There was bound to come a time when we just looked at computer games and said, "Why?" We've already said, "Wow!" a couple of times. And there have been a few occasions upon which we've said, "No..." We've said, "By Jingo," more than once. And I remember asking, "How?" sometime early in 1993.
But now the time has come for "Why?" Why ever on earth do we need another 3D polygon-type motor racing game-thing with a small assortment of cars, drivers and courses? I mean, why? WHY? ANSWER ME.
Actually, I've been wondering "why?" for most of this month as I've looked at game after game that seem, in the great scheme of things, to be a totally unjustified waste of everyne's valuable time. When I started working for AP in issue 16 (just after the Matt Bielby 'Golden Age') there were seemingly countless racing games around. There have been many more since, looking at the motor racing world from every available perspective.
There have been arcade-style games. Full-on simulators. Motorcycle games. We've had sprite-based scrolling background games. Scaling polygon 3D games. Top-down slippy-slidey games. Games involving small, heavily promoted toys. And now there's this. Another polygon 3D arcade racing game. "Welcome to the racing game that will change your life!" says the manual, carelessly ignoring the advice Stuart Campbell once gave me that Exclamation! Marks! Are! For! ("High Street Bankers!" - Ed). You're welcome to it, mate.
The hyperbole continues: "Well, what if we told you that this was the most addictive, most exciting, most playable arcade racing game ever to grace an Amiga, and that it was the most powerful 3D polygon engine yet seen on an Amiga Technologies machine?" Honestly? If you really tried to tell me that to my face, my old lovelies, I'd probably snort. Derisively.
Addictive it certainly isn't. Being an 'arcade racing game' it has neither power-ups nor any options for tactical tweaking of cars. This makes it instantly accessible but leaves it, sadly, with all the depth of the toddler pool at Easton Leisure Centre and the life expectancy of a dormouse at a tabby cat convention. Leaping Lap's JUST ANOTHER RACING GAME.
The middle distance objects
Ah, but what about exciting? Well, no, I didn't find it very exciting at all. You hold the fire button down for full throttle and steer round a course. You slow down for bends and watch the pretty scenery in the distance while middle distance objects grow and then slip past you.
There are four other cars on the road. If you're any good they're all behind you so you don't see them. If you're bad they're all in front of you so you don't see them. If you're average two of them are in front of you and two of them are behind you and they're quite widely spread out so you rarely, if ever, see them.
And you keep racing until you get to the end. If excitement is in the eye of the beholder I didn't behold any. It's JUST ANOTHER RACING GAME.
What, then, about playable? Well, you choose one of three cars (fast=difficult and fragile, slow=easy and robust, and middling=middling). You choose one of five players (each with their own characteristics and abilities) after reading their not-quite-hilarious biographies. And then you hold the fire button down for full throttle and steer round the twelve courses (but I've already said that).
The (switchable) map of the course takes some getting used to - it turns so that you're always driving up the screen - but other than that it's quite straightforward. So while it's playable enough it's scarcely "the most playable". That seems to imply that it has some appeal beyond being easy to get to grips with. And it doesn't. It's JUST ANOTHER RACING GAME.
Tangible absence of whizz
And then we come on to "the most powerful 3D polygon engine yet seen on an Amiga Technologies machine". Now, I'll confess up front that I'm no techie - I can tell a hard drive form a coffee machine, but I'm not in any way qualified to comment upon the relative merits of polygon scaling routines.
But, I ran Leading Lap on the AP office A1200 - a bog-standard almost-straight-out-of-the-box machine with a hard drive and an external floppy drive. Then I ran it on the other AP office A1200 - an almost identical machine but with a bit more memory. It was certainly quite a competent 3D routine, but there was noticeable jerkiness and a tangible absence of whizz.
I tweaked the display options and set it for minimum detail at all levels. It was certainly less jerky and had about it much of an air of whizz, but the shrewd observer might suggest that this was because there wasn't actually anything for the computer to do except scroll the road.
So, it seems to run at anything between 'quite good and a little jerky but very pretty' to 'quite fast but nothing to look at except the road'. It might well be the "most powerful 3D polygon engine yet seen" for all I know, but it didn't astound me in any way with its brilliance. And technical expertise doesn't really count for anything anyway because it's JUST ANOTHER RACING GAME.
But I don't want to leave this 3D thing yet, because I noticed a few other things. The mid-distance obstacles (the track-side stuff) draw in as you approach them. They don't start very small and then grow and grow until they flash past you. Instead, they appear a little way ahead and then grow a it more before they past you.
This is most noticeable - you're using the external views when it looks as if there are only a limited number of buildings and someone has to pick up the ones you've driven past and run to the other end of the line with them to make it look as if there are more. Worse still (again in the external views) is that the road itself sometimes seems to be being built as you drive along it, giving you very little notice of what's coming up.
You can listen to car-like noises
Some trackside obstacles aren't even solid. You can drive through them and out the other side in an eerie, ghostly manner. This also happens with the other cars. Or does it? Or DOES it? OR... oh, I can't be bothered. There's a pleasing selection of camera angles, including a set which lets you see the race from the point of view of the other cars (although if you choose to race with any of your competitors, your own car just stops, so it's not really of any practical value).
Anyway, I have to confess that I only saw the 'transparent obstacle' phenomenon when I was racing with the other drivers, and it doesn't appear to affect your own car. Still, even if it only happens to the computer-controlled cars, it's not really fair, is it? How come they can drive through walls and each other when I have to avoid hitting anything? Hmm?
So what else is there? Well, a serial link to double the pleasure (if you have a friend who wants to play JUAT ANOTHER RACING GAME with you) and an irritating manual with a desperately funny 'Quickstart' section that tells you how well written the rest of the manual is and how you ought to read it. Laugh? I thought I'd never start.
And there you have it. Compete against four other drivers in a series of twelve ('illegal' - how deliciously naughty) races around the world and see who wins. You get lap records, course records, and a league table. You can change your view of the world but not your car. You can listen to car-like noises and occasional voice samples that tell you how you're doing.
The scenery changes from course to course around the world and is quite entertaining. The weather changes, as does the time of day (though you have no contorl over it). The skies are pretty. The backgrounds are pretty. The courses are varied and each have their own little tricky bits for you to overcome. But so what? Everything else about it is so desperately ordinary that you're really not going to want to come back to it time and again.
A quick glance at the credits shows that they did their own playtesting - if only they'd given it to someone who wasn't in any way involved in the project they'd realised much sooner that it's JUST ANOTHER RACING GAME.
"Play Leading Lap for a couple of minutes and we think you'll agree with everything we said so far," enthuses the manual. No, I think they'll agree with everything I've said so far. It's JUST ANOTHER RACING GAME.