The DiRT series has seen three solid racing titles since its debut in 2007. Each installment in the series is grounded in reality with its emphasis in simulated rally and off-road racing, offering a racing experience not found in many of the other racing titles in this current generation of consoles. However, the series has been split between two elements: the more action sports focused element from DiRT 2, and the rally focused element in DiRT 3. Critics and fans have responded mostly positive to both elements, with some preferring one over the other. However, for the next installment in the series, DiRT Showdown, Codemasters is looking to make a destructive racing experience still grounded in reality.

“Fundamentally it’s the same foundation of gameplay that is in all of the DiRT games,” said Iain Smith, associate producer for Codemasters. “But in terms of tone, atmosphere, play style type of experience you can get from it, it’s more related to the action sports element.”

DiRT Showdown will revolve around three main elements: speed, style, and destruction. Each element will intertwine with one another, but will also feature game modes tailored to the specific element. For example, players can expect to find all their races within the speed category. However, don’t expect any rally races in Showdown; the race tracks are circuit based and tighter in design to force players into a hectic race environment where destruction is inevitable.

My hands-on time with Showdown included a three lap race on “8-Ball”, a figure eight track emphasizing the tighter track design Codemasters is focusing on for the speed portion of Showdown. The track is designed to give everyone a fair opportunity at winning the race and ensure that a wreck happens after every turn. “There’s always a chance that maybe player eight in last position can take out player one,” said Smith. “It’s adding that sort of random element that sort of keeps people involved right into that last corner.”

The destruction category in Showdown features demolition derby type events. One such event, “Rampage”, is a straight up demolition derby with one alteration to keep fans interested. “Rampage” is set up like a deathmatch in a first person shooter; players will respawn after their vehicle is destroyed and a winner is determined by the amount of points he or she earns throughout the match. “We wanted to make sure the players are just getting straight back into the action,” said Smith. The action is fast paced and hectic with cars and car parts flying everywhere while competitors scurry to rake in the most points by the end of the timed match.

Showdown will feature three classes of cars to match the three categories. Fans will only find licensed cars in the “Gymkhana” events while other vehicles are designed more as homage to real world cars. Doing away with a roster full of licensed vehicles allowed Codemasters to utilize their physics engine to optimize the racing and destruction experience in Showdown. “It’s really another level of destruction compared to what we’ve been able to do before,” said Adrian Lawton, communications manager for Codemasters.

DiRT Showdown will come packed with game modes for fans to sink their teeth into. Some modes make a return from previous titles in the DiRT series like “Domination” and “Elimination” in the race category and “Gymkhana” events in the “Hoonigan” (style) category. All game modes are included in Showdown’s multiplayer, as well as party modes similar to those in DiRT 3’s multiplayer.

Codemasters was quick to point out that they’re not abandoning the rally and simulated racing tone seen in previous titles. DiRT 4 is currently under development and will continue the series commitment to simulated rally and off road racing. Showdown is simply a branching out of the series to satisfy those looking for a destructive environment in the DiRT realm.

DiRT Showdown will release in May 2012, on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.