Power Drive logo

Can Steve Bradley navigate his way safely around the track as he plays this new rallying game from US Gold. Or will he come a cropper?

When Peter Purves, presenter of the excellent early Eighties cult motorcross series, Kickstart, gets to take charge of the World Rally Championships, it will resemble something like this.

The tasks would be infuriatingly difficult and would include some expendable sections involving manoeuvring through cones. Of course, the car itself would be virtually uncontrollable. You'd get stuck in hedges, cones would scatter as you tried to squeeze through gaps at which even Colin McCrae would gasp and your powers of polite speech would gradually deteriorate.

Out of control
Power Drive is a viewed-from-above car rallying game. Can you become the world's best rally driver? On the Amiga? You start with a choice of motor vehicle - the Mini Cooper S or perhaps the Fiat Cinquencento Turbo. Whatever, it moves. And you have big money too, for rallying, as Malcolm Wilson's Dad will only too readily inform you, is an expensive business. Unkeep and all that.

What follows is a series of tasks, be it time trial, head-to-head race, special speed trial or skill test. Eight rounds of racing, each in a different country in varying weather conditions. And with up to eight stages in each round, it would be fair to point out that one thing Power Drive does not lack is magnitude.

Get in control
Controlling the car is not easy. The slightest nudge on the joystick sends it into oversteer - you career wildly across the road before getting trapped at the side. This is very annoying, particularly in a head-to-head race against the computer (there is no simultaneous two-player mode) because the computer-controlled cars don't make mistakes.

So as you flounder by the roadside, slapping the spacebar to get into reverse, moving backward, slapping the spacebar again in order to propel yourself chequered flagward, your opponent happily motors along the middle of the road taking bends with aplomb.

Practice. Well, yes. Practice improves your vehicular contorl, but competence doesn't make Power Drive fun to play. US Gold have tried to produce a realistic rallying game, which is virtually impossible. You simply don't get the feel of the car.

There are any number of superior racing games, and some available for a third of Power Drive's hefty thirty nicker tag.



Wenig Power, kaum Drive

Power Drive logo

Ganz schön mutig von U.S. Gold, mit diesem Digi-Rennen von Rage Software beim Joker-TÜV vorzufahren - bei derart viel und guter Konkurrenz wird die Hit-Plakette am Amiga ja nicht leichtfertig vergeben...

...schon gar nicht für ein grafisch unspektakuläres Programm, dem am PC soeben gerade mal 39 Prozent eingetragen wurden. Kein Wunder wenn die bis zu acht Teilnehmer an diesem Rennen meist allein auf weiter Flur unterwegs sind, denn ersten dürfen sie nur hintereinander starten, und zweitens trifft man auf den 48 Strecken in acht Ländern nur höchst selten auf Digi-Konkurrenz.

Na, immerhin unterscheiden sich die startberechtigten Serienautos vom Mini-Fiat bis zum Mittelklasse-Ford im Fahrverhalten, insbesondere unter den wechselnden Straßenverhältnissen: Asphalt, Kies und Eis.

Da dabei später gelegentlich auch kleine Geschicklichkeitstests zu bewältigen sind, kann auf allen Untergründen geübt werden; Kauf-Equipment, wie etwa Winterreifen, fehlt jedoch - nur das Fahrzeug selbst und dafür anfallende Reparaturen sind im Angebot.

Für ein Actiongame ist der Realismus dennoch erstaunlich, drosseln Motorschäden doch die Geschwindigkeit, und wenn mal die Lichtanlage ausfällt, muß man eben im Dunkeln heimfinden. Dort darf man dann seine Preisgelder in neue Scheinwerfer investieren und den Punktezuwachs auf dem Score-Konto bestaunen. Hauptsache, es ist noch genügend Kohle übrig, um die Startgebühr für das nächste Rennen bezahlen zu können.

Paßwörter zum Anfahren verschiedener Pisten sind vorhanden, eine Save-Option wie am PC fehlt jedoch. Das ist aber insofern verschmerzbar, als am Amiga wenigstens das Scrolling nicht ruckelt und die Hintergründe teilweise ganz nett aussehen.

Animationen sind allerdings erneut Mangelware, und daß diese Draufsicht-Rennen einst mit gerenderten Boliden ausgetragen wurden, weiß nur, wer die Version am Super Nintendo kennt.

Von dort stammt auch die ordentliche Sticksteuerung, die (besonders in den Menüs) den Button-Mangel durch mehr Übersicht wettmacht, in zwei Modi vorrätig ist und per Space-Taste sogar über einen Rückwärtsgang verfügt.

Die rhytmische Musik könnte wiederum etwas abwechslungsreicher sein, zumal Effekte nur alternativ angeboten werden - das konnte selbst der PC besser!

Schlimmer ist aber das eintönige Gameplay, welches mit Klassikern wie "Super Cars" oder "Micro Machines" trotz Sammelextras (Geld, Nitro-Boost, Zusatz-Zeit) und Hüpfhügeln auf der Strecke nie konkurrieren kann. Dazu kommen Schlampereien wie teilweise unmögliche Sichtverhältnisse bei den Nachtfahrten.

Auch wenn Power Drive am Amiga nicht ganz so übel ist wie am PC, bleibt Rallyefahrern somit nur die Hoffnung auf Verbesserungen bei der geplanten CD-Version - oder der Griff zu einem trotz vieler Features höchst durchschnittlichen Game. (mm)



Power Drive logo

Travel the world, go to exciting places, and drive around them. Fast. Very fast. So fast you probably won't see the scenery. Smart.

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.

KENNETH MORE
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.

STIG BLOMQUIST
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.


WHEELS ON FIRE

In real rallying, you drive along an empty road all on your own. It's only when the times are totted up at the end that you find out who's won. So Powerdrive tweaks the formula a bit to make for a more entertaining game.

In a time trial, you've got to drive to the end of the course against the clock, if you're too slow you lose.

In rally cross events, you race against a computer-controlled car. He never crashes, which is a bit tedious.

Skill tests involve driving around road cones, reversing into parking spaces and that sort of thing. Against the clock, of course.



Power Drive logo

Price: £29.99 Publisher: US Gold 021 606 1800

Rallying is for lunatics, so we gave Alan Dykes a couple of cars to try out...

Colin McRae is a hero. The Scottish rally championship's rise to the top whetted my appetite for a bit of rallying action so when Powerdrive arrived in I was racing to go. The First Impressions preview we did on it three months ago looked positive - there promised to be six beautifully-constructed cars: a Mini Cooper, a Fiat Cinquecento, a Renault Clio Williams, a Vauxhal Astra 16v, a Toyota Celica and an Escort Cosworth (though not McRae's hot Subaru Impreza), each with separate wheel sprites to add to the realism, and a tortuous international circuit to complete.

The locations the cars rally in range from wet and windy Monte Carlo and snowy Sweden, via baking hot Kenya and Arizona to unpredictable Britain. The levels consist of direct competition rallying against another (computer) competitor, time trials and at the end of some levels skill tests which check your driving ability.

Ad Astra
The cars are grouped into three classes, in the same way as they would be in real life. Group one consists of unmodified production cars which are generally available to you and for a relative low cost; these are the Mini and Cinquecento.

Group two are modified cars, the Clio and Astra, while Group three contains the full aspirated Celica and Escort. At the beginning you are limited by funds to Group 1 - though I have to say that £25,000 for a mini or £27,000 for a Cinquecento seems a bit steep, but that's life.

After this initial outlay you are charged for each race you enter, and as you progress through the different stages around the world this will increase. Once you have earned it you get to upgrade cars to the next group.

The actual simulation of rallying isn't all that bad, the cars slip and slide around the place and the scaling of the track and speed is about right, but it's the attempt at recreating the experience that's ultimately Powerdrive's downfall.

The game is just not satisfying to play. At the beginning it's too frustratingly difficult to keep your car on the straight and narrow and although you do get used to it after a while control always remains messy. The big problem here is steering. Maybe rally cars are geared to lock to either side of their steering spectrum in les turns than normal road cars, but all you have to do is breathe on the joystick in Powerdrive and you're off into the ditch. This doesn't allow you to take your mind off the controls and concentrate on the road, as they never really become natural.

Shock treatment
The way damage is built into the game seems like a good idea at first but soon becomes frustrating too. It's simple; when you hit anything chunks come flying off your car, representing the effect of the impact. Damage can be done to five parts of your car: the engine, the tyres, the shock absorbers, the geartrain and the spotlights, and the level of damage is displayed as a percentage.

Between races these can be repaired as long as you've earned enough money by qualifying or winning, as well as picking up handy wads of cash that just seems to be lying around the track.

But during the race, as damage is inflicted, your car will begin to slow down, and down, and down
...until you you can't even make it to the finishing line in time to qualify. Yu have the option of hitting the escape button and ditching in the race, at a cost, and once frustration has started setting in this is all too easy to do.

There are other things I don't like about the game too: why doesn't the cars' bodywork fall apart? And how come the computer-controlled cars are so bloody good?

But I must also admit that for a while Powerdrive had me hooked. The cars aren't perfect but they are cute (especially the Cinquecento) and the skidmarks they leave behind is a nice touch.

Night driving and bad weather are also reasonably well implemented, though driving at night demands turning the lights off in whatever room you're in - you'll never see the road if there's anything reflecting off your monitor.

I tried to like Powerdrive, but it really fought hard against my sentiments and in the end I had to put it aside. As a rally game it is marginally interesting but it just doesn't stand up to scrutiny in the big bad world of Amiga racing games.

One more word of advice though: If you do by it, go straight to the options menu and turn off the music, it's dreadful.