Old news is exciting, and Codemasters’ release of Colin McRae Rally HD is something that we should probably take a look at, because it’s the lowest you can sink as a developer.The Codemasters of Old were known for landmark Playstation titles in the late 1990’s, putting out a series of fantastic simcade tarmac racers with ToCA Touring Cars (later evolving into Pro Race Driver/GRID), and an equally astounding selection of games that forced you to play in the dirt with the Colin McRae Rally series. For a lot of Europeans, these two sets of games got people into auto racing. The McRae titles were released at the height of the McRae/Mäkinen duels of late 1990’s WRC, and the ToCA titles dropped during the golden years of the British Touring Car Championship.
But the landscape of video games changed in a way Codemasters wasn’t entirely prepared for. Forced with adapting to the confusing, often contradicting demands of customers and trends within the industry, the ToCA series evolved into a story-driven jack-of-all-trades racer, rally titles no longer carried the Colin McRae namesake or appealed to hardcore WRC fans, and the newly-acquired F1 license lead to a string of games only marginally better than each of it’s predecessors. By the time 2013 had ended, Codemasters were forced to use a generic demolition derby game with the DiRT name and a GRID sequel that had been stuck in development hell as their two most prominent recent releases.
In the background, mobile games had become increasingly popular among casual gamers, with the average smart phone able to produce a gaming experience a step above the pricey Playstation Portable a decade earlier. To cash in on this new trend, Codemasters quickly built a generic Colin McRae Rally title within the Unity engine and released it during the summer of 2013 for three dollars. I personally dislike mobile gaming altogether, but there’s an audience for it, and they didn’t mind it.
Yet, after this release, the situation over at Codemasters became even more dire as we progressed into 2014. The lack of success from GRID: Autosport meant the team needed something, anything, to keep the cash flow coming so the studio could stay afloat, and ToyBox Turbos, an unlicensed Micro Machines game designed around the original titles that built up the initial reputation of the studio prior to the Playstation simcade era of ToCA and Colin McRae, failed to catch on.
Codemasters believed the solution to the studio’s woes was to port Colin McRae Rally HD, a mobile phone game with four cars and a mere handful of tracks, to the PC, and deliberately mislead people about what was included in the title in order to earn some quick cash. At the time, Steam did not have any sort of refund policy, and the immensely damaged reputation that would inevitably result from this move was seen as a necessary evil to keep the studio afloat.
What followed was sheer outrage. The game was advertised on Steam as an HD Remaster based on content from Colin McRae Rally 2.0. To most people, the description sounded as if Codemasters released a high definition mod for Colin McRae Rally 2.0, regarded by longtime fans as the best game in the series, omitting some of the cars and tracks due to the obvious licensing issues that have risen in the fourteen years since CMR 2.0 had been released.
Fans were rightfully pissed, and loaded the game’s storefront page with negative reviews, until Codemasters began offering refunds, something completely optional as Steam’s refund policy was still several months away from being implemented.