The dust had hardly settled over Harrogate when Mandarin released a driving simulation that used the Lombard RAC Rally as its inspiration. Having clocked up average speeds of over 120mph on that other well known driving program Test Drive, I was eager to put my talents to the test on this new contender for pole position of the software scene.
The game controls are identical to those of Test Drive - move the joystick forward to accelerate, back to brake. Pressing the fire button while performing either of these actions causes the driver to shift up or down through the four speed gearbox.
As you would expect, the engine note changes in relation to the revs you are doing in each particular gear. Unfortunately Mandarin didn't employ the superb throaty roar that features so prominently in the title music. But then the programmer also forgot a fifth gear.
Before competing in the rally you must first prove your competence behind the wheel. This is achieved by racing round all five legs of the proposed route and qualifying as one of the three fastest drivers in at least one leg. Every leg of the rally consists of three stages, each posing its own particular problems. A stage may be open road, a forest section, or a twisting mountain track - on top of which you must also race in thick fog or at night.
Most unusually for a racing game, you are not shown sat in the driving seat or behind the car - your viewpoint is from just behind the driver and navigator, giving the same view as you get on the TV. As there is no rear seat in a racing Cossy I can only assume that you are perched on the toolbox. With the starter's flag draped across your windscreen a digitised voice shouts a countdown - "Three, two, one, GO!". Slamming the throttle to the floor, you scream away from the start. With the power still on you dab the fire button, the driver responds instantly, smoothly snicking the beast into second gear. Similarly, all left and right movements of the joystick are echoed by the man at the wheel.
The sense of movement is achieved graphically using the age old technique of scrolling a series of horizontal lines down the road. Additional realism is obtained with the extensive use of hills, dips, and bends in the circuit. The whole sheebang is made more effective by jiggling the screen. It is quite unnerving to race up to the brow of a hill and realise that while your bonnet is pointing skywards you can no longer see which direction the road before you is following. On several occasions I found myself straining my neck to try and keep sight of the road as it fell out of sight.
These occasions can be made less frightening by taking a quick look at the navigator's clipboard, which displays a route map upon which your current position is highlighted. I must say that the map did not always appear to show what was happening in front of me; life would have been easier if the navigator wasn't as shy and would shout directions as we tore round the circuit. Just like the real world, there is the merest possibility that you may hit an immovable object at some time during your rallying exploits. When this occurs there is a loud "SMASH" and bits of number plate, wing, and broken glass fly up over the bonnet. Not only is this highly dramatic, it is also very costly.
After each stage you can visit the workshops to assess and repair the damage to your car. Or if you are very rich, you can upgrade various features - a beefier engine perhaps, more powerful headlights, or even four wheel drive. All on offer at a price. Money can be won by finishing in the first three on any leg, or by answering questions correctly during the optional TV interview that is available after each leg. The questions are all in the rallying vein, and pretty difficult if you're not a rally buff. Correct answers are rewarded with cash; wrong ones result in your account being debited. It is essential that you try to keep your car in a good state of repair - if the damage becomes too severe you will be retired from the competition.
Before today I thought that Test Drive was the ultimate driving game, and Buggy Boy the most fun you could have behind the wheel of an Amiga - but not any more! The Lombard RAC Rally combines the thrill of the two. Nothing can compare with the thrill of throwing the Cosworth around a forest stage in the middle of the night - this game is for real.
This is a rally simulator in which you have to drive through all the tracks in the Lombard RAC rally seasons. The game includes day and night tracks with different weather conditions such as fog and snow. You can also enter the repair station to tune up your car.
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