The game can be roughly divided into three types of competition, two of which have appeared previously in the series. Returning are rallycross-style races on closed courses, as well as the Gymkhana-derived Hoonigan events. For something new we have the straightforward destruction derbies; also the most entertaining part of the whole package. At least as multiplayer games.
For me, who has played all the previous titles in the series, Dirt Showdown feels just a little inconsistent and superficial. Given Codemasters' high production values the game is visually impressive, especially the effect of the bright light against the dark night sky. The game gives of the sense of an in between title, that just appeared as a diversion in between the main instalments of the series. The car physics are highly simplified, the difficulty is set relatively low, and even clashes seem relatively harmless compared to for example the carnage in Flat Out.
The career mode is not helped by the fact that a significant proportion of the courses are directly taken from the two previous Dirt games. Among the new areas are San Francisco, Miami and Nevada, but Showdown will also visit Dirt 3's London, Tokyo and Colorado, as well as Dirt 2's Baja. When you win races, you unlock new events and earn money to purchase cars or upgrades, as you'd expect. In fact, it was so predictable I was on the verge of yawning boredom when I jumped on multiplayer.
Multiplayer changes the experience completely. Races against computer controlled players do not give much reason to squeal with delight, but the experience with live players is a wild and chaotic affair. Multiplayer offers game types that are not part of the single player, while you earn bragging rights by increasing in level.
Codemasters has come up with some clever twists to the usual rules, so that in Destruction Derby, for example, you do not win by being the last one left standing. Instead you earn points for each head-on collision, t-bone and for total damage to the opponent. This prevents players avoiding collisions early in the race and forces everyone to crush as much metal they can throughout the session. The last minutes of each bout offers up twice as many points, creating a climax that can lead to surprising changes to the rankings in the dying seconds of derby.
Among the more exotic, though not unique, game types there are variations of capture the flag and tag. They run on open tracks, and end up being quite mad entertainment, with up to eight players chasing and smashing each other.
Destruction Derby is enjoyable and actually benefits from the simplified car physics, because the cars do not spin as easily. Instead of carefully managing your car you can focus on the action in front of you.
The same can not be said about Hoonigan and Races, where Dirt 3's more realistic driving model would have worked better. It would be more fun to create proper operation of the Races. On the other hand, Hoonigan cars lets you do tricks almost semi-automaticly, as long as you pull the hand brake at the right time.
It goes without saying that Dirt Showdown is targeting a different audience than the traditional rally crowd. It is pure arcade racing where the brake pedal is only a formality and careful nitrous usage will send you to the front. If the game is an indication that Codemasters will separate party crowd from the "real" rally fanatics, it could lead to significantly more coherent and focused Dirt titles that are only linked together by the new Racenet service. Dirt Showdown is the first game that uses it, so you can participate in community-based challenges where the community works together toward a specific goal. You can also throw challenges the way of your friends, even though the system is not currently as deep as Need for Speed's Autolog.
Regardless, Dirt Showdown a good multiplayer racer. It does not live up to expectations in single player, and is not overly ambitious, but smashing friends online or in split screen is a brilliant brand of lighthearted summer pastime.