Powerdrome (Second Review)



Title	        Powerdrome (Second Review)
Game Type	Driving
Players		1-2 (via datalink)
HD Installable  Yes (with Patch)
Compatibility	All Amigas (newer Amigas may need the above patch)
Company		Electronic Arts
Submission      Seppo Typpö (groucho@pp.inet.fi) Profiled Reviewer

Review
Back in 1988, long before WipeOut was even a glimpse in Psygnosis' eye,
Electronics Arts released a game which boasted futuristic jet engine
equipped hovercrafts competing on three dimensional race tracks.
Powerdrome was the name of this game and it was one of the very first
titles which showed the world the power of 16-bit computers like Amiga.

The package
-----------
Powerdrome comes in a plastic package very similar to today's audio CD
covers. It contains one disk, 26 page manual and an Amiga technical
supplement. The original game was floppy only but with a suitable patch
(which can be found from Aminet) game can be installed to hard disk and
also works better on faster cpus like 68040.

Gameplay
---------
Behind Powerdrome's futuristic appearance there's a normal race game with
the standard race game features. After entering a suitable player name the
option screen appears which allows player to either practice or race on
any of the six available tracks or tune-up the hovercraft for better
performance. Two player link-up can also be selected from this screen
(instructions how to build a suitable serial cable can be found in the
game manual).

Powerdrome's six tracks vary in their design and weather conditions.
Simpler tracks are excellent for novices to hone their skills while the
more complex tracks challenge even the most experienced pilots with
looping tunnels, crushing gates and other nasty stuff. If that's not
enough then there are four computer pilots on each race doing their best
to win the game and hinder the player's championship dreams.

Game graphics consist of a 2D pitstop and options screens and 3D tracks
built from filled vector graphics. While looking crude when compared to
todays texture-mapped race games the 3D engine looks nice enough and is
fast even on 68000 Amigas (but naturally benefits from faster cpus). Meaty
sampled sound effects add suitable futuristic atmosphere to the game.

After setting the craft to suit the conditions of the selected track
player enters the extremely challenging 'flight' race. I say flight
because during the race pilots can change the gliding altitude as well as
the pitch and the roll of the craft, making this game more like a flight
simulation than a pure racing game. The amount of free movement makes
flying the craft very difficult and requires considerable amounts of
practice to master. It must be said that this game needs much more time
and patience than the ordinary racers before it starts to reward the
player with an ultimately more thrilling experience.

There are some driving aids like the adjustable centring field generator
(which tries to keep the craft in the middle of the track) and sort of
pitch lock which keeps the nose of the craft pointed to the optimal course
(great for quickly recovering from wall collisions or negotiating through
the tunnels). When the player gets better at flying the craft these aids
can be gradually removed (allthought I'd recommend using a slight centring
field even then).

The game is either mouse or joystick controlled. A mouse (preferably a
high resolution model with 300+ dpi) is highly recommended choice because
while being more difficult to master it offers much more precise control
over the craft (which then helps surviving the more complex tracks).


Getting critical
-----------------
There are some small problems with Powerdrome. While running well on
faster processors the 2D pitstop animations go into slow motion mode on
cpus like 68040 (even with the Aminet patch). The actual 3D part runs ok
but it can be frustrating to wait for a pitstop animation to end.
Switching off the accelerator seemed to help but this causes extra effort
for the player.

Even with the driving aids on, the game is still bit too difficult for
most players. The steep learning curve and the fact that initial rewards
for the player are almost totally missing will surely put off more
impatient players.

The signs of a classic
------------------------
When dusting off the copy of the Powerdrome for this review I had some
mixed feeling whether this trip down to memory lane was worth it. I
remembered the hours spent playing this game when it was brand new, trying
to learn the difficult mouse controls and eventually winning races and
finally the championship. Would the golden memories I had for this game be
lost forever?

After playing for an hour or so, I was relieved to find that like good
wine true game classics never die. After initial difficulties I was there
again, guiding the Typhoon through the tight chicanes and into the windy
tunnels with the skills that I learned a decade ago. The simple graphics
were soon forgotten as I gracefully skidded the craft sideways through a
turning tunnel, then opened up to full throttle and corrected the heading
of the craft before ascending to the surface track. Blasting an engine
or two with afterburners, then calling the rescue craft to tow me back to
the robopit, and then watching how the robot arms changed the damaged
parts (like damaged wings or exploded engines) was as much fun as back in
1988.

Powerdrome harks back to those days of Thrust, Elite, Virus and later
the Zeewolf series, when everything in games was usually made by couple of
individuals (in this case by a certain Michael Powell) and when games
offered player challenges, not only in the way of competitions but also in
the mastering the initially complex control systems. Piloting in
Powerdrome can be quite frustrating at the beginning but when mastered it
gives the player a feel of achievement and satisfaction very few games can
offer. This is a big part of the charm this game has over its more modern
competitors.

Conclusion
----------
Old fashioned graphics and the lack of modern game gimmicks like thumping
soundtrack does not remove the fact that Powerdrome still offers
challenging game to race fanatics. What it loses in looks it makes up in
offering long lasting fun to those willing to sacrifice the time and
effort to learn the difficult mouse controls. Furthermore the game runs
well even on low specced Amigas. If you are not able to buy a PPC card to
play the forthcoming Amiga version of WipeOut 2097 and want to play
similar games on the Amiga you might want to check out Powerdrome (that is
if you manage to find the game from somewhere (and no, I am not selling my
copy  ;) ).

Rating
-------
Graphics : Rudimentary 3D vector graphics spiced up with nicely animated 2D
           robopit sequences
Sound    : Good sampled sound effects
Gameplay : Very difficult to learn yet when mastered offers lasting
           challenge even to seasoned simulation players.

Tested on  A500 1 Mb RAM no hard disk
           A1200 with 68020 and hard disk (BlizzardPPC accelerator disabled)
           A1200 with BPPC (68040) with hard disk





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