Keeping racing alive - Codemasters F1 2010
The racing genre is vast and densely populated. Racing games are on e of the (excuse the pun) driving forces in multiplayer gaming and each one strives to be as attention grabbing as the next, so much so that constant re-cycled iterations (the Need For Speed genre is a prime culprit) can become tedious. Elsewhere there are the racing behemoths; Gran Turismo, Forza, Project Gotham, these are the games to beat when it comes to racing excellence.
In this console generation, one developer strives to shake up the racing genre, injecting attitude and flaunting innovation with each title release. Codie’s racers have always been solid efforts, the Colin Mcrea and Toca titles were shining examples of rally and road racing. This article is going to at the excellent racers released by Codemasters so far this generation, and what else is on the horizon for the studio…
Colin Mcrae Dirt
Kickstarting their next gen racing career with a new installment of this cherished rally series was a logical step for Codemasters and Dirt did not disappoint. Running on the Neon, Codemasters' own graphics engine, Dirt looked gorgeous on the HD capable machines, with a slick frame rate and realistic damage model. The presentation was key to Dirt’s appeal, minimalist menu systems ushered the player through stark white backgrounds and vivid red text, stats and progress percentages drift over the loading screens, Dirt let’s the racing do the talking.
Incorporating the best parts of PSONE era Colin Mcrae while at the same time re-vamping the basic rallying formula, Dirt was a satisfyingly complete experience, PS3 off-roader Motorstorm wowed gamers with its pretty visuals and break neck speed but Colin Mcrae Dirt offered robust online and offline modes, official car licenses and a graphics engine so refined it was a joy to dissect every replay.
Race Driver: Grid
Codemasters followed the success of Dirt with this, a muscular racer that continued their TOCA Race Driver series. Grid represents a racing developer in their prime, a supremely confident title that is set the standard for next gen road racers which, in terms of difficulty and presentation, has arguably not been matched.
Running on Ego, a modified version of Dirt’s Neon engine, which allowed for more realistic car damage, Grid is a beautiful game. UI presentation is a bit different from Dirt, continuing the Race Driver tradition of navigating a driver’s personal space, meaning the time between races is spent surfing eBay for car deals and pouring over your many achievements (which, again, populate the loading screens).
The driving model for Grid is an unpredictable modification of Dirt’s tarmac physics. A steep learning curve punishes complacent corners and rewards precise maneuvering, a comprehensive damage model means every prang is frighteningly effective. Thankfully, Grid was one of the first games to use the flashback rewind feature, a gameplay mechanic many other racers have since copied. Much like simulation racer Forza, Grid featured a variable difficulty level, more points are rewarded for turning off aids and limiting the use of flashbacks, encouraging players to start off slow and crank the difficulty later on in their career.
Post-Dirt, the off road genre became slightly over populated on the next gen consoles. The likes of Pure, Baja and Mx Vs. ATV all jostled for the position of best off-road racer. Codemasters decided to take their penchant for visual panache and innovative design and apply it to the tired old off-roader.
A massive open world experience set in a post apocalyptic world. Hurricanes blight the racetrack, volcanic activity hinders your efforts to secure first place and chopper drop is the transport of choice. Fuel is a unique experience set in an original environment, unfortunately the games popularity didn’t reflect it’s quality, perhaps genuine innovation and steep learning curves are no match for a pounding metal soundtrack and hollow, garish visuals.
Colin Mcrae Dirt 2
Codemasters first sequel on the new generation of consoles was released in the wake of it’s inspirations death, Scottish rally driver Colin Mcrae died during the games development, but his legacy lives on. Dirt 2 is a vibrant departure from it’s streamlined predecessor. Tweaking Grid’s EGO engine for better performance and pulling in that games flashback mechanic, Dirt is a strange mix of hardcore rally tenets and current racing trends.
The user interface is the biggest change from the first game, gone are the delightfully minimalist beige backgrounds and crimson font, replaced by a busy racing festival (complete with an annoying, Burnout style announcer) and a Grid style personal driver’s space populated with context specific menus. The new look is at first jarring until you settle in to the overall feel of Dirt 2. The expert driving model and beautiful visuals are still present and correct, extra race modes mix things up and the online component is more robust. The festival feel is boosted by the presence of real life drivers to race against/with, the likes of Dave Mirra and Katie Justice bringing a kind of goofy authenticity to the proceedings. All in all Dirt 2 is a solid racer, perhaps not as refined as it’s predecessor but enjoyable nonetheless.
Sequels ahoy for Codemasters in 2011. A follow up to Grid is assured, an official announcement has not been made yet but the popularity of the first game, as well as a steady stream of DLC, means that the Race Driver brand is still close to Codemasters heart.
Dirt 3 has officially been announced and it looks like the developer is going to shake things up for the third installment;
“Really, it’s all about letting the teams just innovate. There’s some great stuff coming from Birmingham that’s going into Dirt 3"- Codemasters Gavin Cheshire, speaking to Edge magazine (March, 2010).
Elsewhere, Codemaster’s are hard at work on a new Formula 1 title to be released on PS3 and 360 later this year. F1 2010 on Wii was a solid outing for the F1 brand and a great way for Codemasters to prove they can handle this frequently mis-handled franchise. The new F1 2010 is said to feature a dynamic weather system and a comprehensive career mode for die hard Formula 1 fans.
Codemasters show no signs of slowing down their dominating run of software releases on this generation of hardware and with the like of Forza 3, Blur, Split Second and Gran Turismo 5 ready to snatch the racing glory, Codies need to remain steadfast in their attempts to hold on to that dominance.