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The first new top-down multiplayer racing game for a long time gets put through its paces by Ben Vost.

The Amiga Format offices haven’t been blessed with a serious multiplayer racing game for quite a while now. Probably the last really decent one was Skidmarks, and that was before even my time here.

Four players can take part in this game, which always means more fun than simply playing against the computer, although there is a one player game as well. The multiplayer gameplay is split between either a split screen mode for two players only, which is a standard race, or a "battle mode", á la Micro Machines, where all four contestants race around the track with the player at the back of the screen getting knocked out until only one player remains and scores some points. Then it all starts again.

However, if you have two Amigas you can still race four cars by using a null modem cable, with two split-screen races going on simultaneously on both machines.

Four players can take part in this game, which always means more fun than simply playing against the computer.

The graphics are nice though, with diddy little race car sprites and cartoonish backgrounds, but there seems to be little interaction with them, especially since the alpine levels aren’t any more "skiddy" than the woodland or dunes levels, which is a great shame.

There are "boardwalks" and ramps on each level, and on some, going off-road results in your car slowing down, but other than that you don’t really get a feel for each track - it merely becomes an exercise in making sure that your car is pointing in an orthogonal direction after you come out of a bend because going over ramps at an angle can be death to your racing chances.

Not only that, but although you’re given a choice between drivers at the start of the game, in a very Bitmap Brothers-style screen, there doesn’t seem to be any difference between them even though it says that there is on the back of the box. They all seem to drive in a similar fashion to me.

Having said all that, there’s still the fun of racing your mates, and Max Rally does this very well. Get a four-player adaptor from Gasteiner (0181 345 6000) and plug your joysticks in after the pub and you’ll be there for hours, battling it out for first place.

There's also a Time Trial mode where it's you racing against the clock on your own, but this is a bit tedious...

Track trouble
However, it has to be said that the track design could be better for multiplayer action. The problem is that if the players have any familiarity with the course, it makes for long races as it’s often quite easy to stay on the screen because the circuits are very compact.

If you’re playing the one player game, you’ll find that it’s not too difficult on the early levels, although you’re welcome to try them in any order you like. What is blindingly difficult, however, is the Max Challenge, which you might guess from the name is going to be hard.

The Max Challenge is just you against a scrolling screen. You start at the bottom of it and it scrolls upwards until you reach the end of the track. You then have to make your way back to the bottom as the screen scrolls down again. The trick is that you must not get caught by the bottom or top of the screen as it scrolls. This is much harder than it might seem because the track isn’t continuous – it has huge gaps in it that you have to cross using moving pontoons. The problem is that you often have to wait for these pontoons, sitting there doing nothing while the screen scrolls inexorably towards you.

There’s also a Time Trial mode where it’s you racing against the clock on your own, but this is a bit tedious and only for serious Max Rally fans (it does save your ties to disk so you can keep trying to improve on them, either on your own or in the races).

Finally, there are demos of most of the tracks stored on the disk, showing some of the manoeuvres you can do, like the 360° spin to help you get round corners while airborne.

Overall, Max Rally is great fun for four players. If you come back from the pub with your mates, turn on your Amiga and fire this up. Make sure you’ve all had a bit of practice though, as it can be quite tedious for the fourth-placed player to wait for the first two to reach some kind of racing conclusion. My suggestion is to bring back some tinnies...