Grand Prix Circuit review

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 first 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 a permanent internet connection to play it.

But as always, let’s first look at the cover art:

21264-grand-prix-circuit-dos-front-coverThis 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:

385184-grand-prix-circuit-dos-front-coverNow, here the photo is a bit smaller due the 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: First you 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 in what position you end in each race).

Then you choose between five levels of difficulty, ranging from arcade style to full simulation style 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 eight historical tracks from around the world. In Championship mode, you race all these tracks in this order:

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A bit outdated, but most of these tracks, if not all, still exist nowadays.

Whichever mode you’re playing, you then choose between three cars (and the 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 less 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 by 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 felling to a simulation felling 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 easier to drive, while raising the difficulty, the game will start to introduce manual shifting, engine and tire damage and other options closer to a proper racing simulation.

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Start of a race

Also by raising the number of laps in each race, not only makes the race harder and longer, but it introduces the necessity for pit stops during the race in order to refuel your car and change tires (also to fix any 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 eight tracks in Championship mode and only ten drivers in each race (not to mention only three 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 colorful 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 was more objects on the side of the tracks but the tracks themselves look good. In conclusion, it looks just like every other Formula 1 game at the time featuring a cockpit view (which there weren’t all that many).

45130-grand-prix-circuit-dos-screenshot-there-will-be-a-dnf-behind

Crashed against another car

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 the McLaren. Although I couldn’t use the gamepad and had to resort to using the keyboard. Still, didn’t had 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 gameplay. But if you’re looking for a more complex, simulation-type game, then there are better titles out there.

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Changing tires

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 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!

Test Drive review

Sometimes gamers ask where does certain game mechanics and aesthetics began at. And a lot of them actually began as simple computer games that revolutionised the genre in such a way that they became immediate classics. It’s always fun to look back and see the origin of a certain mechanic or genre.

This week, we’re going to revisit one of the games that revolutionized the racing/driving simulation genre and introduced a lot of the mechanics commonly found nowadays in said genre. I’m talking about Test Drive.

Test Drive was developed by Distinctive Software and published by Accolade. It was originally released in 1987 for Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and DOS. It was re-released a year later for the Apple II and in 1989 for the PC-98.

And the cover shows immediately the first reason why this game was successful:

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Gee, I wonder who made this game…

Yup, in this game you can drive five iconic sports cars and this cover shows them all. There’s even a car key to emphasize the driving aspect. One curious fact is that although this game wasn’t Accolade’s first success, they made sure everybody knew that it was their game. How? By slapping its name four times in the cover!

Also Accolade’s name is first thing you see on screen after booting it:

The intro is pretty simple as you can see, although I do like the animation of a guy smiling at the screen before taking off. The story is also very simple: you choose between five sports cars and take one for a test drive from the bottom of a mountain pass to the top.

The sports cars you can choose are: a Lamborghini Countach, a Ferrari Testarossa, a Porsche 911, a Lotus Esprit Turbo and a Chevrolet Corvette C4. You can even look at very detailed stats about each car before choosing one:

tdh_001

OK, I have to confess: I don’t understand half of these.

And although the inside of each car is different, they all drive more the less the same. As far as I know, I haven’t detected any difference between each individual car’s handling.

And the driving tries to be as realistic as possible, with a first person perspective behind the wheel (which was new at the time) and a manual gearbox. Yes, that’s right! Unlike most arcade racing games where the gear can be automatic, in Test Drive you have to change the gears yourself while accelerating. But be careful! If you rev up your engine too much, you end up breaking it (and the windshield too for some reason).

The game only has one course, the aforementioned mountain pass, with a cliff on the right and a sheer drop on the left. So, that’s all you see while driving, apart from the rest of the cars and the road itself.

tdh_002

Yup, this is pretty much what you’ll see in the entire game.

The game is divided in five stages and your objective is to avoid all the traffic and reach the gas stations at the end of each stage. Seems easy, right? Well, you have a time limit for each stage and you have to go beyond the speed limit to successfully end each stage. But the Highway Patrol is always on the lookout for speed infractions. Luckily, you have a radar detector in your top-left corner which will sound every time you pass a radar.

And then you have the option to either reduce your speed to avoid the radar (which might penalize you after you reach the gas station at the end of each level) or try to outrun the patrol cars. But if a patrol car overtakes you, you’ll end up with a speed ticket and lost time. Too many tickets and/or crashes and it’s game over. Also the faster you drive, the more points you earn at the end.

tdh_001

How much gas does a Lamborghini consume?

Graphically speaking, the DOS version isn’t very colorful, despite using EGA graphics. The controls could be better. Sometimes they’re a bit unresponsive and other times, they’re overly sensitive. It’s possible to turn too much while in a curve or not turn enough while avoiding other cars. Using a gamepad is slightly better than the keyboard, however.

And apart from the title theme, which isn’t bad, there no more music in the game, so get used to hearing the engine’s sound while playing. Which gets grating really fast!

tdh_003

Not to be confused with that Marco!

But Test Drive was groundbreaking when released, because of the array of choice in cars and the behind-the-wheel POV, which were all new features at the time. It had an enormous success by being praised by critics and sold more than 100,000 copies. It solidified Accolade’s name in the computer game industry to the point of becoming synonymous with quality simulations.

And along with Sega’s OutRun, Test Drive would inspire other driving simulators like the Need for Speed series and The Crew, among many others.

Still, because of subsequent driving games that came after Test Drive, it was quickly surpassed by its own sequels and other driving games.

tdh_000

If you want to experience the grand-daddy of all computer driving games, then go here to play it in your own browser. It even received a fan-made remake by Anton Gerdelen here, based on the CGA version.

Lastly, some parts of the Rocky Pass course in Need for Speed 3: Hot Pursuit were inspired by Test Drive’s course as a homage.

So, there it is. Did you enjoy this review? If so, like and comment below. Next week, we’ll take a look at a title among many, many others in a very big franchise that began outside the videogame realm and defined a very popular genre. Till then, put the pedal to the metal and keep on playing!