Title Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge (Second Review) Publisher Gremlin Graphics (1990) Game Type Driving Players 1-2 HD Installable HD-patch & fix: aminet/game/patch/lotushd.lha Compatibility All Amigas with patch Submission Dennis Smith Profiled Reviewer Review When certain stars come to the ends of their lives, they may explode in spectacular supernovae, leaving behind neutron stars. These are extraordinary astronomic bodies that are made from matter that is so densely compressed that atomic nuclei, normally surrounded by relatively vast empty spaces, are crushed together to form a material that is incredibly dense. One often hears bizarre facts like the assertion that a large spoonful of this matter would weigh a billion tonnes. And now, for the first time, you can sample first-hand the exhilarating experience of driving one point three tonnes of high-performance eighties sports car into a chunk of neutron star matter at 160 mph. And neutronium isn't the only sort of exotic matter to be found on the track. But I'm being a little unfair. Maybe I should forget astronomy and start at the beginning. Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge is one of the A500's best remembered driving games. Magnetic Fields, who had given us all sorts of fabulous games on the 8-bit computers (as "Mr Chip Software"), had recently given us their first major 16-bit offering, Supercars, a flashy little overhead-view racing game with an amusing haggling system. Now came a road-level perspective racing game to rival Crazy Cars and Test Drive. And one with a highly desirable license... The Lotus Esprit is lovingly represented in the intro sequence, with a close up of the Lotus badge, a mean view of the front of the car with those pop-out headlights blinking at you, and then a swathe of stats, diagrams and blueprints. There's even a simple 3D rendering of the car rotating - something that was actually a little unusual at the time (how the times change). The intro is accompanied by the sort of rock track you might expect to hear on any respectable racing game or car-obsessed TV program, a quick beat, solid bass line (if a little on the dinky side) and throaty guitars. A neat little 'CD' player option screen at the beginning of each campaign offers a choice of four in-game tracks, which make very efficient use of the limited sound channels available to provide a range of light to heavier rock. But you'll probably prefer to stick with sound effects -- nothing special, but the Esprit's throaty roar is very satisfactory. Graphically, the game doesn't stand out, but does a convincing job of conveying a sense of speed, mostly from the roadside foliage and signage. The cars are disappointing at first -- there are just your red Lotus (and perhaps that of a friend) and a swathe of identical white cars as opponents. This doesn't detract from the gameplay too much, thankfully, because once you get going it doesn't matter what the opponents look like. The limited view isn't so hot, though. When you play with a mate, the screen is split horizontally, naturally, but when playing alone the screen is still split horizontally, with a (nearly) static 'pits' picture in the lower half. You'll have to wait for the sequel to see a full-screen racing view. The first-person perspective is faked by running a set of widening horizontal lines down from a decorative horizon. Add a few objects on the sides of the roads and scale them with distance. Move the whole lot from left to right and up and down and you'll get a surprisingly effective impression of a racing track. It's a long-standing technique that used to grace racing games way back to the grandfather of them all, Atari's arcade stalwart, Night Driver, albeit the simplest example of the genre. You may even find it, still, in Gameboy games. While 'proper' 3D racing games existed at the time -- such as Stunt Car Racer and Hard Drivin', these games were graphically very simple and didn't have the best frame-rates, so it would take a few more years and advanced hardware to make proper 3D racers popular (albeit via the intermediate stage of the texture-mapped floors of 'mode7' racing games; XTR is the Amiga's one main -- and brilliant -- example). But I digress. The advantage of the faked perspective trick is that the Amiga can do it so well -- you get a very chipper frame-rate on your A500 with no significant loss of quality even on a split-screen two-player game. The disadvantage is that it can be very limiting on the gameplay. There's no way you could turn the car around and drive off track. Maybe that's an advantage. But after playing the Gran Turismos and karting games of the contemporary market, it feels odd, very constrained, very one-dimensional. Lotus and its contemporaries are far removed from modern 3D racers in more than just the graphical style, there's a different type of gameplay involved too. When trying to assess the gameplay, I had to think of Lotus as a slightly different kind of game, not so much a driving game as a steering game. (So don't expect this to be like Lotus Challenge on the PS2, in any respect except the name.) But that sounds so condemnatory. And yet I haven't finished with my quibbles. The opponents are mindless drones. They just steer across the track from left to right and back again, regardless of whether they're on straights or hairpin bends. Their unblemished identical appearance turns out to be sinisterly apt. They're not so much cars as moving obstacles to surpass. They never crash, they never hit barriers (though they may appear to pass through them, ghost-like), but unlike ghosts, they are uncompromisingly solid when you hit them, being completely unmoved. They never run out of fuel and don't seem to be slowed by hills. Then again, they are slower than you. Maybe they just have lower gear ratios? And those barriers. Ah, those famous barriers. It doesn't matter what you hit, whether it's another car in the road, a roadside tree, advertisement or chevron, frail wooden barrier or rock on the road. Every time, your car comes almost to a complete stop (OK, actually, you drop to about 40-50 mph, but it feels like a complete stop). I daresay that if someone dropped a paper bag on the track, your car would bounce off it as if it had hit the side of HMS Belfast. Hence the impression that these obstacles are made out of some super-dense exotic matter. OK, I'll admit, it's a lot easier to program that way, but the amount you're forced to slow down -- especially after colliding with opponents -- is extremely frustrating. Oil slicks on some tracks deflect your vehicle inexplicably off to the side with a gratuitous screeching effect (obviously made of some sort of weird anti-magentic matter) and puddles of water can also pull your speed down appreciably. Actually, that's probably fair, but I'm in the mood to whinge about it anyway. So why did we love this game? And we did, and some still do: when making notes on the game for the review, I included the significant word 'Nostalgia'. And the word 'Challenge'. It is very frustrating, and while it walks a fine line, the frustration does lie on the right side of the line -- just. It's a challenging game, with enough course variety to keep you at it. And primarily, it's a great two-player game. Forget the nineteen drone cars, get a mate and compete against him or her (and eighteen other drone cars). The horror of seeing computer cars pass through those nasty obstacles is made up for by the sheer delight of seeing your pal hit one to devastating effect. The pit stops (which are necessary to complete the majority of the courses) are frantic and must be judged perfectly if you don't want to lose precious time. If you finish the race in second place with more than a teaspoonful of petrol left in your tank, then you know you've misjudged horribly and should have done better. Take advantage of the immovable objects and decelerate into the pits the hard way -- if you judge it just right you can hit the last signpost at the beginning of the pit lane, come to a stop almost immediately and be in the pits, sucking up petrol, while your mate has all the bother of having to obey the laws of inertia to slow down. (And while we're on the subject of the pits, what exactly are those garage mechanics doing, crouched down behind your car?) So, to conclude: it works, despite all its little flaws. Finely tuned gameplay wins out once again. Yes, it's frustrating, and realism only just about gets a look in. But at least it's consistently frustrating, and that can and does make all the difference. Once you've learned which side of the track to be on when you come out of each corner, you'll be laughing, and in two-player mode it is a splendid hoot. Although it doesn't have nearly the longevity it might have had once, thanks to improved competition from more recent offerings, it's still well worth a bash from time to time.