Flying in the face of the impossible

Powerdrome logo Amiga Computing Value Award

COULD you never find anyone to put the cars back on the track for you when you were playing Scalextric? Did you ever wonder why moths beat themselves to death on light bulbs? The answer to the first problem - and perhaps the second - is now presented in the form of Powerdrome.

This is a very innovative implementation of the old favourite racing game, Pole Position. Where Powerdrome really takes off (pun intended) is that the cars have become jet aircraft which race around tracks resembling the M25 of the future.

The track features bumps, bends, flyovers, tunnels, chicanes and, just when you thought it was getting mean, worse things which I won't even attempt to describe. It is more fun finding out for yourself.

The track is a kind of channel with banked sides, divided into equal chequered sections to give the sensation of speed as they flash past. They also serve as road signs.

If the embankment is coloured red and white there is a bend ahead, if the top of a tunnel is yellow and black then it is curving down...

There are seven different tracks, each with its own set of interesting features which need a different style of driving to negotiate. Hazards to watch out for are storms - complete with excellent lightning which impedes your engines unless you stop off in the pits for a change of filters - and the other drivers.

You have four opponents, each in a different kind of ship, who will all try to hassle you. Collisions are quite rare but can be nasty when they happen. Keep a look out in your rear view mirror.

There is a very workable datalink option for playing against a similar minded Powerdrome owner communicating via modem or serial cable. The game thoughtfully allows you to copy it for this purpose.

If the unfortunate should happen and you prang a wing or, worse still, the nosecone, you can pop into the robopits for a speedy repair. Here entire sections of your ship can be replaced. You can even get a Quickfit engine.

If you have the time you can pop back to the tune-up screen for a bit of adjustment - very handy in the practice laps. Occasionally you may have to refuel here during long races. All the repairs are accompanied by nice stereo sound effects.

Your ship is flown like an aircraft, rather reminiscent of Elite. Control may be mouse or joystick. The programmer seems adamant that mouse control is superior in terms of response time and it is recommended for the serious contender. But although I tried very hard, it is similar to other mouse-driven games. Unless you have an A0 size mouse mat and long arms, it is a bit difficult.

Additional control from the keyboard include an overhead display of the track with all the participants marked on it, a readout of the current positions and a really useful timer which gives the difference between you and the lead car or the lag between you and second place if you are leading.

It takes a while to get used to the controls, so the programmer has included a "centre field" option, like a set of magnetic stabilisers which pushes you towards the centre of the track. The field reduces your top speed, but it is fully adjustable, so you can gradually lower it as you feel more confident and more determined to beat the best lap times.

For those very special moments the Typhoon craft is equipped with afterburners - handy for excessive speed and reckless driving on long straights. Overuse of them causes the twin engines to burn out. If you use them in the tunnels you are racing towards an early grave.

The graphics are remarkable, wonderful and fantastic. Do not be surprised if you find yourself falling out of your seat as you try to take a sharp bend - good use of the blitter which suggests the programmer did a deal with Beelzebub.
The sound effects are some of the best I have heard. Wonderful stereo imaging and varying engine noises.
Addictive, fast and professional, this must be the definitive racing game. As Frankie almost said: Welcome to the Powerdrome.

Powerdrome logo Format Gold


Not many games have been written that fully exploit mouse control instead of the joystick: Virus and Ferrari Formula One are two that spring to mind. This is another one for the collection, in which the advanced control mechanism is matched by the futuristic nature of the game.

Imagine racing a jet fighter along courses that dive underground, twist and turn wildly, and even have moving walls. You are now imagining this game. It is a futuristic sport that is far more demanding than anything on two or four wheels, or any flight sim. Not only are you required to battle the tortuous courses but you must also take on computer opponents, or another player via a data link, at the same time.

There are seven tracks, the simplest of which is a basic oval: all the rest are much more complicated. You must fly around the tracks as quickly as possible, trying to avoid the walls and other ships. This is made easier to start with by using a centring mechanism, which attracts the ship back to the middle of the track. It has adjustable strength that can be gradually turned down as you learn the intricacies of the courses and how best to fly them.

Each track is on a planet with its own atmosphere (methane, oxygen, ammonia or sulphur) so the ship must be fitted with the appropriate filters. This is complicated during races by rain or other precipitations that require particle filters to prevent engine failure. The ship also has other adjustable features, such as the fuel type, aero foils and brakes, that affect its performance.

There are four other racers in different ships and contact with them or the track walls damages the ship. Too many accidents will affect the handling or instruments. In order to undergo repairs or be refuelled, the ship has to be retired to the pit which takes up valuable time, so careful flying is just as important as speed.

After a few days' practice this is a fantastically absorbing game. Initially, the aids to flying help a lot, but once you are good enough to get rid of them it is a unique racing experience. Not only is it worth spending the time on to begin with: it will remain a classic for years to come.

Astoundingly fast solid 3D graphics give a marvellous feeling of movement. This is complemented by excellent presentation and demo modes that make delightful viewing and listening. The pit graphics are detailed and believable. Engine noise and mechanical sound effects are all 'on the money' too.

Powerdrome logo

Electronic Arts

The first thing that strikes you about Powerdrome is how incredibly difficult it is. Your Quad-boosted, turbo-rapide Typhoon (that is a sort of little racing ship you will be trying to pilot) responds to the slightest nudge of your mouse or joystick. At first this means that you spend most of your time sliding about on the floor or crashing into walls.

The ship you are piloting is controlled by a jet fighter-like pitch and roll system and it really does take a lot of getting used to. The best thing to do initially is to concentrate on steering, at a sedate pace, in the centre of the track. Forget about trying to race until you know what you are doing. You will only see your competitors once as they tear off into the distance. Personally I find the trauma of going through the process of mastering controls like this infuriating. But persevere: it is going to be worth it in the end.

The idea is to circumnavigate laps of the track grand prix style, avoiding obstacles, outpacing your opponents and keeping your machine in the air by refuelling and repairing pit-stops. The course is depicted as a series of blocky vector graphics that scroll smoothly towards you - but you do not get a lot of time to admire the scenery. Even on the easiest of the courses you are given there are no comfortable straights for you to cruise down at speed. Bends are tight, and negotiating them takes skill and carefully acceleration and deceleration.

There is a good feeling of movement in the game and the ship does respond once you have got the hang of flying it. Unfortunately, you are still likely to find yourself bashing chunks out of your machine, so be thankful you have the Robopit. A fully automatic repair, modification and refuelling station, you glide and select the spare parts you need. These are fitted robotically and (apparently) free of charge. What it costs, of course, is valuable time. The screens here are nice enough to make pit stops more than just a chore and the ticking clock keeps it part of the overall game.

In Powerdrome you can choose to take out the control panel from the bottom of the screen to give a full screen to race on. This works well, but you lose your very useful damage monitors and fuel gauge, though the rear view mirror is no great loss - it is too small, even if you did have time to look at it.

All of this amounts to a better-than-average racing game. What makes Powerdrome more exceptional is the depth of gameplay. Beating other ships on easy courses is hard enough; but when you get on to the more complex ones, playing Powerdrome is raised to a fine art. There are courses which are impossibly tight and covered with really awkward dipping and climbing tunnels. When you get to this stage the fiddly work at the beginning is rewarded in full.

Race games like this rely on the quality of the course you race over and Powerdrome comes through strongly on that count. This is not the fastest, most colourful, or best-looking game of its type, but I bet you will play it more than most especially on the data-link mode if you have a mate, with an Amiga.

Scream down metallic corridors in EA's futuristic racer

Powerdrome logo zzap! sizzler

Electronic Arts, Amiga >£24.99

As motor racing became more advanced, the need to improve speed increased. After all, the crowds go for excitement, don't they? The most significant advance came as space technology became more sophisticated. The designers used the technology to come up with the invention of hover-racers - wing-like craft that could float above the ground thus eliminating the friction of wheels on the track.

Over the years these crafts have become more advanced, with manufacturers and racing teams trying to outdo each other year after year in the Powerdrome tournament. This is where you come in. You are one of the entrants in Powerdrome XXIV, representing the Typhoon Company in their top-class craft.

Racing can take place on one of five worlds, each with its own particular track design and racing conditions - such as storms. This requires the racing team to use certain amount of strategy - choosing the correct wing adjustments to make and fitting the right engine filters, for example.

The race itself takes place on a track which is basically a metal trench with some nasty hazards along its length, such as dark tunnels, moving blast doors and horrendous hairpin turns. All these dangerous elements are bound to take their toll on your craft, damaging wing sections or overworking the engines.

Occasionally, there is no hope for a vehicle and it will just break down, so that it needs to be towed back to the pits (game over, man!), but if you're lucky you may be able to limp to the pits and watch as the drones repair the damage to your ship. However those wasted seconds could put you a long way behind in the race.

Can you manage to overcome the dangers of the Powerdrome circuit to win the Cyberneufe Trophy, or will you have to wait for the Powerdrome XXV competition? Well you can't really do anything without a copy of Powerdrome!

Gordon Houghton The early demo of Powerdrome on the ST was amazing, with great 3D effects and speedy flying and I couldn't wait for the finished version to appear. When it did I thought that it looked amazing - nice graphics, brilliant presentation and exhilarating flying. Unfortunately, the controls were really hard to get the grasp of, so it took a long time to really get into it. The Amiga version has fixed that problem, giving you a system whereby you can fix your own control feedback, making it much easier to get screaming down the brilliantly drawn 3D tracks, zooming past your opponents and ramming straight into an unexpected hairpin bend! Well, it still takes a couple of goes to get used to the tracks! You wouldn't expect to get into a car and drive brilliantly straight away would you (shut up a the back)? All I can say is get yourself a copy of Powerdrome as soon as possible, and have a go at real futuristic racing! Well, as near as you can get, anyway!
Maff Evans Well it's certainly taken its time to appear on the Amiga hasn't it? I mean I can remember drooling over the ST version of Powerdrome ages ago in slobbering anticipation of the Amiga version. Now that it has arrived, it appears that all the fiddly points about the ST Powerdrome have been ironed out on the Amiga. For example the control method is now adjustable to your own requirements, a point which makes it far more playable in my book. As for the game itself, I think myself, personally, me, that it's the best presented racing game on the market (now there's a boast!). The amount of options is incredible, allowing you to completely restructure the game. But the cool presentation doesn't stop there - there are tons of nice touches, like twinkling lights in the tunnels, subdued lighting when you pass under a bridge and the repair screen... what else can I say but brilliant? Oh, there's a great game in there as well! But don't take my word for it, take a Typhoon for a spin today!