By Michael R. Webb, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, See staff list for e-mail address
When I last looked back into the history of Amiga games, I talked about OutRun, an arcade classic and somewhat cheesy but still quite enjoyable Amiga port, and promised a review of a second car game to follow. Unfortunately, that was approximately a year ago. And, as you may have noticed, we had some serious time constraints over the past year, which resulted in the first six issues of AM Volume 2 being combined into three.
Things are back on track here now (and in fact have been for several months), however, and I thought now would be as good a time as ever to pick up where I left off on The Amiga Gaming Retrospective.
Accolade was a big name in Amiga game development at one point, releasing a number of titles, some of which were quite popular. Unfortunately, very few of those games come to mind at this point, probably a consequence of Accolade having abandoned the Amiga years ago (maybe even before the days of AGA).
One multiplatform hit for Accolade was the Test Drive series. I believe there were ultimately four editions of this game, only the first two of which ever made it to the Amiga. They made their mark, however. I never played Test Drive I all that much, but it was very successful in the late 1980's. I ultimately would go on to spend many, many hours playing its successor, however.
"The Duel: Test Drive II" was released in 1989. The premise was fairly simple: race either the computer or the clock through a course along "real" roadways (stocked with real passenger vehicles and police officers, among other things), broken up into a number of several-mile-long segments. These were the days of vector graphics, before texture-mapping came on the 3D scene; The Duel uses some 3D vector graphics, together with resizeable 2D bobs, in order to create a pseudo-3D effect. It undeniably looks dated today, but for the time, it was more than adequate.
The Duel starts out by taking over the system (ack!) and running through an elaborate graphical/musical introduction which can, and usually should, be skipped by way of a joystick click. At that point, a simple graphical menu allows the player to start a game against the clock or computer, select scenery, car, and opponent's car, and tell the game where to find expansion data. Once the game begins, the player is presented with a choice of at least ten different skill levels (only the lower several of which include automatic gear shifting), illustrated by a race-clothes-clad amused toddler at one end, and a proud, tall, smiling "surfer dude" at the other. Aside from type of gear shifting, the skill levels vary factors such as number of cars on the road, speed of cars, speed of opponent, and speed of police (for when you want to be bold and try to outrun them, which is most of the time).
The game then places you in the "cockpit view," with windshield, innovative functional rear-view mirror, steering wheel, miscellaneous useless controls/vents/car stuff, and an image of the shifter/transaxle. Ah yes...there is also a radar detector (guess what for..). Above the viewport, a single red and blue pixel display, respectively, your and your opponent's relative positions along the course, scaled to the width of the screen (with a yellow dot added in at appropriate times to show the police in pursuit). Mile indicators also indicate distance remaining. Overall, it's a simple and effective scheme for conveying information about the state of the race.
Your computer opponent is placed just behind you, and starts whenever you do. From there, it's a matter of going as quickly as possible, all while trying to stay on the off-times twisty/curvy road, and safely passing those irritating passenger vehicles without hitting oncoming ones. Hitting things is a bad thing, by the way, as it costs you one of your finite number of lives (one of which is added at the end of each leg of the race, if you don't run out), and causes you to lose all your speed and start from rest again. There is a pretty spectacular cracked windshield/crumpled hood/"crash bang boom!" effect, however, so it's definitely worth checking out. Anything from passenger vehicles, your opponent, and the police to sheer walls, cliff edges, tunnels, bodies of water, large signs and trees (yes, even cacti) results in a crash. Smaller signs are harmless, but smaller-still road markers can cause some kind of car damage that hurts performance somewhat until you either crash or finish the leg.
Each leg ends at a gas station, where you must simply stop between the big white lines. This can be surprisingly difficult when you're traveling at 200 miles per hour, and the game will get you for it with an "out of gas" message, which takes a life away, and plagues you even if you barely overshoot the second line (short gas hose, hmm?). Between legs, The Duel display three information/summary screens, first showing your car parked at the given gas station (always with a goofy name), then providing two screens worth of information such as average speed, time (including 20-second penalties for crashes), opponent's speed/time (and yes, your opponent can crash infinitely many times and stay in the game, the dirty rat!), scores, etc. Either the player or the computer wins each round if there is no tie (if the computer is playing), and one or the other ultimately wins the game as a result. But finally, before starting the next leg, the game either applauds or taunts you for your driving -- it always wants you to go faster, but sometimes criticizes you humorously for reckless driving anyway.
One final factor worth describing is the aforementioned police. They lurk throughout the race, sometimes parked alongside the road (though some of these are merely "token police" having pulled over passenger vehicles, and won't do anything), sometimes hiding invisibly behind road signs, and other times standing outside their cars motioning you to pull over. I wouldn't advise this in real life, but in The Duel, the best course of action is frequently to bolt (trying to outrun the police is frequently the most fun part anyway). If they get you, they ticket you one way or another, which slows you down. "But officer...!" you might say -- bah! The computer never lies, and let me tell you, I've been stopped for going 56 in a 55 zone. Ultimately, you can try to play strategic games with the cops, watching your radar detector chirp and indicate proximity, and taking off when it's clear. Or getting your opponent to speed by the police. As such, they can help as much as hinder. Just don't run him over when he's trying to flag you down ("Game Over, Man!"). Also, watch out for those passenger vehicles; normally, they're pretty slow (read: "not out to kill everybody"), but when a police officer is nearby and in pursuit of either you or your opponent, they become self-righteous "citizens of the law," and their vehicles become capable of infinite speed, preventing you from passing them. Don'tcha just hate those kinds of people?
Finally, at the end of the last leg, you pass a finish line, and get the final "gas station shot." This time, however, surfer dude is standing by his car, and Barbie doll surfer dude police lady is standing by him, and returns his smile with a smile of her own, and a handcuff. You're then read your rights, or essentially stripped of your license and sentenced to prison. But hey! It's just a game. Play again if you want to! By the way, I have verified that if you do drive slowly and sanely (i.e. in a boring way) for the entire game, she actually doesn't arrest you, and just smiles back. But that's probably against the point of "Test Drive II."
The Duel comes with two cars, the Porsche 959 and Ferrari F40, and one scenery set. It was designed to be expandable, however, and at least two each of car and scenery disks became available. Personally, I have "The SuperCars" (including the Ferrari Testarossa, Porsche 911 [like hey, that's what you probably need to dial if you see one!], Lamborghini Countache, Lotus Turbo Esprit, and Corvette ZR1), "The MuscleCars" (a bunch of old gas-guzzlers), "California Challenge," and "European Challenge." There really is a difference; each car as a unique "personality" (for instance, the Porsche 911 is the fastest, but doesn't handle as well as the Ferrari F40), and the scenery disks are quite different from each other. My personal favorite is California Challenge, although European Challenge, with a segment of wide, straight-as-an-arrow, police-less, no-speed-limit Autobahn, can be a great deal of fun as well. Anyway, if any other expansions were made, I don't know of them.
The Duel includes a fairly innovative way of managing expansions, allowing the player to assign car- and scenery-disk-status to various floppy drives. In addition, it is possible to make "Play Disks," with user-chosen collections of cars and scenery, or simply install the whole mess to hard disk. Yes, you read me right; The Duel supports hard disk play. Well, sort of... (see below)
As I mentioned, The Duel takes over the machine. However, it is unusual among such games in that it can quit, and actually returns you to the system. You just can't do anything else while it's running.
The Duel is very much a floppy-based game, but it does allows data to be installed to hard disk. Part of a copy protection scheme forces the player to boot the game from floppy, but cars and scenery can be copied to hard disk, greatly improving loading time and allowing greater flexibility for pitting different sorts of cars against each other (for instance, the slowest SuperCar is an interesting match for the fastest MuscleCar, but with just floppies, you can't play two expansion cars against each other). Most of the procedure for doing this is automated by the game.
Compatibility is a mixed bag, but better than with many games from the late 1980's era. Test Drive II actually will run on my A4000T, but there are serious music glitches and some graphical oddities (such as blinking and flashing of clouds in the distance). I had these problems when I added the 68030 and fast RAM to my A500, but in that case, running "NoFastMem" first (as The Duel is another one of the old games that assume you have no fast memory, and thereby get messed up by placing in fast RAM some of what should go in chip RAM) took care of the problem, and in this case had little or no effect. Who knows why.
The Duel probably will regurgitate at the thought of running on a graphics board. In fact, low-resolution NTSC mode is simply what you get. It does the job, however.
Another interesting aspect of The Duel is that it runs no more quickly with a 68060 and AGA than with a 68000 and ECS. This could be because of the way it uses resources, but maybe it actually uses system timers to guarantee continuity of performance. Ironically, that would be "good programming style," but it's somewhat of a pity that it doesn't get stepped up a bit by the newer hardware. The frame rate isn't great in any case, and the graphics are entirely simplistic. Again, it's good for its era, but I would have liked to see a fully system-friendly game of this type providing full support for faster Amiga hardware, and probably including far greater graphical detail, and (who knows) maybe even completely real 3D. But, that's a different game I'm describing.
"The Duel: Test Drive II" was a particularly influential game in its time, and paved the way for further Accolade developments down the road. (You're not going to believe me, but I discovered that double pun after I wrote it..yes, sometimes I make even myself wonder...) It's too bad we never saw these games on the Amiga, but The Duel was a good one nonetheless. It's about what you'd expect from the era in terms of music, sound, and graphics, but the gameplay is a cut above the norm; even now, it's quite exciting to be flying down the forested California coastline at 200 miles per hour, dodging police, tricking my opponent into crashing, skillfully wedging my way between oncoming and same-direction traffic, and just escaping for a little while. Vroooom!
Return to the April 1998 (Volume 2 Issue 9) Main Index