Opinion: It's Getting DiRTY

It has been a period of rejuvenation for Codemasters over the last five years. Now firmly back in the driving seat, Sean Cleaver reminds us all how the studio got back to where they deserve to be – pole position
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Frequent readers of Develop will know that I’m a fan of racing games, and might see this as an excuse to get a picture of my cool in-game car on here (look how cool it is!), but what I’m really writing about is the very welcome reclaiming of the throne for one of Britain’s oldest and best studios – Codemasters.

I’ve had the good fortune to preview and review many racing games over the years. Two of those games were F1 2014 and GRID Autosport. It has to be said that this was not a good time for the developer. GRID 2 was too arcadey for many. There were changes in the rules of Formula 1 that were hard to replicate. A new generation of consoles were coming and the EGO engine was aging. All of this contributed to a rather tough time for the Midlands studio.

DiRT Rally was a veritable feast of crashy crashy broom brooms

It could all have ended very differently given that this was at a time where British studios were struggling and closing. But then something happened. Codemasters looked to themselves for answers. DiRT Rally was born out of a desire to completely and utterly focus on the joys of rally driving.

Often cited as the Dark Souls of racing games, DiRT Rally tested us, the people that had got used to spinning around in circles for points, to ‘git gud’. Meticulously planned stages based on the real life locations from the motorsport posed challenges for us to overcome and perfect. It also fulfilled the lust that every racing game fan has to create their fantasy garage with some of the coolest cars ever produced. It was a veritable feast of crashy crashy broom brooms.

It was very hard, but so is rally. Physics, handling, graphics, courses – Codemasters got it so very, very right.

Following Early Access and the positive reception, console and VR adaptions came, which gave the studio the ability to grow once again. After acquiring Evolution Studios following Sony shuttering the DriveClub developer in 2016, the race was on to get everyone, simulation and arcade fans alike, to return to the dirt.

DiRT 4 is out and it is a cracking game, which has been well received by everyone. Of course, there are things I’d have loved to have seen, like more locations but the Your Stage system of procedurally generating custom tracks is excellent.

It’s not just rally. F1 2017 looks to be heading back to the heights it reached in F1 2013, with many classic cars coming to the new game. Micro Machines World Tour will also have been released by the time you read this. From those classic curved 16-bit Mega Drive cartridges with controller ports to our digital age, it’s amazing how the series has come back to modern consoles and is as good as ever.

It’s incredible to think that a studio I first saw back when I was five, with its distinct cassette tape packaging is still here. Still creating games and surviving the adversity the games industry so often throws around. All of this because they took the time to step back and remember what it was that they loved about making the racing games in the first place, before deciding to get dirty. Congratulations Codemasters, it’s good to have you here.


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