Innovation is hard to come by in racing games, but Codemasters may have struck gold with their latest brainwave.
Their upcoming off-roader, DIRT 5, is putting a new emphasis on playing together and integrating it into every aspect of the game. Is it a sign of things to come?
Split-screen makes a comeback
Racing games have been moving away from split-screen multiplayer for a long time, but in 2020 it looks like Codemasters is trying to bring it back.
In an interview, Robert Karp, Development Director, explained why the addition of split-screen gaming was so crucial to DIRT 5.
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"At the start of the project split-screen was something I considered really important." Said Karp.
"When the new consoles [Xbox Series X and PS5] launch there might not be many of them. People might not be able to buy them." allowing couch racing would certainly get around the impact of that.
But what about bringing it to Career Mode too?
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"It's a lot of work to do split-screen, and if we're going to be doing that why not try to get it in as much of the game as we can."
"Why not" usually precedes either terrible decisions or amazing ones. It certainly feels like the latter here.
How does multiplayer Career Mode work?
It sounds complicated, but in DIRT 5 it is made incredibly simple. You don't have to worry about your friend beating you and preventing you from progressing in your career.
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Not only is the Career Mode non-linear, but the best result among all users is the one that is counted. That goes for progress in challenges too. So if you aren't quite drifting enough around a race but your friend is, then it is their score that will count.
Coupled with this is the ability for players to jump in and out. That means you don't have to wait until your friend is available to carry on with your journey.
Is it the future of racing games?
It is perhaps a little early to crown this simple but innovative idea as a complete game-changer, but it has immediately opened up a world of possibilities.
Imagine a multiplayer F1 Career Mode, where rather than trying to dethrone Lewis Hamilton you and a friend are battling to topple Mercedes? Or you could be in different teams, each doing R&D and practice programs to improve in a titanic struggle that is settled at Abu Dhabi?
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F1 2020 already has split-screen making a come back. Is it just the first step on a much bigger journey?
Last year's F1 game introduced customisable multiplayer car liveries, almost as a dry run to My Team this year. Could split-screen be the first toe in the water to a true multiplayer Career Mode? We can only hope so.
Not the only innovation
Split-screen capability is not the only special feature within the Career Mode of DIRT 5.
With iconic voice actors Troy Baker and Nolan North embodying your mentor and antagonist respectively you have superb characters to play too.
Then there is the narrative, which is driven by in-game podcasts from Donut Media and that feature special guests including Jamie Chadwick.
It really is a game like no other.
DIRT 5 release date & pre-order
DIRT 5 arrives in October 2020. A precise date has not yet been announced, but earlier than later is most likely.