Micro Machines: World Series
Technical review under the hood
Codemasters were a HUGE name in video games when I was still years away from my GCSE’s, Richard and David Darling are possibly the biggest fairy tale of the bedroom coder. Booming out of their own tiny empire, becoming a global publishing and development house for many huge titles from its base located in my home county of Warwickshire.
Cresting the 8-bit wave of home computers that dominated the UK and European gaming scene of the time emerging from the infamous crash in the early 80’s that hit the states, but never impacted us to anywhere near the same degree. Whilst still at school they worked as a team, with David being the smooth, sales and PR person able to sell ice to an Eskimo, but driven by the coding talent and love of games his brother Richard had they made games at home and sold them in local gaming magazine, with a medium of success.
They later set-up Codemasters and as the 8-bit era died out they had to also leave behind the budget brand they had created alongside other giants of the time in Mastertronic. I could create an entire retro episode on the talented siblings and the history of the company and games, maybe if enough interest is warranted I will do just that. But for now, we will focus on the titles in question, of which the team have created many over the years, with the Spectrum rooted Dizzy series, a penchant for Simulator titles that covered all manner of real life sports or hobbies, something that would lead into the huge Colin McRae and later Dirt series of rally titles that graced many disc trays across the world.
Let battle commence!
But a certain title made a big splash on both sides of the pond in 1991 when they saw an opportunity to leap into the success of Nintendo’s first home console that was dominating the US. Without permission, the Mighty N and after gaining the licence from Galoob to the toy sensation, California buggy boys became Micro Machines, thanks to some reverse engineering, Deluxe paint and of course a game genie. Landing in NES carts to stifled sales, thanks in no small part to the legal battle they won in the end with Nintendo, it still managed to cause a stir in more than just the courtrooms.
It then gained far more popularity with the various ports that landed across every machine you could purchase at the time, Gameboy, GameGear, Snes, Amiga, Megadrive, MS-Dos and more all had a slice of the tinker toy racing antics. That saw your squinted eye imaginations become a full-blown table top racer complete with multiplayer action. Even though some conversations had extra benefits such as Sprite rotation/scaling or drifting handling they all shared the same competitive, tight, and short race battling that extended and grew through many sequels over the decades, 3 of them in fact and far more generations, bringing us up to date with the 7th entry in World Series developed by Just add water now out PS4, XboxOne and PC, running under the Unity engine…is this going to end in a crash?
The first thing is this title returns them to the budget price of old, £20 or $30 is a low price for a modern console game which is a refreshing change, specifically for a retail disc. But then after you play the game the corners cut stand out enough to catch your eye, or maybe take it out. Any hope of a single player championship should be left at the door, instead a simple skirmish mode is all it can muster for those who are billy no mates without internet, something of a big loss with the title alluding to a more grandiose championship affair that courts the best the world has to offer.
A saving grace and possible title reference it may be to the Online function that is present, enabling 12 man or women racing (the same number as the vehicle count) across the games 10 tracks that cater for all sorts of crazy antics, squirting garden hoses, hungry hippos to lord only knows. The devious nature of the track design impregnated with everyday miniature obstacles is a high point of the series, but it can all feel more like an advertising reel for nerf with the branded logos and weapon pickups which are quite minimal. It captures the spirit of the original games delivering a good mix of frenzied action, near misses bolstered further with the track pick-up weapons. The handling is again a high point, allowing more of the drifting, controlled style, such as the likes of Mantis Burn racing, like that title it hooks you early but requires practice to gain the finesse needed to become a pro.
A 3rd option comes with the multi-player options for up to 4-players, which returns to its routes and any lack of digital connection aside the one from controller to TV. This is where the joy, laughs and value comes as you all scream around the track, shooting, skidding, and destroying your so-called mates with some comfortable co-op. The variety of tracks is reduced as it has no full Race option and with the only option being a single elimination or battle mode and then reload this is a shocking omission. As the game lacks any championship run or career mode in both single or multi-player modes it is a small bonus to a light package.
The price is right?
Although the price is low, the content does reflect that, to a degree that overshadows the price tag far more than it should.If we look back at the 1994 released 2nd title that I have fond memories of, that shipped with over 60 tracks and a far greater collection of vehicles, not to mention single player & multiplayer championships . But here we have only 10 to choose from and they become tiresome quickly due to the short nature of them. The Weapon pick-ups are only 3 from a Nerf gun, hammer and nerf bomb and can feel hap hazard to use. The vehicles all handled very closely with only speed and resistance being the differentiator between them. Something you must guess at as the selection screen or garage gives you no clue as to the strengths and weaknesses between them.
These can be upgraded using a Loot box system that you earn throughout each race or battle, offering new skins, voice chants, and Grave markings which are weak to say the least. A trend continued with the entire package, no split screen or single machine racing is a travesty of an omission. With only battle mode or Elimination being the choices open for non-internet based play. Some nice touches such as being able to blow up other cars after you die in this mode do little to improve the barebones feeling the game has.
Being locked out of the ranked mode until rank 10 would be fine if not for the fact the only other option you have is a single game that you can only start, finish and quit from to load and search again and as games can take on average 60+ seconds this is not a great feature at all. Single player is equally lacking options as you only have a single race option with no league, championship, or any progression at all here. With the minimal online options and timed events that happen the worry here is if the online is pulled in the next year or so, you are left with little more than a 10-track demo for your money, not a promising thought indeed.
The team behind the title do seem to have struggled with the Unity engine here, which is not that uncommon as we have seen with many other titles on consoles suffer performance issues with this being no exception. The engine does have many quirks and problems with versions and the console versions do suffer more than the PC version due to them being behind. All the same issues occur from Memory allocation, destroying, parallel working threads even mixing C# with C++ code between your game and engine logic can add more overhead which will result in performance issues and stutters many titles can exhibit. The biggest cost here is the framerate, even on the PS4Pro we see the same 30fps cap as the base PS4 and XboxOne have, along with an identical 1080p image and poor to near missing any post AA. Giving the game a very aliased look across all maps and cars, sawtooth edges are everywhere which a better AA method such as SMAA would have helped, I guess they are using deferred rendering here due to the lack of MSAA which would have also helped here.
But it also comes from the assets in the game, with texture shimmering with sub-pixel noise and clashing frequency issues such as the grills on the cars, or the fire truck. The Depth of Field filter can also add in more noise to the image, although very nice being a Gaussian blur with sprite sampled Bokeh shapes that do look nice, specifically when races start and the camera pulls back, the resolution and abundant use for depth can again highlight the low IQ with it looking sub 1080 at times even though it is not. Car models and track details are decent with a fair use of specular maps with surface noise maps giving table tops, pool tables or greenhouses a nice shine across the surfaces as you raise.
But these are overshadowed by the weaker points in the title, alpha effects are badly blended with clear geometry clipping seen as they animate across the floors or even over each other. Water caustics run at 15fps and stand out even mid race for me, track side interaction is mixed with certain objects colliding and sliding with you such as balls or Cheerios, but the areas that reduce grip such as honey spills or sauce are static with a simple decal drawn behind your car as your grip is reduced. Nice track sections are present from the toaster pop or pool table pockets, but these can be timed badly in online races leaving you coming out way being another or all at the same time even though you entered sequentially.
And joining the likes of Prey recently that stated Pro support this is another title that says that on the tin but runs, looks and is identical the base model and that includes the visual presentation we have just covered along with the 30Hz rate. This is far from ideal but not the end of the world, but if you have a game like this with a 30fps rate it needs to be consistent and that is not the case at all. Far from bad but it can dip in races or battles and even when you earn a trophy, these are clearly CPU bound issues and I would hazard this is using little more than 3 to 4 threads at all, not helping the issue of a game that many would expect to be running at twice that rate on all machines, PC does indeed offer that level if you are interested. This is great shame that more effort or budget was not put into this title as it could have been a great return for a code masters great, but instead as the publisher of the game and not the developer it appears that some base level Q&A would have helped keep the brand image high, and as it stands it is a weaker game in almost all areas bar visuals than titles that released over 20 years ago and I fail to see why this was made in the first place other than to cash in on the current retro wave that is happening.
As a huge fan of the series, I wanted to really like and enjoy this game but the good points such as the handling and track design are let down by mediocre performance, poor image quality, bare bones content and any feeling of progression or success. I think in 1-2 months the chance of finding others on-line to play against will be much harder indeed and with almost no local multiplayer options to dig into and a limited to 4 car AI single player race which is an incredible faux pas. I can only assume comes down to the ability to utilise the threads better in the CPU as it makes them feel very desolate compared to the online 12 man races. Even at half its current price I cannot recommend this game, if they add more content to it with a fleshed out Single player, better local MP, and wider options online that may change, but for now I can only recommend picking up one of the older MM games and enjoying what is still a tough but fun title.