Enter Hairpin Right

The game that started it all.

As of this moment in time I’m currently learning to drive; it’s a bit of a surreal experience as, for the first time in my twenty five years of existence, I sat behind the wheel of my instructor’s Mazda, turned the ignition and quickly stalled. Bugger. That was a few weeks ago and now, three lessons later, I’m pottering along A-Roads as well as dancing around the 60Mph mark and thoroughly enjoying it; that sense of freedom of being able to go anywhere you want… the absolute dread when that huge tanker carrying liquid nitrogen bears down on you until you can see nothing but engine grill.

Since starting my own driving adventure, it’s got me thinking more and more about the driving experiences I’ve had through the many games that I’ve played, and a couple not only stood out, but one developer in particular.

When people think of racing studios they tend to talk about Turn 10 Studios, Polyphony Digital, Bizarre Creations and Criterion, but this isn’t about any of them. This is about a studio nestled within the heart of its Warwickshire studio, a studio that goes by the name of Codemasters, and yet Codemasters aren’t generally one of the developers people mention when the subject of racing games come out. It is, after all, a multi-genre studio and sees a wide variety of games shipping from its doors, but it’s certainly not for the lack of quality that they have on offer.

Jump in your DeLorean and arrive at the Easter of 1998, I was in my second year of secondary school at the time and the Easter Holidays were spent doing what we did best: playing games. It was the age of the Playstation and, what with myself and a couple of friends each owning one, games were never in short demand.

The stack of games on offer was quite impressive, and so it should be what with at least four people contributing to it, but it was a new game someone had recently acquired as a Birthday present that found itself slotting into the disc tray, with the words Colin McRae Rally blazing across the tiny CRT that we played on. For the next few weeks no other game was played; our sole purpose in life was to be better than one another at the game, with the time trials being our particular battleground.

At the time I knew nothing of who developed it as I wasn’t interested in that sort of thing back then. It had cars in it, they drove fast and my friends liked it – all the three major ingredients that I’d need to pick up a racing game. Before long I had left my second year of ‘big school’ behind me and was staring down the exhaust of six weeks of summer holiday bliss, and with it the prospect of new games.

Steering wheels on the left, oh the madness!

I had a ritual back then, one that involved traipsing through every game shop in town (and there were a few) until I found something that caught my eye. A task made seemingly more difficult as each shop had the tendency to stock what everyone else did, but eventually the trek would pay off.

Behind a copy of Resident Evil I stumbled across another racing title, and was instantly drawn to the logo in the corner, “Codemasters”. Thinking I’m on to a winner and that the £9.99 sale price was too good to be true it was quickly purchased and I soon found myself back in the familiar territory of my CRT TV, perched on the end of my bed with a controller in hand.

Of course, I now know that TOCA Touring Car Championship was actually released before Colin McRae Rally, something the price sticker might have indicated but that was just a technicality. What really mattered was that I not only had a new game but was also starting to form a bond with a game developer, even if I didn’t know it at the time. TOCA ended up in much the same vein as Colin McRae Rally did, played to death, or until someone inevitably entered the cheat to drive a tank, then it sort of went from racing to monkeying around.

Over the years, and as I grew older (as you do), the amount of Codemasters branded racing titles on my stack of games continued to grow but it wasn’t until 2008 that I realised what, deep down, I already knew. With the release of Colin McRae DiRT my enthusiasm for racing games from Codemasters exploded and further releases such as Race Driver: Grid and Colin McRae DiRT 2 all but cemented the fact that any future racing game from them would likely end up sat alongside the rest.

It was DiRT 2 in particular that really grabbed my attention and while, granted, it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea due to the ‘in your face’ nature of the title, there was no arguing about the quality of racing to be had. The way the cars handled, the beauty of the tracks, the visuals on the cars themselves were all right up there alongside the Forzas and PGRs.  So I’m sat now, looking towards the future of racing games and it’s not Gran Turismo 5 that is my most wanted racing title of the year, it’s F1 2010… due out in just a few weeks’ time, while next year sees the release of DiRT 3 and hopefully some more details on the upcoming GRID sequel.

Visually stunning in every way possible.

But it’s the impending release of F1 2010 that is most intriguing. While GRID and DiRT have their place within the driving genre, nothing quite compares to racing around the streets of Monaco past the world famous casinos or the feeling of being full throttle along the straights of Monza. It’ll be interesting to see if Codemasters manage to pull it off, but here’s hoping they do as there needs to be a quality F1 series and Codies might just be the developers to do it.

Codemasters have kept me entertained from behind the wheel for many years now and there are no signs of them slowing down. With what could arguably be said as three of their biggest games in recent history (from the racing team) set for release in the not so distant future, it’s surely looking bright for the petrol headed gamer, and even us pedestrian types too.

They may well be just one part of the racing genre, but without them it just wouldn’t be the same. It would be like a pit lane in the off season, a lonely quiet place except for the odd rubber mark on the floor to keep you company.

So thanks Codies, for letting me burn rubber since 1998!

Last five articles by Ben



  1. Lee says:

    TOCA was amazing me and my bro played the hell out of that game, we normally cheated our arses off though, there was a gap on donnington that let you cut out a big part of half a track then we’d normally resort to doing a few laps backwards to just for crashes and giggles. I don’t think we ever got past donnington lol.

    I’ve only played a little bit of F1 so far but from what i have played I love it.

    I’d love to see a Grid 2 soon and with a bit more touring car. me and the guys from work spent months playing the first one online.

  2. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I still can’t drive, and I’m 38 this year. There are two reasons that I can’t drive… the first is that it’s difficult to continue in the same direction when your limbs naturally want to drum along to whatever is blasting out of the CD player and the second… well… Lorna won’t let me behind the wheel of a car. Something to do with carnage. Can’t remember what it was now.

    I do enjoy driving IN games, although I’m not overly keen on DRIVING games. I think the whole reason I wanted an XBox 360 in the first place was for PGR3 because of just how damn sexy it looked… yet I didn’t actually like the game much when I got it. Loved playing Need For Speed Most Wanted on the PSP but haven’t enjoyed it elsewhere. Burnout Paradise is fun… but certainly not what you’d call a driving game. I think the most I’ve ever put in to any racing games goes back to my Amiga days with Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge and Jaguar XJ220 as I played both of these to death… they’re very basic, granted, but they were awesome at the time.

    Driving IN games is more fun though, because it’s not really there as a mini game but more as a means to get from one location to another… but driving a Monster with the afterburner enabled from the top level of T-Bone Junction in Borderlands to the bottom level is fun. A lot of fun. As is watching Pete crashing and burning constantly. He had a shot of Crysis for the first time at the weekend… his driving was… less than admirable.

    So.. while driving games aren’t really my forté, I have to admit that I do love driving around in games. And I WILL learn to drive some day!! Good luck with your lessons sir!

  3. Samuel Samuel says:

    Driving games have been a staple in my games collection since I first got my SEGA Megadrive, complete with Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge and Micro Machines. Micro Machines being a Codemasters title actually, so they’ve been cranking out quality racing games for a bloody long time now.

    TOCA and Colin McRae Rally both hold fond memories for me, and were stand out games on the original Playstation, easily as much fun as Gran Turismo, SEGA Rally, or the old Psynosis official Formula 1 games. In fact, with the Nintendo 64 only really having Mario Kart, they pretty much stood out in that entire console generation.

    I have gravitated more towards the Forzas and Test Drives these days (I’m really looking forward to Test Drive Unlimited 2), but I’d much rather play GRID or DIRT than PGR or Need for Speed. The more arcadey feeling racers don’t really do it for me anymore, up against the more realistic handling racers.

    I was pleasantly surprised when Codemasters snagged the F1 license, the F1 games had been in decline for quite a long time under their previous developer, and F1 2010 is up there on my wish list, though it’s going to have to wait until Christmas.

  4. Ste says:

    I’m in the same boat as MarkuzR on this one *waves at Mark* I get bored very very quicky of games which are just pure drving games whereas I do like a little drive in games which are not purely driving games. Borderlands and Halo spring to mind. Its just a nice little break from the main focus of the game and adds to the overall experience.

    As for Codemasters, I’ve been aware of them for years, although its not really because of their driving games. My brother was obsessed with Brian Lara’s cricket for a long time and brought uncountable editions of it over the years. Cant think why, its bloody cricket! Each to their own I guess.

    Good luck with the driving lessons anyway!

  5. Edward Edward says:

    Like others have mentioned, if a game is pure driving, unless it isn’t serious (Ie, Burnout and Mario Kart) I have no interest in it. If it’s like Burnout or Mario Kart though, I have an utter obsession with them, mostly because they keep me on the edge a bit and give me a lot of visual stimulae to enjoy.
    Though saying that, I really want a new F1 game, but may wait for F12011 to iron out any kinks with this year’s edition.

  6. Rook says:

    I don’t play alot of racing games but have had some fun on the xbox 360 with games like Ridge Racer (my first 360 game)m Flatout: UC, Burnout Paradise abd more recently Split Second. I prefer my driving games to be about the driving and less of using different weapons. Saying that my favourite weapon in any racing game would be the Warp in Rollcage; you would put down the exit to the warp tunnel and then when someone was close behind you, you would drop the other half of the warp tunnel. This was the entrance to the tunnel and whomever was unlucky enough to be behind you when you dropped it ending up being warped back to an earlier part of the track.

    Not sure what my next driving game will be. I’ll check out the next Need For Speed game, although I haven’t played one since Most Wanted.

  7. Lorna Lorna says:

    I also tend to get bored with pure driving games, preferring the open ended nature of Burnout Paradise. However beautiful the tracks, I usually get bored of going round and around, even with something like Mario Kart and South Park Rally in the end which were both fun. However, that said, I’ve always fancied Motorstorm because it looks so damn gorgeous and also plan to snag Pure at some point as I was impressed with how it looked. Sometimes, it can be a great way of chilling out, just slamming on the accelerator and burning your cares away, without worrying about ammo, bad guys, and save spots.

  8. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I started the new DLC for Borderlands the other night and was disappointed that there were no new vehicles to play with. In the original game we had the Runners and then with the Knoxx expansion we had the awesome Monsters, Lancers and Racers. I wasn’t necessarily EXPECTING any new vehicles, as there weren’t any with the other two DLC packs, but I was kinda hoping for a motorcycle of some description or even some sort of walker.

  9. MrCuddleswick says:

    I love my racing games, and you’re quite right Ben, Codemasters have a fantastic portfolio in that genre.

    I remember first playing the demo of Colin McRae, and it really did feel like a massive leap forward. You could drive off the track and down a cliff. Freedom, glorious freedom.

  10. Richie Richie says:

    Codemasters best driving game = http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6lgwcthycU

    Things like TOCA and DIRT are far too difficult for me and I’ve been playing racing games for almost 30 years. Playing them fucking badly for 30 years actually.

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