Dirt Showdown hands on preview: why it isn’t Dirt 4

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You might think you’ve got this game’s number – after all, there are three previous titles in the Dirt series to draw assumptions from, the last as recently as May. If you’re expecting more of the same, though, Showdown is set to give you a few surprises. This isn’t Dirt 4 – Dirt Showdown is an entirely different beast. (We’ve more new Dirt Showdown info in this interview.)

Just ten seconds into our hands-on, several dramatic departures from the previous games are apparent. Most obvious: the arcade action on offer. Showdown doesn’t fuss about with the technical details of rallying as previous Dirts have – the handling is forgiving, and crashes and damage are of little consequence beyond creating a spectacle.

We’re not vehicle-orienteering through narrow Finnish tracks any more – instead, the chaotic racing takes place in a kind of motorsport carnival that calls to mind the likes of the X Games. There were touches of that in previous Dirt games, primarily conveyed through menu screens and enthusiastic voice acting, but now it’s at the forefront. Winning races plays a part, but Showdown’s key idea is that you’re a crowd-pleaser, wreaking havoc and making a mess for collective amusement.

It’s very early days for Codies’ latest racer (development started in August), but the version we played was already adept at creating that festival atmosphere. There’s a stronger sense of location to each track than before, too. This is achieved through a plethora of trackside details, crowd sound effects that dip and swell depending on the action, and a series of theatre-like arena settings across iconic locations – including San Francisco, London and Tokyo.

Barrel and tyre walls funnel the pack into pinch-points and provide takedown opportunities when jostling for position. Ramps add a vertical dimension to the chaos, filling the race with mid-air collisions. In short, this is about as far from a sober, meticulous driving sim as you can get.

As with other lunatic racers like Flatout: Ultimate Carnage, vehicular antics are more varied than the usual first-past-the-post fare. Showdown’s action is split into three categories – speed, style and destruction – each with its own game modes.