Austin Allegro drivers, eh? They pootle along, indicators flashing, at about the same speed as an ox, and everyone who's stuck behind them knows full well that there aren't any turnings coming up for at least three miles. Well, with the need to expend such a vast amount of concentration energy on simply driving in a straight line, it's unlikely that an Austin Allegro driver is going to go a bundle on this game. So, if you're a member of this rare breed, it's probably rather a good idea to go away. Go on, shoo!
In Stunt Car Racer you not only have to contend with a series of courses which go round and round (and round), but you also have to worry about your height above sea-level. That's right - these tracks are not flat, indeed no, by cracky - they undulate up and down like a sine curve from Hell. And guess what's missing from the sides of the not over-generously wide roads? Crash barriers, that's what! Muck up an approach to a corner and it's not just a case of "Oh dear, I've skidded onto the grass verge and bruised my little finger", it's more a case of "Oh dear, I'm going to die", which, if this was real life, you undoubtedly would.
However, this is computer-game land so you don't actually die. But you do have to put up with a small wait as you're winched back onto the track by crane.
There are three ways of playing Stunt Car . There's the 'head-to-head' (where you need to attach two computers together and take on a 'chum' in real time), the multiple player (two or more players take it in turns against the computer-
controlled cars, with race and lap times being saved, so you can tell at a glance who's the crappiest driver) or the direct 'you versus the computer' mode (in which you vie for position against the computer-controlled cars in a league table made up of four divisions).
THE LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIPS
Each of the four divisions is made up of three places and you, at the start of play are right at the bottom of the barrel. Yup, 'fraid so. Division four, third place. Ideally you want to be in division one, first place, but ideals aren't always attainable. Especially if you happen to be useless. To rise a division you have to take on both the other contenders in your particular class, and beat them on both the tracks of your division (each race comprises of three laps by the way). At the end of each set of races, the person in first place gets promoted a division while the parson at the bottom gets demoted.
There are eight tracks in all with a pair of tracks allotted to each specific division. For instance, the two 'easiest' tracks (The Little Ramp and The Humpback) are allocated to the most pathetic division i.e. division four. Beat the computer cars on these and promotion takes you to division three - where you can compete on the Big Ramp and The Stepping Stones and so on. If you want to 'have a go' on one of the tracks that's assigned to a division higher than yours, that isn't a problem - you can just click on the practice option and choose a course but in this practice mode there isn't an opponent. Just you, your car and the promise of three stomach-turning laps. Mind you, there is a digital stopwatch at the bottom of the screen, so you can compete against your own times (unless you're so crap that you never even manage to complete a lap. In which case you can't).
Dunc: Well jipper me scaries (Eh? Ed.). I really love these car games. They give me a chance to drive the way I normally do so I'm quite good at them, and this is a car game and a half. In fact it's five car games! (Just stick with the 'car game and a half' Ed.)
Having gone through the options sequence, a crane hoisted my buggy up and over the track and then 'plop', dropped me onto it. All of a sudden, my opponent zoomed out ahead of me and started to diminish in size. Why was he getting smaller, I wondered? So I popped to the library and quickly read a book called Perspective And Distance by Professor Arnold Sweetcorn.
Apparently the computer car was becoming smaller because it was getting further away from me which meant I was losing the race. Confound it! I rushed back to the monitor to see the words 'Race Lost' on-screen. So Professor Sweetcorn was right. Curse him. This time I was ready. As soon as my car landed on the track, I snapped the joystick firmly forward and heard the engine pitch rise. Yahoo I was moving but the computer car was still tearing ahead. On squeezing the fire button I discovered it was for turbo-boost. Phew, (crunching noises) just make it round the corner and oh no, what's that? It looks like a ramp of some sort. Boing. STILL up in the air (maybe I was going too fast). Crunch, bounce, back in the air, snap... CRUUUNCH. Whoops.
You know the feeling you get when watching a televised roller coaster ride? Yeah? Well, that's the feeling you get when racing around these circuits - especially the one called, erm The Roller Coaster. The difference is, however, that your car isn't on rails, it's up to your joystick skills to keep it from making a large mess on the ground.
The suspension on the car 'works' too - when you land after a jump the springs compress and then recoil. Even on a straight piece of track, if you hit the brakes the nose of the car drops and the scenery responds as in real life by going up a smidgin. Actually, when I said 'the brakes' it was a bit misleading as there aren't any. Pulling back on the stick simply slows the engine down, rather than acting directly on the wheels. Pull it back for long enough and not only will you stop, but you'll actually start to go backwards. I tried to complete a couple of the courses in reverse, but it's a bit tricky without a rear-view mirror.
There's something you won't be able to see by just looking at the screenshots though, and that's the impression of speed involved. You'll have to take my word for this - but it's fantastic. The animation of the other car is pretty 'brill' too. It's best to zoom ahead and overtake as soon as possible and put some distance between the cars. There - a little tip!
What more can I say? Stunt Car Racer is brilliant. The sound could have been a tad better, there might have been a teensy-weensy bit of ground detail during the crash sequences, and it would have been nice if you could have saved the game in the middle of each set of races rather than only at the end but other than that I can't fault it.
Sean: First of all, let's get all the usual superlatives out of the way. Stunt Car Racer is flippin' brrrrrilliant. There's no other word for it. Well, there's brrrilliant with slightly fewer 'r's in it. It's a very simple idea - racing another car around a bumpy track - and it's perfectly executed. There. This reviewing is lark's easy. (Another paragraph please. Ed.) Oh... erm...
The first thing that strikes you about Stunt Car Racer is the way the perspectives work to create an excellent emulation of reality. (Eh? Ed.) What I mean is, that when you go crashing off the side or the track, you will literally lurch forward and brace yourself for the impact. That's how involved you will get. The speed and smoothness of the scrolling is largely to thank for this, along with the solid and realistic nature of the graphics.
A special mention must also go to the sonics. Forget about music - that's for shandy drinkers - what you get here are incredibly realistic ('cos they's sampled) gut-wrenching, bending metal sounds as you swerve around a corner with your frame shot to pieces. And sick making crunchy noises as you hit the ground having fallen silently through about a hundred feet of fresh air. But that's only two major noises, in addition there are loads of other screechy, clangy, bendy effects that are guaranteed to have you clenching your teeth and praying your "buggy" won't fall to pieces halfway through an accurately executed jump.
And that's another thing. The tracks are all cleverly designed so that it's not just a matter of belting round like Duncan when he's given the honour of parking the Publisher's car, (although the sounds are the same) each track is a mix of Dunc's driving, and more considered and "intelligent" driving. For example, it's better to take some bumps slowly and accelerate on the down side, rather than hit them at two thousand miles an hour and spend the next 10 seconds gliding through the air before landing nose first with your suspension knackered. I would have liked more special features however, along the lines of The Drawbridge. It has a section of track that rises and falls as you race, forcing you to reach it at just the right time, 'cos if you don't you either go plunging over the edge, damaging your suspension, or smash into it with a resounding... er... crash, bang wallop.
For many people one thing that will add to the gamer's lasting appeal is the option which allows you to connect two computers together (even an Amiga to an ST) and race head to head. In the future this will doubtless give me the chance to take on Duncan and whip his ass, but for the moment racing against Brian Blessed and Co is keeping me fully occupied.
As it stands, Stunt Car Racer is a fantastic mix of Microprose simulation-style graphics and fantastic arcade-style addictiveness. It's a well thought out very playable game which must rate as one of the best games of the year. Stunt Car Racer proves that MicroStyle can really cut the mustard. Actually it doesn't, it proves they can produce a pretty, damn brilliant racing sim thingy and who cares about mustard anyway?