Retro Rated: Lotus Turbo Challenge 2

Factfile
Developed by: Magnetic Fields
Released: 1991
Format played: Amiga

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Ruminations

The Amiga played host to a number of high quality driving games during its lengthy run, none more so this effort from Gremlin.

As a follow up to the hugely successful Lotus Espirit Turbo Challenge, Lotus 2 came from a stable of quality output, Magnetic Fields responsible not only for these but also the top down battle fest of the Supercars series.

Originally released on the Amiga, Lotus 2 would go on to be converted to the Atari ST, Acorn and Megadrive, as well as forming part of a Lotus package on the Amiga CD32.

A third game in the series would follow a year later.

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Second Impressions

The Lotus games were lookers at the time of release and they stand up to scrutiny all these years later.

Naturally, the graphics can’t hope to match up to the photo-realistic likes of the Gran Turismo’s of this world but there is something about Lotus 2 that visually captures everything that was awesome about the Amiga. This is a traditional into the screen, sprite based racer which the Amiga was more than adept at handling. Cars are big and chunky, visuals are bright and colourful with plenty of roadside detail to keep you engaged.

Terrain varies across the tracks from standard roads to night time driving with fog, rain and everything else in between. Weather effects are a nice touch, the first time I can remember them being implemented, and whilst they are a superficial addition with no discernible impact on gameplay, it is a nice touch all the same. Draw distances are also impressive, the road opening out in front of you as you come tearing down an incline, corners swinging wildly this way or that as you fight to stay in the race, roadside markers well placed to offer you guidance.

And best of all, the game uses the whole screen! That might seem a strange thing to say to the uninitiated but one of the drawbacks of the original Lotus game was that, whilst it offered split screen two player mode, the one player mode still only used half the screen, the bottom half taken up by a picture of your car. That wrong is righted here, the screen utilised to its fullest.

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Music meanwhile is absolutely terrific. The title track is a genuinely excellent piece, full of deep chords, keyboard stabs and a punching beat that really gets you in the mood.

Pre-race a subtler piece beats along in the background whilst the post race game over screen sends you on your way with a jaunty blast.

In-race, music is sadly absent, the sound of the car the only thing keeping you company on your solitary journey. A bit of impressive speech kicks things off, then hands over to the thrum of the engine. It sounds a little tame to start with but after a while the more subtle stylings grow on you and are effective in their own right.

Other sounds are somewhat less inspiring. Bashing into cars or roadside obstacles elicits a dull thwack whilst scraping against the sides of a tunnel sounds as if someone is running a wok down a chalkboard.

Overall though, it’s an impressive package.

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Gameplay

But of course decent graphics and sound are only any good if the game knows what to do with them and fortunately Lotus 2 doesn’t disappoint.

Eschewing the lap based antics of its predecessor, Lotus 2 takes more of the Outrun approach as the player races against the clock in a series of stages. Get to the checkpoint before the timer runs out and the clock resets; fail to make the gate and it’s game over. In a neat touch, when the clock hits zero your car slows, shifting down the gears until it grinds to a halt, rather than just stopping dead. Brilliantly then you can find yourself desperately close to a checkpoint or even the finishing flag, crawling along the track, just about scraping over the line, your engine on the verge of conking out as you somehow live to fight another day.

There are seven tracks in total comprised of five stages, each presenting their own challenge. Things start off fairly sedately with a drive through the forest. The roads are comfortably wide, allowing space to get past other vehicles and take corners at high speed. As you move through each stage the race gets progressively more challenging with obstacles appearing in the road such as water to slow you down or logs to jump over.

By contrast, the night time level that follows is full of tight twists and turns, the road noticable narrower and with the horizon partially obscured by the evening setting, the track becomes a challenge of reflexes as you tear round corners and through tunnels. Similarly fog, snow and rain present their own obstacles whilst the motorway level throws oncoming traffic (surely another first) and dirty great eighteen wheeler trucks at you.

It is a good mix that offers a level of variety. Some will argue that this format of driver is inherently less enjoyable than a track based racer. The advantage of those games is that you have the ability to learn the track, find your lines and try to beat your best times. Stage based racers perhaps don’t lend themselves so much to replay value but nonetheless there is a sense of progression and with a password system, unlocked as you complete each course, the frustration of having to start all over if you lose is removed. It’s a tough old challenge but never feels unfair as you find yourself getting that little bit further each time.

Handling of the car is excellent. Many a good looking racer has been ruined by spongy controls or, worst crime of all, a crippling lack of speed. Lotus 2 absolutely flies along, the controls responsive but also forgiving, which lets you concentrate on having fun round the course rather than feeling like you have to fight the car round every corner. Realism is hardly the order of the day though. We are firmly in ‘no damage’ territory here, your car bouncing harmlessly off obstacles or other vehicles with only a modest loss of speed.

Corners meanwhile can often be taken at full pelt and despite the squeal of tyres, you don’t appear to lose any speed as you crank the wheel. The other cars are sadly lacking in personality too, drifting mindlessly across the screen from one side to the other like a pack of zombie vehicles. The limitation of the stage based racer rears its head here too. As you are racing against the clock rather than an opponent, the other cars are largely an irrelevance to you, meaning that although the road is usually well populated, it still feels like a somewhat lonely experience. But then you can always pep things up with some two player action.

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Competition Corner

With a glut of driving games released around this time, there are plenty of other titles vying for your attention.

The aforementioned Lotus 1 should not be ignored. The split screen, even in single player mode, is disappointing but the lap based format offers something genuinely different from the sequel, not to mention the use of difficulty levels, pits and refuelling. Lotus 3 meanwhile offers broadly more of the same whilst also chucking in a basic track editor for those with far more patience than me.

Elsewhere, Jaguar XJ220 offers a similar experience to Lotus 2, although graphically it is somewhat cruder whilst the roads are more sparsely populated. Other games worth a look include the arcade conversion of Continental Circus, a limited but fun game, and Vroom, which offered a lightening quick, arcade style take on F1.

My highest recommendation though is reserved for Lamborghini American Challenge. Originally released as Crazy Cars 3, it offers the same sprite based, into the screen racing as the other games mentioned here and whilst its not quite as pretty or as varied as Lotus, it is super quick with superb handling and a neat progression system. Read more about it in my CD32 feature.

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Bottom Line

Great visuals, cracking sound and with a real sense of speed, this is a superb all round package.

One of the best of the sprite based racers released in the 16-bit era and a great game in its own right.

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Bloody ‘pea soup’ fog level used to get me snapping joysticks