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.