£10.99 cass/£14.99 disk
Reviewer: Matt Bielby
Gremlin seem to be setting themselves up as some sort of driving game specialists at the moment - both Lotus and Supercars (which is also a driving game, believe it or not) arrived just in time for this issue, and we've got a Toyota Rally game to come too. (Lucky 16-bitters even have a Suzuki bike game, though that's not slated in for the Speccy at all.)
But anyway, Lotus is what we're interested in here, and (would you believe it?) Gremlin seem to have come up with an (almost) brilliant game. Even more so than with footie games. It's speed that really counts when you're talking driving games, and Lotus is (in one-player mode) as fast as a very, very fast thing indeed. Unfortunately, proceedings grind to a bit of a halt in the two-player version - the Speccy just can't cope with moving both rolling roads at a decent sort of speed - but as a one-player this gives as good an impression of zooming along at 140mph as anything since, ooh, Stunt Car Racer.
The two-player mode may be a bit of a failure rapidity-wise, but it's actually rather interesting all the same. Unless you're talking overhead view games, like Supersprint or Ironman, 'two-player mode' on a driving game normally means you take it in turns. Not so with Lotus - Gremlin have made the unusual move of splitting the screen horizontally, so the first player views the action from immediately behind his car through the letterbox-shaped slot at the top, while player two uses the bottom half of the screen. (When there's only one player the bottom half gets filled up by a nice big piccy of the car.) This way both drivers get a different view of the same action, and can jostle away with each other (and the rest of the pack) to their heart's content. Great fun for head-to-heads, it has to be said.
The only slight problem with this is that since every single car on-screen is identical (they're all Lotus Esprits, you see, which to be honest are fairly boring-looking cars from the back) it's not all that easy to tell one car from another - you'll certainly have problems trying to spot your human rival amongst the field of computerised cars.
Then there's this narrow slot business, which has become a bit of a bone of contention around here. It's a love-it-or-hate-it thing I fear - people either complain that the playable area of the screen is just too small, meaning you can't see all that far ahead (often just the back end of a hugeish car sprite) which is sort of true, or they go "Great! it's just like the view out of a real racing helmet/sports car window whatever!" Certainly, the fact that the window is relatively small may go some way to explaining how they got such impressive speed out of it (I don't know).
This sort of 'now you see it, now you don't' effect is further exaggerated by the tracks you drive around (which look more like desert roads than anything, though they're based on real racing circuits and go in a loop). They're simply the hilliest, dippiest things you've ever seen in a driving game - half the time you're swooping down into hollows (meaning you can't see very much at all except for the road curving up ahead), and the other half you're coming up over the crest of a hill which is even weirder. All you can see is car and sky until you're over it, meaning there could be anything in front of you (or the road could twist either way) and you wouldn't know until you were right on top of it. It's very like going over a real humpback bridge, and as such is rather disorientating and roller coaster-ish. Quite scary, and not to everybody's taste (lots of people seem to think you should be able to see in front of you at all times) though I must admit I think the effect is great.
What else is there to say? Well, the game comes with some neatish opening screens giving you the tech spec of Lotus cars (though you'll need a magnifying glass to read it all), nine circuits (based on real tracks), a choice of manual or automatic gears, pitstops (where you can refuel on the longer tracks) and a system where the player (or one of the two players in a two-player game) has to finish in the top eight to progress onto the next level.
All of which is very well, but what really counts is the impression of speed, and thankfully - as I've said already, I know - Lotus is really, really (really) fast (with a little bit of fastness added on). It's a shame it all slows down so much with two players - it's a two-player system that almost works perfectly on the Speccy, but not quite - and I can't help thinking that perhaps it would have been a better idea to have junked that mode, and concentrated on the one player game instead, giving it more room in the process. Then again perhaps not - despite being flawed, the two-player game is still fun.
I dunno. This is such a borderline Megagame case I'm not quite sure what to do. The two-player bit is seriously slow, but then so much else is good about it... I reckon it gets one, but only just. Off you go then, Lotus - you're a Megagame. (Just be thankful you caught me in a good mood.)
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Reviewer: Rich Pelley
However much other computer users may slag off the Spectrum, it has to be said that the Speccy is good for two things - propping doors open and speed. Take Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge for example. Then take your Speccy (from behind the door) and load it up. It's a driving game and (once loaded) you'll be able verify that things certainly whip along at a cracking rate. Hooray!
However, the "hooray it's fast so let's instantly give it a high mark" theory doesn't quite apply here, due to a number of factors that I am now about to mention. Firstly, the size of the playing area. In one-player mode it's only a third of the screen high so things tend to get a little squashed up to say the least. There is a good reason for this though, and that's that in two-player mode, up opens the bottom of the screen so you can race against each other in a head to head. Which leads me quite nicely onto my criticism concerning the two-player option - it's a great idea (and works a treat on the 16-bit machines) but slows down absolutely tonnes I'm afraid.
Perhaps playing the 16-bit version has addled my mind a little, but playing Lotus Esprit on the Speccy I can't help thinking the cars are a bit too big (and difficult to overtake), the tracks all a bit too similar (scenery-speaking) and the handling of the car a bit too unresponsive. But then again, maybe I'm being a bit too picky. Chase HQ aside, Lotus Esprit is probably the best driving game you'll pick up on budget. Just don't raise your hopes too high.
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