Just one short year after Dirt 3 sold over half a million copies, its successor is already in hot pursuit. Dirt: Showdown, released on the 25th May, expands and extends some of the most popular features as the series motors onwards towards handbrake-yanking driving perfection.

Focusing on three key areas for the franchise: speed, destruction and style, Dirt: Showdown is perhaps a sign of the title splintering into two factions. When we spoke to Codemasters recently, Dirt 4 was mentioned, albeit extremely briefly, but it was made abundantly clear that Dirt: Showdown would be turning it’s attention to the ‘Destruction Derby’-esque elements of the previous titles, and tuning them to attract a new generation of petrolheads.

In an evolved version of Dirt 3′s Gymkhana mode – a test of the driver’s manoeuvring skills against the clock – the new Hoonigan feature takes place on a dockside in Yokohama. At roughly four times the size of the previous games’ Battersea Power Station track, it’s the sheer size of the course that lets players really cut loose, as they trick and turn around some fiendish challenges, Ken Block-style to beat the set challenges.

These challenges include the new ‘trick rush’ mode which producer Ian Smith described as containing ‘”Simon Says” style stunting’, whereupon the computer challenges you to jump through certain hoops – in some cases literally – in order to keep racing.

Engine-wise, Dirt: Showdown runs on a tweaked version of Dirt 3′s EGO 2.0 system. The latest incarnation of the drifting mechanics, which Smith compared to ‘auto-aim but for driving’, makes it easier for new players to pick up and join in without having prior experience of the Dirt series’ nuanced drift and feathering systems, pointing to a more arcade-style gameplay experience.

Indeed, in our limited hands-on with the game we discovered that performing long powerslides or donuts is easier than previous instalments – however Smith assured us that as you progress through the game, the driving aids slowly fall away, leaving you more in control but avoiding the early-period frustration that sets in when games possess too steep a learning curve.

As already stated, this is not Dirt 4, and fans of hardcore rally games may wish to wait for that instalment, whereupon they can vorsprung their durch technik all they like. But if you fondly recall games like Destruction Derby, Burnout: Paradise or were a fan of the notorious Gymkhana elements from Dirt 3, then look no further than Codemaster’s (or should that be Codemasters Racing’s?) latest.

For: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Codemasters Racing
Publisher: Codemasters
When? 25 May 2012