Memory Leaks: Half-Forgotten Amiga Games

The Commodore Amiga had a lot of good racing games in its library. There were some decent arcade ports such as Super Hang-On and Continental Circus and many of the multi-platform favourites of the day like Road Rash and Micro Machines. There are a lot of others though that I don’t remember quite so well. This feature is a look at three games on the Amiga that I have very vague memories of playing in the 1990s but haven’t touched since. These may not all be obscure games, at least one is quite well known, but my own recollection of all of them is hazy at best.

Lombard RAC Rally (Red Rat, 1988)

Lombard RAC Rally is a straight-faced rallying game based on the British leg of the World Rally Championship as it was in the late 1980s. It was developed by Red Rat Software, the company behind Pushover; a puzzle game that British readers might recall for its brand tie-in with Quavers crisps.

The thing I remember about the game was the point of view. You drive from an in-car perspective as if you were sitting in the back seat. You’ve got the co-driver’s clipboard to the left and a partial view of the driver on the right. I thought this was pretty cool as a kid, especially being able to see the driver change gear, but it doesn’t leave an awful lot of screen left to display the road. The driver’s head in particular obscures part of the view out of the windscreen which can make passing traffic a bit troublesome as you can’t see the front-right corner of the car. The inside of the car looks good but sadly the outside world isn’t so great. Even by the Amiga’s standards the scenery is a little sparse and each stage looks identical to others of the same type.

The game itself is quite slow and hampered by rather cumbersome controls. Analogue joysticks were rare back then so the steering is digital and the throttle has a sort of “cruise control” feel to it. When you take your finger off the throttle, which is “up” on the joystick, you hold your current speed. It’s not the only game on the Amiga to do this but it feels quite awkward to me now. Changing gear complicates things further as you shift by pressing a button and then pushing the stick up or down. It’s a game that’s probably best played with keys so you don’t have steering, throttle, brake and gears all on the same joystick.

Overall Lombard RAC Rally is a bit dull and disappointing. It has some nice details to it but the driving is quite slow and doesn’t have any of the excitement you’d expect from a rallying game. There’s no jumping or power-sliding, you’re just driving carefully along an empty road. I don’t think this is a game I’d recommend to anyone and I don’t think I’ll be in any hurry to play it again myself.

ATR: All Terrain Racing (Team17, 1995)

ATR is a top-down racing game by Team17, developer of  Worms and an awful lot of popular Amiga games. It most closely resembles Micro Machines in the way it plays but with an added vehicle upgrade system. I think it was quite a well-known game at the time but my only memory of it is playing the Christmas demo that came with a copy of Amiga Format magazine. I remember playing that demo quite a lot so I expected it to be okay, and it was. That’s probably the word that would best describe ATR, “okay”.

The graphics are pretty good and comparable with similar games of the day. You can race on three types of track and choose from three vehicles. You upgrade your vehicle by earning money from finishing races and picking up money icons on the track. The upgrades you can choose from are the usual sort of thing (tyres, engine, gears, armour) and they all have a noticeable effect on your car. The handling is quite slippery but you get used to it quickly and although some of the courses are a little bit convoluted you’ll probably get the hang of the game after a few goes.

ATR is a very competent game, just not a particularly exciting one. I enjoyed playing it for a while but I soon became very aware that I was playing for a purpose rather than my own entertainment. I wasn’t as disappointed by this as I was by Lombard RAC Rally but it didn’t really grab me either. It’s not a bad game at all, you at least get to go over jumps and slide around corners in ATR unlike our previous game.

It looks fine, it controls reasonably and I suppose it’s fun but there are a lot of other overhead racing games I would rather play instead.  It’s hard to recommend but it’s also difficult to really criticise harshly. It’s just very middle of the road in every sense. If you’re a big fan of overhead racing games, go ahead and play it but I think you’ll probably just end up switching to Micro Machines or Skidmarks instead.

No Second Prize (Thalion, 1992)

For our final game we’re going from four wheels and two and from 2D into 3D. No Second Prize is a motorcycle game from Thalion that came out in 1992. I can’t remember if we had the demo or the full game but I vividly remember the graphics and the intro video.

It was the graphics that were the big draw for me at the time. Today the simple polygons are primitive but by the standards of the Amiga it looked very good. In contrast to a lot of other 3D games on the Amiga, No Second Prize is surprisingly fast. It chugs a bit on an A500 but when you run it on an A1200 (or an emulator pretending to be one) it’s actually very smooth. The graphics are quite sparse but that’s an acceptable trade-off for speed in this case.

Much like the Amiga port of Super Hang-On, No Second Prize uses the mouse for steering. This gives you very precise analogue controls. Even after 23 years, it still feels good which was another pleasant surprise. It’s rare to find a game this old with analogue controls, let alone one that still plays well. The adjustable mouse sensitivity is also a nice addition.

There are quite a lot of tracks in this game, 20 in all. They’re all based on real circuits but sadly they’re not terribly accurate at least as far as I could tell. The big problem is the lack of topographic detail. All the courses are totally flat aside from a couple of small humps here and there. This is probably the only bad thing I have to say about No Second Prize and it’s hardly a deal-breaker today. In 2015 you’re probably not playing this for the sake of its authenticity.

I loaded up this game with quite low expectations but ended up quite satisfied. I would recommend No Second Prize to anyone poking around their Amiga disk images folder. I’ll probably give it a few more goes myself at some point. This is by far the best game of the three.

Although the games weren’t all great, going back over some gaps in my memory was actually quite fun. We also had a Sinclair Spectrum in the early 90s so I’m sure I could try something similar with that. There’s maybe another three Amiga games I could dig out of my brain too. Perhaps I could even share something about the games I actually remember instead.

 

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