Most people's reaction on first playing Powerdrive is "Aaarghh. The contorls are a bit weird, aren't they?" The car skids and slides all over the place, with even the tiniest nudge on the contorls sending you tumbling into the undergrowth.
But that's the idea. You see, although it looks like an ordinary overhead-view arcade driving game, Powerdrive is sort of halfway towards being a rally simulation. And to that end, the cars have been designed to behave just like real ones.
If you press the accelerator while you're going around a corner, the rear wheels will skid outwards in a powerslide. Or if you hit the brakes when going fast into a hairpin bend,you can handbrake-turn to face in the other direction. (Readers who spent their formulative years investigating such phenomena in Sainsbury's car park will feel immediately at home. I, of course, came to all this as novice.)
So, although it feels terrible at first, with a bit of patience and practice you will learn to treat the controls gently and stop crashing all the time. And everything'll be great.
In theory. But if you're going to prractise playing Powerdrive, then you need to be motivated to do so. And if you're motivated by a game, it needs to be fun. And unfortunately Powerdrive just isn't. Somehow.
The problems seem to begin with the way that, when you've played Powerdrive for a bit, and got the hang of the controls, and you're doing all right at it, and not crashing, your car just bumbles around the track like a Nissan Micra on a Sunday afternoon.
There's none of the excitement that accompanies real rallying - no clouds of dust, no gravel spraying about, no terrifying G-forces, no daring skids. And so you begin to lose interest. And that's when you begin to crash.
And if you crash, even once, you might as well give up and start again. You see, when you go off the track, the first thing that happens is that you slow down. And the computer car you are racing against, which irritatingly never crashes, will overtake you and, even if you never crash again, win the race. And that means your prize money will be reduced, which in turn means you won't be able to afford to repair the damage to your car, which is the second thing that happens when you crash.
So in the next race, you car's performance will be reduced, and you will even crash more, and stand even less chance of winning, and get even less prize money and so on.
Run-overable spectators might have helped
You may well qualify for further races, and finish them okay, and maybe even get through to the next round. But you won't have enough money to fix your car properly, and your times will get steadily worse, and your cash reserves will go down, and so on and so on and so on. It's a vicious circle, in other words, and to escape it you've basically got to give up and start again, only not crash this time.
This financial thing casts a shadow over the whole game, dominating everything you will do, when it should really just be a little extra something in the background to spice things up. How about if the state was wiped clean at the start of each of the eight rounds? That way you would have obvious hurdles that you could clear, and wouldn't have to play with that constant, nagging doubt that perhaps, although you might seem to be doing okay, you were sliding slowly into a downward financial spiral, not winning quite enough money to keep your car in good enough shape to make it through to eventual triumph.
So the more I played Powerdrive, the more I failed to enjoy it, and the more I failed to enjoy it, the worse my driving got. And the worse my driving got, the more I crashed, and the harder I found it to get anywhere, and the less I enjoyed it.
Another, bigger, vicious circle, then. And to escape this one, Powerdrive really needs something extra so that, even if you are not doing very well, it is still fun. Run-over-able spectators might have helped, or better sound effects to give it more atmosphere )as it stands there is a terrible engine noise and some diabolical music), or a simultaneous two-player mode (there is an option for up to eight players to take it in turns driving, but it does not really work because Powerdrive makes for such a dull spectator sport), or computer-controlled cars that race against you properly, or a bit leeway to allow you to crash a bit and have some fun without instantly losing, or perhaps even some really exciting roll-over crashes.
That way, even if you weren't very good at it, it would still be fun, and you would keep playing it, and keep trying to improve your playing skills, and you would enjoy it even more. And so on. But as it stands, Powerdrive isn't fun, and the temptation simply to give up and walk away is irresistible.
And to cap it all, there's the most absurd 20-digit password system wit a negligible chance of anyone first managing to write down the code and then typing it back in later without making any mistakes. And if you do get a letter wrong, it doesn't even have the courtesy to tell you, so the first you'll know is after you've started the game and found yourself thrust back into Level 1. What's wrong with using a save-game disk?
So unfortunately, most people's reaction to Powerdrive generally, no matter how much they've played it, tends to be "Aaarghh. The controls are a bit weird, aren't they?" Which is a shame, because I really thought it was going to be quite good.