Before you start flicking through your back issues of AMIGA POWER to find out what we thought of the original Top Gear, forget it, there wasn't one. Well, for all we know there might have been one on some other format, but it certainly never came out on the Amiga. Gremlin started using the Top Gear name for console racing games when they found they couldn't use the Lotus licence, so what we've got here is a SNES version of a Lotus-style game converted back to the Amiga.
The Lotus series, you'll recall, started with, er, the prehistoric Lotus 1, hit a high with the graphically lovely, very fast and split-screen two-player-moded Lotus 2 (AP7, 87%) and then went away for almost a year before returning with the 'new and improved' Lotus 3 (AP18, 74%).
Hang around under the red line for ages
Number three may have had a course designer, but it simply didn't have the same 'whoomph' as its predecessor, and it's this lack of 'whoomph' that severely injures Top Gear 2.
There's not much to say about the principle of the game. You've got a Lotus-meets-Ford Probe kind of car and the idea's to work your way round 64 tracks in 16 countries. There are 20 cars in each race and your position on the starting grid inversely depends on your finishing position of the previous race (so if you won you start at the back and if it you were useless you're near the front). All you have to do to qualify for the next race is to finish in the top ten, although you've got to finish higher to win money and earn points.
The more you win, the more you earn, which means you can splash out on better engines, nitro boosters, tyres and all that happy-Halfords stuff to make your car bigger, better and generally groovier. Eleventh position or below and you're out of the game.
You're given the option of an automatic or manual gearbox, which in my case directly translates to finishing first or finishing last. In Lotus 2 and 3 (yeah, I know I'm ging on about them a lot, but they're actually similar to Top Gear 2) there are two ways you know when to change gear, namely a rev counter that rapidly redlines ("Increases to the maximum speed for that gear" - Ed) and the accompanying unhealthy engine squeal that tells you to change up or blow up. In Top Gear 2 though, the revs are a bit wishy-washy and hang around under the red line for ages and the sound, well read on.
This game's got terrible, terrible sound. I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that most in-game music originates in the hell-spawned mind of Beelzebub himself (with the exception of Dynablaster and The Chaos Engine) but the music in this is extraspecially poor. If I wanted to listen to listless, generic, half-hearted, plinkety-plonkety music, I'd go out and buy a Transvision Vamp CD. (Or play your Philip Glass soundtracks. Again, - Ed).
Thankfully you can turn the music off, only to have it replaced with horrible engine sounds and a piercing tyre squeal on EVERY PIGGING CORNER. Aaargh, another game played in total science.
The races themselves turn out to be all the same, apart from some tracks being longer than others. In the Lotus games, you had races where lorries thundered across crossroads in front of you, or where you could crash through the central reservation and run the risk of ploughing into oncoming traffic, but in this you've got the wide road all to yourself. Yes, just like F1GP, but that's a simulation and not a thrills-and-spills speed racer. So there.
I tried to barge it off the road
What really hampers Top Gear 2 is the surefire way of finishing in the top three in every single race. Here's how it goes. At the start of every race, regardless of how big your engine is, or how many nitros you use, or what place you start off in, the entire pack will sweep past you and speed off into the distance.
Then, after about thirty seconds, you catch up with the tail-enders and, assuming you don't run into the back of anyone (which drops your speed by about 30mph) you can just overtake everyone and hold tenth position or thereabouts.
Then, on the penultimate lap of the race, just start hitting the nitros to boost your speed and blast you to the front, but don't forget to save one for the very end, as two or three cars usually storm past and you practically on the line, even though they've been trailing you round for most of the race.
It's a simple, winning system (and one that highlights the rubbish opponent drivers - there's no logic as to why the cars overtake you at some stage of the game but you can zoom past them at others, and you rarely have to battle for a position against another car, either blasting past them or getting blasted past. In fact, on one rare occasion where I actually seemed to be going the same speed as another car, I tried to barge it off the road, only to see myself spin out and watch it shrink to a dot in front of me. So if a car barges me off the road, I crash, and if I barge a car off the road, I still crash. Great) which allowed me to get through about half of the game before getting bored and giving up.
Top Gear 2 just doesn't give you the feeling that you're driving a car. You can get round most courses with the throttle permanently open ("The fire button held down all the time" - Ed), the turning circle of your car's wide and ponderous, and when you steer it looks like your car's turning on its centre point rather than the front wheels. All criticisms that can be directed at Lotus 2, true, but that's still more enjoyable than this. It just is. Trust me - I'm a professional.
If I were a cruel and heartless man, I'd give Top Gear 2 a score in the low 40s to convince people not to buy it. But, er, it isn't that bad. It's damned with being average - Lotus 2 beats it on crash-zoom-spill antics, F1GP beats it on realism and handling, and F1 beats everything hands down in terms of excitement and all-round brilliance. Top Gear 2's all right - just don't buy it, okay?