Preconceptions are funny things. Take, for instance, any of you readers who have 'experienced' the first two Crazy Cars games. Right about now you'll be saying, 'Mmm, I wonder what's reviewed in a couple of pages'. But wait! Don't do it. Stick with this one, it'll be worth it. Give me, ooh, three pages to blow your preconceptions apart. Trust me. I'm a professional.
THERE'S A KILLER ON THE ROAD
It's been over a year since Lotus II first graced our screens, showing up the clutch of other Amiga racers for the amateur jobs they reall are. At the time it seemed like nothing more could be done with sprite-based driving games (although some still prefer the original Lotus). Then Jaguar appeared, with the claim that it was a Lotus beater.
Sure, it managed to add some neat features to the formula - atmospheric weather conditions, more variations in tracks, and a course design kit - but a lack of cars on the raod and a lack of anything particularly new or exciting prevented it from fulfilling its original promise.
So chances are your eyes have wandered off to the Bottom Line box over at the bottom of the review, and you want to know why I've given it such a high score. After all, it's only a Crazy Cars game, isn't it? No, actually it's not. It's a shame that they just didn't think up a new title for this one, because it really has no connection with the previous two accursed racers.
So let's do a quick check list, shall we, and quickly compare the features of Crazy Cars III with those of Lotus II and Jaguar (we'll forget about Lotus: The Final Challenge for the moment). Track editor - nope. Two player mode - nope. Spectacular weather conditions - nope. (Crazy Cars III) does have snow and rain, but the rain is particularly crap and the snow, though pleasant, is more reminiscent of It's A Wonderful Life than arctic conditions).
So Crazy Cars III loses on all counts, right? Wrong. This is the most funsome, groovesome and triumphant racing game I've played on the Amiga. The key lies in Titus' approach to the subject. While Lotus II and Jaguar have strived for realism - the simulation of a real life race, if you like - the guys at Titus have gone for a blend of Out Run arcade simplicity and cartoon-like, um, craziness. They've also got their game moving way faster than the rest. A fully-powered car can hit 400km/h, and it sure looks convincing.
Nobody would ever believe some of the stunts that the Lamborghini can pull - but, just like in the movies, it doesn't matter, because it makes for a fun game. If you liked the Cannonball Run, if you ever admitted to enjoying an episode of Knight Rider, or if you love movies based in San Francisco (where the cars are frequently airborne on their way down steep hills) then Crazy Cars III is going to do things you that you thought only Winona Ryder was capable of (for girl readers, please substitute Dolph Lundgren or some other swoonsome hunk).
Demands play after play after play
DESOLATION ON THE ROAD
Now that I've (hopefully) convinced you of just how much fun I've had with this game, I'll get down to the basics of gameplay. Imagine a variation on the Cannonball Run. Set in America, there are four divisions of illegal races to work through, with around fifteen races in each division. Each race has an entry fee which is dependent on difficulty and on the winner's prize (second and third places also secure modest amounts of cash).
As cash is earned, outgoing arise in the form of car repair and modifications. Initially, they include such lowly, but useful, gadgets as radar detectors (for advance warning of police patrols) and extra-grip tyres. As the game advances and stakes rise, it's possible to buy better brakes, manual gear-boxes, five and six speed systems, nitrous-oxide engines, ECMs (to eliminate detection by police radar), and one-off turbo boosts.
Money is also needed to enter the division challenge. This involves driving a two lane road, overtaking entire convoys of trucks, while - yes, you guessed - more trucks fly head-on on in the other lane. Anyone who's seen Basic Instinct will fee right at home here (I mean the car chase, not the other bits).
Also competing in these races are twenty professional drivers, plus locals of varying skills. In any one race, there may be up to four of these pros to be wary of, but they also offer an opportunity to make some extra cash. You see, pre-race betting is catered for, so it's possible to win much more than the standard cash prize. Similarly, it's also possible to foolishly blow the last of your cash.
Police patrols? Radar? Illegal races? Oh yes, you read right. Crazy Cars III doesn't give you some namby-pamby race track to spin round. Oh no. What you get are real roads, while real drivers (the only complaint is that all the roads are mysteriously one way), and real police. Whether it's by photograph or good old-fashioned radar trap, the cops are out to put an end to these races.
Chances are you'll soon hear the sound of sirens and have the cops on your tail. It's then the tough choice between slowing down and hoping they go after one of the other professional drivers, trying to burn them off, or slamming the muthas right off the road. You see, it's not just the player's car which takes damage in Crazy Cars III. The pros and police can also be reduced to the level of Robin Reliant, with smoke billowing out the back and seriously reduced performance. And the fact that the pros can also be chased for speeding, and that they respond intelligently to the radar traps (electing to slow down or burn the police off) gives things the race a thrillingly believably edge. IN fact the intelligence of the other cars almost makes up for the lack of a two-player mode.
Way faster than the rest
THE GREAT LAMBORGHINI HUNT
Actually, just to re-iterate the point about the computer car intelligence routines, it's worth noting that the demo mode on Crazy Cars III is not a recording of a human controlling the Lamborghini - it's actually the computer driving the thing (and what a good job it does too). The various professional drivers even have differing levels of ability, via individual distances they can 'see' ahead, and manoeuvre accordingly. This is an important factor in the playability of CC III. There's none of that drone-like weave from side-to-side stuff here.
And while I'm being generous with the compliments, I'll give a quick hurrah of appreciation for the level designs. The combination of colour-schemes, road layouts and scenery graphics ensures that every track feels individual, and true(ish) to the location of the race. Boston, for instance, is a night race, with a beautiful cityscape looming behind the miles of undulating roads and huge tunnels.
Other tracks, such as Miami, include road-works, single lane sections, and water. Gosh - it reminds me of my misspent youth playing OutRun down the local beach arcade. Okay, so a couple of tracks are fairly generic, but others just look and feel so different that it's a real thrill to go from race to race, discovering new delights, and attempting to learn track layouts. It's also nice to be able to knock various bits of scenery, sending them flying up over the bonnet.
The sound too, adds brilliantly to the proceedings. This engine noise is thankfully beefy, with a satisfying whine when a turbo boost is used. Even the tunnel sections sound right. It's all the little, thoughtful touches which leave an impression. Maybe it's the way things are split into divisions, maybe it's the way the car can be totally customised as the game progresses, perhaps it's the precision with which the difficulty curve has been set, or maybe it's the way more tracks become available as the player improves. Whatever it is, Crazy Cars III demands play after play.
Just in case you haven't guessed then - yes, I prefer it to the Lotuses and Jaguar. For me the ideal game collection would include this, F1GP and Vroom. Sure, it lacks the features and near-infinite number of tracks which Lotus: The Final Challenge is promising, but this game's bloody-mindedness is its strong point. Complicating things with a track designer or more realism would have only diluted the tasty cocktail. Crazy Cars III is simply excellent fun, and that's what it's all supposed to be about, isn't it?