Let me tell you why my driving to Sawbridgeworth in the summer of 1994 was one of the best decisions of my gaming life. It's not without relevance, I assure you.
Joao spends a few hours with a near-final version on Xbox 360.
Codemasters has been listening. It knows some people were less than impressed by DiRT 2's effort to appeal to a wider crowd. It's aware of objections to the game's unashamed bombastic stance, the leaning towards fun at the expense of realism. It recognises the argument that the game reduced the core rally content to such a degree that it was at odds with the essence of the Colin McRae titles.
"Ferrari don't make cars. Ferrari make dreams," declares the opening screen before a suitably dramatic video sequence powers in. That may be, but you get the feeling that if UK publisher System 3 was left in charge of the Ferrari production line the results – while hardly the stuff of nightmares – would be disturbing. A bit like opening the glove box to find that you'd suddenly switched off the traction control.
Critics of WRC ace Sebastien Loeb – who has just won his seventh consecutive world title – will point out that the Frenchman has dominated an era that has seen the sport regress, with a competitive field somewhat lacking in the greatness of the past: no Vatanens, Mikkolas, Kankkunens, Sainzs or Mäkinens, say.
Heard the one about the Spaniard, the German, the Australian and the two Brits? If you follow motorsports, it's unlikely you haven't, because it's difficult to remember a Formula One season as competitive and as exciting as this year's. The performance gaps are tiny, the talent on-track enormous. Even legendary, when you consider the presence of Herr Schumacher – the man may have underperformed dismally to date, but his past achievements in the sport stand (and his consistently inventive efforts to try and barge former team-mates off the track are at least entertaining).
Any Formula 1 fan will tell you that March 2007 feels like a lifetime ago. The season that saw a young Lewis Hamilton - too young - miss out on the championship by a single point was also the last time an F1 game rolled out of a developer's pit. In fairness, by the time Formula 1 Championship Edition showed up on PS3, the sub-genre was already misfiring. A series of mainly monotonous and predictable real-life seasons combined with the restrictions that accompany any official Formula 1 game production resulted in F1 titles that, like the sport they emulated, had lost their spark.
Powersliding, while a glorious, evocative word for petrolheads, proved an irritatingly elusive dynamic for driving game developers of the 1970s, eighties and very early nineties. Indeed, it was only the remarkable acceleration the genre benefited from as a result of videogaming's transition to 3D (coupled with the renewed processing power of enhanced hardware) that finally enabled the recreation of drifting a box of polygons sideways through a corner in a manner that felt satisfyingly convincing. Up to then, even the most fervent member of the Sprite Generation knew deep down that adding smoke and screeching effects à la OutRun just didn't cut it. If you're going to give the illusion of powersliding, you need to do it in three dimensions. Namco's absurdly popular Ridge Racer was an early front-runner in this regard and soon found a rapidly growing number of efforts from other publishers in its slipstream.