaul and the multitude of stunt modes meant that FlatOut (2004-2011) also became a firm favourite. FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage (2007) was the first to appear on this generation of consoles, Xbox 360 fans salivating at the prospect of thousands of destructible objects in every race. Even the vehicles were made up of 40 destructible components, meaning the track was soon littered with debris. What’s not to love?

There’s sadly been little demolition derby goodness since, with publishers opting instead to move into the realms of vehicular combat like Blood Drive, Carmageddon and Twisted Metal.

DiRT Showdown with its 50 events, decent AI, multiplayer options and addictive personality is a welcome return to the gameplay many of us first fell in love with almost two decades ago.