Retro Game Review – Supercars 2

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

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Ruminations

This racer from Magnetic Fields came during a golden age of Amiga driving games with publisher Gremlin responsible for much of this output, including the much heralded Lotus games.

Supercars 2 came from simpler stock. Taking its cues from the arcade classic, this is very much from the Super Sprint style of top-down racers that would spawn games such as Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Super Off Road, Roadkill, Micro Machines and many others.

Picking up where the original Supercars left off, this sequel would offer a more varied play style, with players not just trying to outrace their opponents but also unleashing death in the form of various rockets and mines.

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Second Impressions

Coming from the same stable as the aforementioned Lotus games, Supercars 2 remains an attractive looking game. Indeed the front end could very easily be mistaken for one of those titles, the title screen and menus carved out of similar grain.

As a top-down racer, it of course lacks some of the finesse and detail of the more standard ‘into the screen’ driving games. But despite that, nice touches abound. Cars are detailed, scenery variable, whilst slopes and jumps are shadowed to give the effect of a gradient as your car chugs up them.

Should you end up on the wrong end of a missile, or fail to make it across a treacherous jump, your car explodes in a satisfying ball of flames.

Unlike Super Sprint, you do not get a view of the full track, the camera zoomed in slightly. This allows for greater graphical detail without compromising too much on your ability to see what is coming round the next bend. There are occasional moments when a corner takes you by surprise, particularly on later levels as your engine speed picks up, but these are the exception and can generally be overcome with practice.

Considering the limited viewpoint, it is still somewhat of a looker. It almost looks as though one of the Lotus games has been squished and the camera moved. It is a distinctive visual style that would be echoed by the likes of Team 17 and gives you that warm, comforting glow that only Amiga graphics can.

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Gameplay

Both single player and two player options are available, the addition of a second player splitting the playing area in half.

Whether you go solo or social, there are three skill levels to choose from, each with a unique selection of track to race on. Your finishing position in one race dictates your starting position in the next so that a 1st place finish will result in a 10th place start next time round, which feels a little unfair.

As you might expect, on the easiest level the track layout is fairly friendly, introducing the occasional jump or loop. But as you progress through the difficulty levels, track layouts become fiendish with linked jumps, timed shortcut gates and loops to be negotiated, whilst competitor cars become faster and more aggressive.

Case in point on the easy tracks; you start in 10th place on the grid and so have to work your way through the pack. Fortunately any track containing a jump gives you an immediate advantage as the computer controlled cars appear almost universally incapable of negotiating the chasm, bounding off the other side into a pile of wreckage as you zip past.

Control of the car is smooth, there is little complexity here, you simply point your car at the desired point within the 360 degree axis. This is made even easier by a neat control option whereby you can choose whether the fire button will act as accelerator or brake, the latter meaning you can focus on the track and obstacles, only having to press fire on those rare occasions you feel the need to slow down.

Opposition cars maintain a fixed line rather than attempting to weave through traffic. There is a reasonable sensation of speed too. Your car always seems to be slightly faster than those in front which helps you work your way through a tight pack. When things become congested, a quick rocket up the exhaust pipe soon clears a path.

The weapons add some spice to the action with a nice variety to choose from. Purchasable between races, you have options for front and rear facing instruments of death, including straight forward rockets, homing missiles, mines and shield missiles, which act like the circling red or green shells from Mario Kart. In addition to these, you can also add armour to offer some protection from incoming fire, as well as ramming capability to dish out punishment to any cars foolish enough to come too close. And there are passive upgrades too, offering improved engine speed or one off speed boosts.

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These in-between race screens also tot up the damage received in each race, allowing you to spend money on repairs. Whilst damage is broken down by different parts, it makes no actual difference to the performance of your car, in-race damage reflected simply by a ‘health’ bar, the part list simply a cosmetic touch. With damage carrying over from previous races, you have to be conscious of how you race whilst also balancing up your cash between offensive purchases and running repairs. Run your car into the ground and you may find yourself stuck permanently in the garage.

Track layouts are varied with the later courses serving up a stiff challenge. They are a good length too, long enough to be satisfying whilst short enough to let you learn and memorise the layout. Races are around 5-7 laps long which gives you enough time to overcome all but the most atrocious mistakes whilst keeping the pack condensed, ensuring there is never a dull moment.

The overhead view does throw up the occasional challenge though. When entering a long tunnel, it is easy to get your line slightly wrong and you are forced to act blind as your car scrapes along the wall or heads in the wrong direction. Similarly jumps must be lined up perfectly, otherwise you are likely to find yourself careening into a wall. On one of the harder levels in particular there are 5 jumps in a row; misalign the first and you may find yourself locked in an inevitable crash cycle as you are unable to make an adjustment in time to clear the next jump. Meanwhile some jumps are placed round corners, meaning you have to work hard to position your car correctly to ensure you have enough speed to make the leap. Difficult enough as it is, more so when you are competing for road space with other cars.

If you do crash, you are dumped back into the race further down the track. Sometimes this can be to your benefit as you find that you have raced ahead of the pack having skipped a difficult section. At other times, the flow of traffic delays your reappearance, which can set you back several places.

Overall this feels like a fair challenge. You can negotiate the first few tracks without pausing for breath but on later levels, as the obstacles increase and the competition hots up, you will need to find the racing line, brake judiciously and utilise your weapons to maximum effect to secure victory.

Post-race, you may find yourself subject to an interview by various authorities or journalists. These sections throw up some hilarious potential responses but be careful, being too flippant could cost you a fine from the environment agency or see you docked championship points. And keep an eye out for the names of the other drivers in the championship table, which such racing luminaries as Nijel Mainsail and Aryton Sendup.

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Sound

From the moment the Magnetic Fields logo drops, complete with a booming musical backdrop, this is an absolute treat.

The title music meanwhile is a cracking slice of electronic pop. Videogame music can sometimes sound great within the context of a game but lame when taken on its own merits but this piece wouldn’t sound out of place if it popped up on shuffle on your mp3 player.

In-game sound effects are functional. Your car sounds suspiciously like a Lotus whilst rockets are unleashed with a throaty growl. Smacking into other cars meanwhile is a little lightweight, sounding rather more like tinfoil being rubbed together than high performance sports cars.

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Bottom Line

Great graphics, terrific sound, bags of action and a varied, well balanced challenge. This is one of the classic Amiga driving games and remains a top notch overhead racer.

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Jon Wood

Love this!