While the older players will shed their tears thinking of Richard Burns Rally, for the vast majority of players, the video game rally rhymes with Colin McRae. Developed in-house at Codemasters for nearly 20 years, the franchise has built a solid reputation over the years and releases. On the occasion of the release of DiRT 4, we take stock of the key dates in the saga.
At the end of 1997, Codemasters made a name for itself with the critically acclaimed TOCA Touring Car Championship. The consecration came a little later, with the release of Colin McRae Rally, the first game to come out of the partnership with the reigning world champion. It is then distinguished by the precision of the simulation and by the WRC licence which allows it to integrate some of the official courses (Australia, Corsica, Greece, Monte-Carlo, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Sweden) and to showcase some famous monuments such as the Acropolis, even if the routes themselves remain fanciful. Many of the sport’s most iconic cars are also present and fans remember the Subaru Impreza WRC or, to a lesser extent, the SEAT Ibiza F2 with nostalgia. Graphically speaking, Colin McRae Rally was not the expected slap in the face, but the driving sensations were there and that was enough to convince the players. To compensate for the lack of online mode, a LAN (up to 8) and split-screen (up to 2) multiplayer was present.
Year after year, Codemasters has continued to develop the franchise as it has grown in popularity with the UK publisher. Colin McRae Rally 2.0, 3, 04 and finally 2005 continued the tradition while (slightly) evolving the concept by integrating more and more stages and cars. Technically, however, things were progressing rather slowly and it wasn’t until June 15, 2007 that Colin McRae DiRT moved the lines. He finally proposed a new graphics engine – the Neon Engine, the first version of the EGO – and took the opportunity to completely review all aspects of the game: physics and damage management, work on the soundtrack and several off-road events in addition to WRC competitions. Players could count on a bustling Career mode, a variety of events and a total of 46 cars in different categories. One regret, though, is that Codemasters hadn’t seen fit to offer ghosts in multiplayer mode limited to individual times only.
A case such as this one had to bring up the regrettable disappearance of Colin McRae. On September 15, 2007, while – according to the official investigation – he was attempting to land, Colin McRae’s Eurocopter AS350 helicopter crashed. Flying the world champion, the aircraft was also manned by his five-year-old son Johnny and two family friends, Graeme Duncan and Johnny’s classmate Ben Porcelli. The investigation was never able to determine the exact cause of the accident. However, it was able to conclude that no apparent physical failure had led to the tragedy. On September 30, 2007, more than 15,000 people attended the funeral service. Colin McRae DiRT 2 released in September 2009 is the last franchise title to use the late champion’s name.
As a logical continuation of the above, DiRT 3 will be released during 2011. The first game to use the EGO Engine in version 2.0, it is also the title that received the highest press reviews. However, this success did not encourage Codemasters to continue along this path and on May 23rd 2012, the British publisher will release a game that is resolutely arcade-oriented. As its name suggests, DiRT Showdown wants to highlight the notion of confrontation between players. To offer them a challenge where the race is no longer an end in itself, but a simple component of a title that also includes elimination and other so-called “demolition” events. The idea then was to somehow merge Colin McRae Rally and Destruction Derby. Alas for Codemasters, the sauce never really set. In spite of a successful graphic design, DiRT Showdown suffered from a largely perfectible physical management, an unconvincing multiplayer mode and too little content. Even when you’ve been successful for several years, you can still make bad choices.
That year, fans of car simulations could count on Assetto Corsa, Forza Motosports 5, Gran Turismo 6 or GRID 2 to name but a few. For rally fans, on the other hand, things were much less pleasing and Codemasters’ proposal wasn’t the best idea in the world: a return to the roots in the form of a version of Colin McRae Rally. First released on iOS, then on Android and, finally, on Windows, this reboot was to rekindle the flame through a nice facelift. Alas, while in terms of graphics, things are in the spirit, the road handling and driving sensations are not up to scratch and some critics have criticized the controls for being too sensitive, almost caricatured. Even more annoying on PC: Codemasters hadn’t been clear enough about the game’s content and while some were expecting a remake of the 1998 game, they were shocked to see that it was the 2013 iOS / Android version that was offered on Windows. Luckily Codemasters handled things very well afterwards, clarifying the situation on the Steam page and offering the game refund to those who wanted it.
After these two successive hiccups, Codemasters had no room for error with DiRT Rally. Based on the EGO Engine in version 2.5, DiRT Rally not only marks the British publisher’s return to grace, it also completely eclipses the dreary attempts of Kylotonn Entertainment (WRC 5) and Milestone (Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo). We obviously regret that the content is not a little richer and that the Career mode is not complete enough, but these are only minor flaws. Always a bit of an ass between two chairs, between arcade and simulation, Codemasters signs here a rather remarkable compromise that requires some concentration, of course, but makes its players progress more than it punishes them. Not only does DiRT Rally offer excellent gaming sensations, it also ensures an excellent lifespan and is still enjoyed by many gamers today.
DiRT 4 marks the return of the famous series to the forefront of the videogame scene. On the program: 50 cars, five regions to visit (Australia, Spain, Sweden…), online or solo modes. By proposing two different behaviour models, gamer and simulation, this new opus also wants to reconcile high standards and sensations. Release on Xbox One, PS4 and PC on June 9th.