Looking back at all the reviews I’ve made, I realized I haven’t reviewed a proper racing game yet. Yes, I’ve reviewed Test Drive, but that’s actually racing against the clock, what I mean is proper sports racing. And I think it’s about time I review the 1st Formula 1 game I ever played on the PC: Grand Prix Circuit.
Grand Prix Circuit is a racing simulation developed by Distinctive Software and published by Accolade. It was originally released in 1988 for DOS and Commodore 64. It was re-released the following year for Amiga, Apple IIgs and Macintosh. It was again re-released in 1990 for Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum.
It was designed by Brad Gour and Don Mattrick. Yes, that Don Mattrick! And no, you don’t need a permanent internet connection to play it.
But as always, let’s first look at the cover art:
This cover is an obvious reference to the glamour that has always permeated the sport. The photo itself is great, especially the reflection of the car in the sunglasses, but the title of the game and the name of the publisher on top of the photo, using a very dull font, is what spoils a potentially good cover.
At least, they rectified it somewhat in the re-releases:
Now, here the photo is a bit smaller due to the ugly yellow border, but at least, it now sports a proper title. But why yellow, though?!
Anyway, it’s time to get this sucker ready for the pit stop:
The title screen and subsequent music are okay for a 1988 DOS game. And the menu screen is extremely simple to understand: you can choose between Practice (where you can race around any track by yourself), Single Race (where you choose to participate in one race in any track of your choosing) and Championship Circuit (where you race in all the tracks and get points to win the Drivers’ Championship according to in what position you end in each race).
Then you choose between 5 levels of difficulty, ranging from arcade-style, passing through full simulation style, all the way to hard mode and then you can input your name and how many laps each race will be (qualification is always just one lap).
If you chose Practice or Single Race, then you can choose between 8 historical tracks from around the world. In Championship mode, you race all these tracks in this order:
Whichever mode you’re playing, you then choose between 3 cars (and their subsequent teams): McLaren (the fastest car but also the hardest to control), Williams (balanced between control and speed) and Ferrari (the slowest but easiest to control). And if you think that simply choosing the fastest car will make every race easier to win, think again. It might work on tracks with fewer curves (like Italy), but on tracks with a lot of tight curves (like Monaco or Japan), it’ll take a lot of practice just to finish those races with your car intact. And the inverse also applies with the Ferrari.
And speaking about car damage, don’t think that simply playing it in the easiest difficulty setting will make your car impervious to damage like in other racing games. The difficulty setting is, for me, the real highlight of the game: it makes the gameplay range from a more arcade playstyle to a true racing simulation by simply cracking up the difficulty.
The easiest setting not only makes your car harder to break when smashing against other cars (but not invincible) but also easier to drive. While raising the difficulty, the game will start to introduce manual shifting, engine and tire damage over time and other options closer to a proper racing simulation.
Also by raising the number of laps in each race, not only makes the race harder and longer, but it also introduces the necessity for pit stops during the race to refuel your car and change tires (also to fix any other damage your car might have suffered in meantime).
But I can never consider Grand Prix Circuit a proper Formula 1 experience because not only is it unlicensed (although that doesn’t bother me personally) but there are only 8 tracks included and only 10 drivers racing in each race (not to mention only 3 teams to choose from). It might be frowned upon by Formula 1 purists looking for a more authentic experience, although I think is perfect for beginners to the genre.
In terms of graphics, I think the EGA graphics look good for the time, very colourful and detailed, with nice backgrounds for every track and also good detail in the cockpits (although all cockpits look very similar from car to car). I simply wished there were more objects on the side of the tracks but the tracks themselves look good. In conclusion, it looks just like every other racing game at the time featuring a cockpit view (which there weren’t all that many).
Like I said before, the title theme isn’t bad. Quite upbeat, truth be told. And the sound effects are all there, from the engine roars to the crash sounds. Again, not bad for PC speaker quality sound. The animation and scrolling, however, could be a bit more fluid although I rarely suffered any slowdowns when playing.
The control scheme is quite responsive even when playing with McLaren. Although I couldn’t use the gamepad and had to resort to using the keyboard. Still, didn’t have any trouble whatsoever controlling the car.
In conclusion, Grand Prix Circuit is a good racing simulation game, although not quite on par with other Accolade titles, but still a very enjoyable game. I recommend it if you’re looking for a simple and accessible racing game as an introduction to the genre or simply for a quick race. But if you’re looking for a more complex racing simulation, then there are better titles out there.
Grand Prix Circuit was quite acclaimed at the time (especially the Commodore 64 version) but it was quickly overshadowed by other racing titles, like Indianapolis 500 and Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix series, which we’ll take a look at later on. And if you want to check it out, then go here to play it on your own browser.
So, what is your favourite Formula 1 game? Let me know in the comments below or on our social media. Next time, let’s try a different sport. Until then, keep on racing and playing!