A while ago I shared a few thoughts about some Amiga games that I had a hazy memory of. This time I’m going to talk about one that I recall very clearly. It’s Stunt Car Racer by Geoff Crammond.
Stunt Car Racer is a one-on-one racer that came out in 1989 for the multitude of home computer systems around at the time. It features 8 elevated race tracks full of all sorts of lumps and bumps. You race from an in-car perspective with your forward view dominated by a huge flame-spitting V8 engine. The racing season in the game is split into 4 divisions. You race each opponent in your division twice and if you finish at the top of the table, you get promoted. If you finish at the bottom of the table, you go back down. You can keep playing and getting promoted and demoted as long as you want.
Even though it looks old and simple, Stunt Car Racer is quite a challenging game. As you progress through the divisions, the tracks and opponents become gradually more difficult. The division I tracks are tough to even finish, let alone race on. The key to success in Stunt Car Racer is balancing your speed and boost reserves while limiting damage. If you go too fast for too long you’ll run out of boost, you’ll also overshoot your jumps and land with an almighty crunch. Going too slow isn’t an option either. Over the course of the race, your damage really starts to add up so it pays to be consistent. It’s important to practice each track before racing so you can work out the correct speed for each ramp. For some ramps, the margin of success is very narrow so you need to be precise in how approach them.
I mostly played the Amiga version as a kid but the disk we had was actually dual format and also worked on PC. A few years later when my dad brought home a borrowed Windows 3.1 machine I played it on that too. The Amiga version looks and sounds much nicer but the PC version runs a lot faster with its rather functional EGA graphics. I’m not the most framerate-sensitive of people but even I find the Amiga version a bit cumbersome and slow.
Although the graphics are rudimentary by modern standards, the driving physics hold up remarkably well. The creator of the game, Geoff Crammond, is known for making games with detailed physics models. Stunt Car Racer isn’t as complex a game as some of his other creations but a lot of thought has gone in to how the car handles. Your car actually feels like it has mass and will happily throw you off the track if you handle it too roughly. You can also see the suspension reacting as you drive around, this is not only a nice graphical touch but it provides a bit of visual feedback too.
Stunt Car Racer is clearly a very old game but I think it’s still worth playing. There aren’t many games like it, especially from around the same time. Hard Drivin’ and Stunts are probably the closest comparison and although they’re much more elaborate games they’re different in a lot of ways and their controls aren’t as good. The graphics are primitive but it’s simple to play and it provides a decent challenge. I still have to practice the more difficult tracks each time I come back to the game.
It came out for all the popular home computers of the day so it’s very easy to emulate on whichever platform you prefer. I’d suggest the Amiga or Atari ST versions if you’re going down that route. The PC version is also very simple to get running in DOSBox. Although it’s far from the best looking or sounding version, it’s the one I tend to go for these days because it feels quite smooth.