It's all very dramatic, and heaps of fun, despite the incredibly cheesy and quickly grating quips from the commentator. There's a sick satisfaction to be had from tearing into cars and ripping off bumpers, but of course, your competitors can do the same to you. And when a whole gang of them are chasing after you at once in Hard Target events, it becomes a tense battle for survival. There are more conventional events on offer, such as Lap Attack, Eliminator, and Domination races. But while cleverly designed figure-of-eight circuits and ramp-filled tracks keep the racing firmly in the arcade, these events are unremarkable when compared to the bombast of Gymkhana or the all-out carnage of Demolition.
A mix of all events makes up the Showdown Tour career mode. There are four stages to play through, each consisting of 15 events that take you on a tour of the world. There are the colourful lights and sharp corners of Tokyo; the dusty roads and sweeping drifts of the Baja California circuits; the slippery snow-covered slopes of Colorado; and the wide-open industrial spaces of Battersea. All are beautifully presented, showcasing the typically great circuit design that Codemasters is famed for. The ability to purchase new cars or upgrade their basic stats such as power and handling using money you earn is a nice incentive to progress, but without a narrative or character to develop, it can get a little tiresome.
The events really come into their own when you take them online or compete via two-player split-screen. Smashing AI opponents is one thing, but when it's your friend's car you've turned into scrap, that's a whole other level of satisfaction. Even the race events are more enjoyable, thanks to the inevitable smashing of opponents' cars as you drive around a circuit. There's also the option to split into teams, thrusting you and seven other players into epic battles for destruction domination. It all comes together brilliantly, giving you the feeling that perhaps Showdown always was intended to be an online experience, even if the single-player is hardly a rush job.
Block-smashing is even more fun in a Mini.
That said, Showdown has one more single-player trick up its sleeve in the form of Joyride. Its large, free-roaming levels offer up a range of fun quick-fire missions for you to complete. Some are in the form of tricks like performing death-defying leaps or tight drifts. Others are speed challenges where you race through tight circuits as quickly as possible. There are hidden Showdown icons to collect too. With all there is to do, you can spend lots of time simply enjoying a drive around a Joyride level and picking off missions. Plus, your scores and times can be sent over to friends as challenges for them to complete, which is a nice touch.
Competing with friends really is the best way to enjoy Dirt Showdown. Sure, the single-player campaign is pleasant enough, but it's nothing compared to the joy of online destruction and the satisfaction of nailing those most impressive of skilful driving tricks in front of an audience. And when it's delivered via some of the smoothest and most stunning visuals in the racing genre, it's easy to see how you can get lost for hours in Showdown's bombastic world. If you're looking for the next great rally simulator, you won't find it here. But to ignore Dirt Showdown because of its arcade styling would be to deny yourself one of the most satisfying of pleasures: that of mindless, over-the-top, and--above all--deliciously addictive destruction.