DiRT Showdown PC Technical Review



Product: DiRT Showdown PC
Company: Codemasters
Author: Sean Ridgeley
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: June 15th, 2012

Graphics options, visuals, performance

Graphics options

DiRT Showdown sports a whopping 26 graphics options if you include the Stereoscopic Rendering ones, and 23 if you don't. Besides the basics like Resolution, Fullscreen/Windowed, Refresh Rate, Aspect Ratio, and Gamma, you get MSAA, Vsync, Shadows, Post Process, various Detail settings, and Ambient Occlusion, among others. Unfortunately, there's none of that marvelously cheap FXAA.

As of a recent patch, two more have been added: Advanced Lighting and Global Illumination. The former you may recognize from AMD's “Leo” or “Forward+” demo; it offers “genuine” dynamic lighting with the assistance of DirectCompute instead of hacking it with 2D glows. Global Illumination also utilizes DirectCompute, though in this case, it's to intelligently simulate reflected light on all surfaces in a given scene for a more attractive and realistic look.

In practice, Advanced Lighting makes a significant difference, noticeably brightening up and “fleshing out” any given scene. You might say what Ambient Occlusion offers with shadows, Advanced Lighting offers with lighting. At times, though, it seems to go too far, making parts of your vehicle, for example, so bright you can't fully see them.

Global Illumination is less significant, to the point where in some scenes it's not noticeably “better”, and arguably worse. In others, it's definitively appreciable, offering that extra bit of realism, but you may have to look for it, where with Advanced Lighting, little or no effort is required.

For the average PC gamer, High settings will likely be best, with the Ultra setting for Shadows, Ambient Occlusion, plus Advanced Lighting and Global Illumination probably best left to Crossfire users.

There's also a benchmark allowing you to test out the different settings, which offers your basic minimum and average framerate, and also produces an XML file allowing you to prod for further details if you like. This is all well and good except results aren't live and don't show up until the end, and you can't stop the benchmark midway through if you're just looking to see if a given setting makes the game unplayable for you before you quickly tweak more. It's not too long (roughly 30 seconds), but long enough to be annoying if you like tweaking.

Visuals

Showdown is easily one of the most visually stunning racers I've seen, particularly on Ultra settings, though even on High, it's very much easy on the eyes.

Lighting is immersive, skies do a lot to set the mood, particle effects for wheels hitting the dirt are believable, and for once even the crowd looks pretty sharp.

Pavement is well-detailed, though on the downside, the dirt textures look like something out of Skyrim in still scenes, which is to say somewhat poor quality. This isn't much of an issue as many of the tracks are on pavement, and even on the ones without, you'll spend the majority of the time screeching through tracks at breakneck speed or close to it so motion blur covers it up, but it is a offputting when noticed regardless.

Performance

Judging from a bit of testing, the 'auto' graphics preset is pretty intelligent at picking optimal settings, surprisingly. Going with this, it gave me High settings, 2xMSAA, and turned off Advanced Lighting and Global Illumination. The results: 60fps minimum, and 75 average. Buttery smooth, as you might imagine. Happily, windowed performance – to which it transfers smoothly via in-game options or Alt-Tab – is just slightly shy of the same.

I couldn't test multiplayer performance, sadly, as the community there seems all but dead.