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Phoaaar! Vauhall Chevettes, Renault 5s, all those sensible motors scudding around Europe in an illegal race - watch out Nigel!

Hot hatchbacks. Did you have one back in the Eighties? My mate torched his in Liverpool to get the insurance money. Love 'em or loathe 'em though, they are quick - off a shovel, if you will.

And they are making a triumphant return in Burning Rubber, where the Wacky Races meets the Boy Racers in an illegal race across Europe and America, organised by a chap called Fast Fred.

The introductory sequence to Burning Rubber is curious. Popular music group The Utah Saints perform a tune while garbled Sixties and Nineties images proliferate on screen. Words and symbols flash forth - CND and Burning Rubber amongst others. It is all quite disturbing, though strangely enjoyable. But that is not why you are here, is it?

To join the race, pick a hatchback - there is a choice of six - then stop off at Fast Fred's Speed Shop, soup-ups a speciality. You are greeted by a woman in a rather skimpy outfit, just like at Kwik Fit, tempting you into parting with a few dollars. You have got $4,000 in the kitty, so spend it wisely.

There are various car parts on offer, all of which improve your car's performance, for instance, Nitros give you great acceleration but only for a limited amount of time; Brakes increase your braking speed. You can even add one of those charming body kits that improves the handling, or is it the looks? Or maybe nothing.

You have got $4,000 in the kitty, so spend it wisely

Foot to the floor
Before you finally get to put your boot on the accelerator (which is why you are here), you have to pick a racing route. Options abound as you peruse the map, looking for a short route to the chequered flag.

But beware, the shorter routes often involve many junctions and you constantly have to slow down. And who in their right mind wants to cruise around Scotland in a Peugeot 205 GTi at anything less than breakneck speed?

Apart from the obvious dangers of crashing, there are other hazards. That hardy-perennial - the speed trap - crops up; the cops give chase and you can either try and burn them off and risk crashing, or play a patient game and wait for a gap, then go hell for leather, however, if you can stop completely the cops will nab you, and that means jail.

Civilian cars are white and travel slowly - they are easy to overtake - while the black cars are competitors with drivers with varying degrees of skill.

After Scotland, there are other parts of Europe to negotiate, and with varying conditions to tackle. London, for instance, has high police activity and poor visibility - you race in virtual darkness. Paris is stormy and Germany has blizzards.

At the end of each level, you can go back to Fast Fred's for add-ons to increase performance, but only if you can afford them. Crash too often and you will have to fork out for repairs. Once in America (it takes ages to get there, believe me), you get to choose a new motor, and the courses offer slightly different hazards, including pedestrian areas.

Chequered flag
Burning Rubber is a strange bird. The graphics are nicely drawn and you get a decent feeling of speed, particularly when you fire the Nitros in action. The view, from behind your car works well, but somehow it is not quite enough.

An injection of humour would have been nice - the odd deer running across the road, or maybe a peleton of cyclists hurtling around the corner. And a two-player option would have added an extra dimension.

In a number of words, and for want of more exciting and turbo-charged summation to this reasonably average arcade conversion, it has to be said that Burning Rubber drives well but adds very little to the genre.

Gib Gas, ich wil spass!

Burning Rubber logo

Hier treten zwei neue Autorasereien (Burning Rubber & Skidmarks) gegeneinander an, die zunächst nicht sonderlich vielversprechend aussahen, sich aber bald als sehr spritzig entpuppten. Sollte das die Wiederentdeckung der Spielbarkeit sein?

Weder den gleichnämigen Uraltklassiker vom C64 noch einen Arcade-Automaten hat Ocean hier umgesetzt: und es ist auch keine Filmversoftung - obwohl der Streifen "Auf dem Highway ist die Hölle los" bei dieser illegalen WM auf öffentlichen Straßen unübersehbar Pate gestanden hat. Ähnliches kennt man schon von "Test Drive 2", und bei "Chase HQ" lag ja einst genau die umgekehrte Rollenverteilung vor. Ansonsten hat diese 3D-Rallye aber ganz normale Features zu bieten, so gibt es eine Karte für die Streckenplanung, eine Shop à la "Super Cars" und Punkte wie in der Formel I.

Etwas enttäuscht wird mancher über die vorrätigen Karossen sein, die einen repräsentativen Querschnitt des Joker-Fuhrparks bilden: Ford Fiesta, Renault R5, Nissan Sunny, Opel Astra, VW Golf und Peugeot 205 sind zwar jeweils auch in schnelleren Turboversionen erhältlich, aber wahrhaft nicht der Stoff, aus dem Benzinträume sind. Mit diesen Alltagsschleudern kann man nun entweder quer durch Europa von Schottland bis Spanien oder in der amerikanischen Alternative von Washington nach Florida brettern.

Für unterhaltsamen Ärger sorgen dabei regennasse oder verschnellte Straßen, Nebel, Hindernisse auf der Fahrbahn, Fußgänger und nicht zuletzt Polizeistreifen, bei denen keinerlei Ausreden, sondern bloß noch die drei Continues helfen. Wer sich jedoch immer an die vorgeschriebene Geschwindigkeit hält, wird nie genügend Punkte und Prämien zusammenbringen, um sich mit Ersatzteilen bzw. (Nitro-) Extras einzudecken oder gar die Burning Rubber WM zu gewinnen.

Den besten Lenkradersatz gibt hier der Joystick ab, aber auch via Maus oder Tastatur klappt die Bedienung durchaus zufriedenstellend. Die Schaltung stellt sowohl in der automatischen als auch in der manuellen Variante einen idealen Kompromiß zwischen Lebensnähe und Spielspaß dar. Genauso gut abgestuft sind die drei Schwierigkeitsgrade - der leichteste eignet sich für Sonntagsfahrer, und beim schwersten entfallen alle Warnungen vor Kreuzungen oder dem Abkommen von der eingangs festgelegten Strecke.

Die Musik zur Einstimmung ist recht nett, als zusätzliches Gimmick liegt der Packung ein Demo der britischen Popgruppe "Utah Saints" bei. Die Effekte hätten dagegen ruhig etwas einfallsreicher sein können, so muß man sich z.B. auch in Europa die amerikanische Polizeisirene anhören. Grafisch ist eher schlichte Hausmannskost angesagt, da man zugunsten der atemberaubenden Geschwindigkeit auf optische Spielereien weitgehend verzichtet hat. Die A1200-er Besitzer dürfen immerhin noch auf eine aufgepeppte Spezialversion hoffen, für die A1000-Veteranen ist der Ofen allerdings mangels Kompatibilität jetzt schon aus, was leider auch für "Skidmarks" gilt.


Vom Erlebniswert her sind die beiden Konkurrenten grundverschieden: Der "verbrannte Gummi" spricht vor allem den einsamen Asphaltcowboy an, der sein Leben dem Kampf gegen die Uhr und unverständige Behördenvertreter gewidmet hat. Die "Bremspuren" wiederum entfalten ihre Reize erst so richtig in einem Kreis von Gleichgewinnten, denen fröhliche Rempeleien auf unwegsamen Untergrund über alles gehen. Entscheiden muß also der persönliche Geschmack, aber völlig falsch liegt man weder bei Skidmarks noch bei Burning Rubber.

Burning Rubber logo

Eeww, what's that eyewatering smell? It's Ocean's new driving game! (Er...)

Burning Rubber, eh? Phwoar, sounds a bit like - no, sorry. I never could quite carry off that schoolboy innuendo stuff properly, even when I was a schoolboy. 'Bum', 'pants', 'poo', 'wee', even 'willy'., they never raised much of a chuckle for me. Maybe I've just got no sense of humour. Yeah, that's probably it. It'd certainly explain a few things about International Rugby Challenge at least. But anyway.

Burning Rubber, née Hot Hatches, is Ocean's moderately long-awaited rallying sim. You drive one of a wide range of family hatchback-type cars (hence the original, even double extendrier, title) like the Fiesta (yes, yes), Renault 5, Golf and Astra through all your favourite European countries, then hp across the 'pond' to drive some fine American 'automobiles' through the USA in similar fashion.

It's not your everyday kind of foot-down racer, though - before each stage, you're presented with a map of the country you're about to traverse (well, not all of it, obviously, just the particular microcosm of nationality that the race's unseen organisers have chosen to represent it), on which you can select your own route from a wide range of crisis-crossing highways.

As you then drive the track, big red arrows pop up to show you which way you ought to be going at the numerous junctions and crossroads that crop up as you go along. If you go a different way to the one you chose on the map screen, or miss one of your turnings (easily done, for reasons I'll go into a minute), you can still complete the course perfectly well, but you'll have to work out the turns for yourself until you get back on the right route.

This is actually really good fun - there's a real glow of pride to be gained from accidentally shooting past a junction, then navigating yourself round an unmarked road network and eventually getting yourself back on course and still managing to beat your opponents to the finishing line.

One of the best things about Burning Rubber is that the rules apply to the computer opponents in the race too - they all choose their own routes, and you'll regularly see them splitting up at junctions, or coming down the road at you when you've chosen diametrically opposite paths to the finish.

Also, because this is supposed to be a proper illegal road race, the computer drivers all stick to the left-hand side of the road (or the right when you move to Europe - another nice touch), moving across the white line only to overtake.

This gives you a big advantage in that you can just drive up the wrong side all the time and overtake really easily, but you do risk smashing head-on into oncoming traffic, which brings me to my first big complaint - when you do this, you sustain a heavy amount of damage, but otherwise nothing very much happens, which is silly. Coming to a complete stop seems to me to be the very least you could hope for in this situation, and being able to continue on your merry way seemingly unscathed is daft.

You'll regularly see them splitting up at junctions

And since I've started, I might as well get all the other gripes out of the way. It's really annoying to get thrown in jail by the police and lose a credit for going past a panda car at 71 mph - there ought to be some kind of scale here, whereby if you stop and say "It's a fair cop, guv" when the sirens go, you just get fined some of your cash, but running away at high speed and ramming the police car when it pulls over in front of you gets you banged in the slammer with Mr Big.

It's aggravating when someone else shoots past you doing 30mph more than you during the chase, but it's still you who gets nicked. If you ask me, Crazy Cars 3 handled things a great deal better in this department.

The amount of slowing-down you have to do for junctions is a bit ridiculous too (anything over 10mph and you'll either overshoot and miss completely, or smash your car to bits on the side of the road as you go round), as is the tiny amount of visual warning you get of one coming up (especially in the night-time tracks, where you don't see them until you're right on top of them).

There is a changing-scenery motif that lets you know when one's imminent, but it's not really enough to give you a fair chance, and it takes the game's realism (and ths IS a very realistic driving game, in as much as you could reasonably expect) just one stage too far.

And finally, just what's going on with the perspective? Going by the screen, you appear to be both inside your car looking at the dashboard and slightly behind it looking at the back wheels, which becomes all the more baffling when you notice that the car you're looking at doesn't appear to have a driver at all. Similarly, most of the other cars in the race appear to be twice the side of yours when you get up close.

Graphics in general are Burning Rubber's weakest feature - it's very jerky going round bends, which plays havoc with your eyes after a while, and the rainy and night-time courses just look like someone's dripping blue paint down the screen and blowing a load of soot onto it respectively.

But the thing is, for all its faults, I really enjoyed it. In forcing you to drive realistically sometimes (when there's a radar trap coming up, or when you really have to avoid damage to get to the end intact, say), it's got a feel unlike any other computer racing game I've played, and that's something of a breath of fresh air as far as I'm concerned.

I wish I had more space, because there's lots more I'd like to say, but I'm going to have to tell you that you could do a lot worse than this and leave it at that. Give this one a chance.


Burning Rubber
Who need Lotuses and Porsches, when you can drive a car as glamorous as an Astra GTi?

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I've never understood why Ford named a car after a popular kitchen towel.

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Or why Volkswagen choses the name of a crap sport for a classic family runabout.

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Nissan, however, don't appear to have called this one anything at all. Ahem.

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These cars all look the same to me, to be honest. I was never an auto buff. But this one's green.

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And this one's cute in a small and black way, I suppose.

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This is the only Stealth vehicle we've got in this issue, hilariously.

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Iwas once true that virtually every Ocean game license had a driving section in it and apart from the main sprite changing they all looked the same. I guess they were so proud of the driving code that they had written they wanted to show it off time and again. Unfortunately, it seems like they have now decided to return to basics and release that driving section as a whole game.

C'mon guys, once you have raced along one featureless landscape in some dodgy drawn sprite you have raced them all!

Burning Rubber is the ultimate boy racer's fantasy. If you were to go along to Romford racetrack on a Friday night and ask one of the spotty teenagers there what kind of game he would design this would be it.

The idea is ludicrously simple - pick one of six souped-up production cars, customise them a bit more, then take them for a pin on roads across Europe and the USA. Along the way you get to choose your route, smash into other racers and avoid the odd police car waiting by the side of the road. Yawn. It is a pity that Ocean did not go the whole hog and include a 'How to get into Sharon's knickers while on the back seat of the Cortina' sub game.

It is difficult to find anything good to say about this game - it is the worst kind of grab the money and run rush job I have seen in some time. The most enjoyable aspect is the demo by Utah Saints which runs before the game loads. After that it is all down hill. The cars behave like they are on ice, especially on machines with fast processors. The loading music sounds like Des O'Connor's Greatest Hits played on a Hammond Organ and the collision detection is so bad that the car simply jiggles a bit when you hit any other vehicles.

Burning Rubber should be avoided at all costs, just like Romford on a Friday night.