While I first believed DiRT 4 was just a bit of an anomaly from Codemasters – rushed out the door before it could be polished to perfection like many were anticipating – there’s now evidence that the one-two punch of DiRT Rally and F1 2016 served to mark both the begging and end of a golden age for the UK-based development team. Though it’s not a racing simulator by any stretch of the imagination, and it barely qualifies as a game that has any sort of relevance being discussed on PRC, Codemasters’ Micro Machines World Series has been an absolute disaster from both a critical and commercial standpoint. With content regurgitated from Codemasters’ prior release Toybox Turbos, a complete lack of anything resembling a proper single player campaign mode, intrusive in-game advertisements, and most if not all online elements blatantly ripped from Overwatch, the few who dared to purchase World Series are choked at how the same company who pushed out a pair of glorious racing simulators could drop the ball this badly.
Inspired by their own series of top-down arcade racers created with Galoob’s blessing in the early 1990s, Micro Machines World Series was meant to be a nostalgia trip back to when racing games were primitive pieces of software, placing an emphasis on colorful graphics and simplistic gameplay to try and re-capture the retro magic once more, albeit with exponentially more powerful gaming consoles. Unfortunately, Codemasters have instead taken three steps backwards and basically given potential customers zero reasons to give World Series a shot.
The car collecting meta-game of Micro Machines V4 for the PlayStation 2 – which boasted 800 cars – is now non-existent, and the car count has dropped significantly even compared to their last outing in Toybox Turbos, with just twelve vehicles to select from – preposterous considering Micro Machines are synonymous with toy car collecting among children and adults alike. Incorrectly believing this obscure retro arcade racer will somehow explode to become the motorized equivalent of Team Fortress 2 or Overwatch, Codemasters have also not included any sort of single player campaign in World Series, the game forcing users to connect to the online servers for participation in ranked and unranked “playlists”, with matches against AI bots hidden away in a Skirmish mode. That’s right, despite Electronic Arts making several foolish attempts in years past to push games without any prominent single player component, and promptly receiving an enormous backlash from customers and critics alike, Codemasters have basically ignored three years of gaming history in favor of repeating the exact same mistakes.
The laughs don’t stop there, as the folks over at PlayStation Universe have continued to split hairs over the shortcomings in this budget title and brought to light numerous instances of outright laziness on the part of Codemasters. Tracks have been completely regurgitated from the unlicensed Toybox Turbos and re-sold with mere cosmetic changes that have replaced the generic toys making up the trackside objects seen throughout the levels with officially licensed Nerf products, with even the heads up display throwing the popular toy weaponry brand in your face at every given opportunity. Aaron Varshney of PlayStation Universe also notes that the entire multiplayer experience, down to the exact progression elements and random item pick-ups, have been shamelessly lifted from Blizzard’s Overwatch. I’m not exactly well-versed in the team-based first person shooter so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of Aaron’s findings, but given a large portion of his review is dedicated to drawing direct comparisons between the shooter and World Series, I can’t imagine he’s entirely incorrect, either.
As his are assertions that Codemasters designed Micro Machines primarily with the eSports community in mind. Given there’s no single player campaign to speak of, a mandatory online component despite this sort of thing landing other devs in poor standing with their own fanbases, and ranked playlists on top of ranked playlists, it’s pretty apparent that this was a clumsy attempt by Codemasters to jump into the eSports scene – foolish considering racing games have not and simply will not have the widespread mass appeal of virtual cowboys and indians, let alone a dated, top-down racer based on a line of toys from the 1980’s and 1990’s.
And that’s if the online element actually functioned as advertised, which it clearly doesn’t. YouTube user Tiametmarduk, who is otherwise known for his close relationship with Codemasters, can be seen labeling his lone video on World Series as “Online Frustration” – pretty telling of the game’s quality considering Codemasters routinely fly him out for F1 gaming-related events.
Around this time last year, we learned that a large portion of the team formerly known as Evolution Studios would be acquired by Codemasters, essentially turning the UK team into an Audioslave-like supergroup of talented racing game developers prepared to push the current roster of games over the top, as well as introduce a new IP into the mix. And while DiRT 4 could have used a bit more time in development, shipping with a couple of oddities that kept the game firmly in “almost but not quite” territory, Micro Machines World Series is a bit terrifying, as that’s now two games where Codemasters have objectively messed up pretty badly. It’s one thing to release a hardcore rally game where the tire physics aren’t entirely up to par, but dumping a game as half-assed as Micro Machines World Series onto the marketplace that’s full of regurgitated content, ripped ideas, and poor functionality, is something a major developer should not be doing at any cost.
We’ll find out later this summer if the Formula One franchise also falls victim to the same lackluster design choices and rushed, regurgitated ideology.