DiRT Showdown has already generated a minor amount of controversy, with hardcore rally fans up in arms following the revelation that it will be more pick-up-and-play than DiRT 3, with more forgiving handling.
While Codies' demo team hooked up their debug Xbox 360, they explained the fundamental thinking behind DiRT Showdown. It was born, they explained, in the realisation that DiRT 3 was two games in one box: one being a hardcore rallying sim, and the other Ken Block's speciality Gymkhana gameplay, which introduced the world to the phrase "hooning".
Thus, DiRT 4 will be "Refocused on rallying," and while we wait for that, DiRT Showdown will celebrate the car as a blunt instrument and a means of showing off. All set to the X-Games-style backdrop that characterises the franchise.
So, yes, its cars will have more forgiving handling than in DiRT 3, albeit within that game's tail-out, drift-friendly model. In order to go way further with the demolition aspect, the vast majority of the cars in Showdown will be non-licensed, fictional constructs (although Codemasters did say that Ken's trademark HFHV, or Hybrid Functionality Hoon Vehicle - a pumped-up Ford Fiesta to you and me - plus a few Mitsubishis and a Mini rally car will be included) .
As is the modern way, Codemasters has thought up three pillars on which Showdown has been built, namely Speed, Style and Destruction. In other words, it will contain three types of events.
Speed events will typically be races, albeit more instantly accessible than in DiRTs gone by - use of boosting, for example, will be key. Style denotes the hooning mode from DiRT 3 which, Codemasters emphasised, will be expanded and refined, again with handling which is easier to get grips with and a newly prominent head-to-head mode. And the Destruction element will come in the form of full-on demolition derbies.
The whole online side of the game will be massively revamped: according to Codemasters Showdown will have an "always-online feel". Everything in the single-player game will be playable by up to eight people online, or by two people with a split screen.
Codemasters didn't show us the online side of the game, but confirmed that the capture-the-flag-style Transporter mode from DiRT 3 will make a return, along with other new modes. And there will be asynchronous challenges, apeing Criterion's much-loved Autolog. Thus, if you do something in the game of which you're particularly proud, you'll be able to hit a Challenge button, and invite everyone on your friends list to see if they can better you.
There will be in-game currency available for upgrading cars and so on, and whoever does best in the challenges will take all the virtual money.
Our first taste of DiRT Showdown came in the form of a Race mode called 8-Ball, which acquired its name thanks to taking place on a figure-of-eight track, naturally including plenty of crossovers in a bid to a bit of "blue-shell effect". The particular track is set in Nevada: Codemasters explained that the game will feature classic locations from the company's driving games, with twists.
The handling was indeed palpably more forgiving than in DiRT 3, and therefore much more flattering to the player. Lifting or braking before tighter corners induced some thoroughly controllable drifting. The racing was of the full-contact variety.
Unfortunately, the version of the game we played had a placeholder boost mechanic, which merely recharged over time; in the finished game, your primary means of recharging your boost will be to smash into other cars without handicapping yourself.