There's been a lot of fuss recently about cloning, and for the most part I can't see the problem. So somebody cloned a sheep. So what? They all look alike anyway. Similarly, it'd hardly be a great threat to world peace if Saddam Hussein cloned himself a few thousand times, which seems to be a bizarre fear of some people. All that would happen would be that they'd start arguing amongst themselves and trying to assassinate each other, then run screaming for cover at the first sound of an aircraft engine, yelling "Aaaiieeee! Stealth fighters!"
In games, though, cloning is rather less forgivable. The main problem is that the copy is never as good as the original. Mario 64 begat Doraemon, Doom spawned Hexen and now the PlayStation's Wipeout has had its DNA sucked out to create Aero Gauge.
Wipeout itself could be argued to be a kind of next-generation copy of the incredibly old Atari ST game Powerdrome, which involved antigravity vehicles racing around futuristic circuits. The main differences were that Wipeout featured more than 16 colours on screen and was about three trillion times less jerky, so maybe it's not really a fair comparison after all. Wipeout 2097, the sequel, got rid of most of the first game's annoying faults and (at least until F-Zero X arrives) remains the definitive high-tech console racer.
Following the old adage that any good idea is worth stealing, ASCII obviously decided that what the N64 needed was a blatant knock-off of Psygnosis's game. The end result is a completely shameless imitation of Wipeout, from the general look of the vehicles down to the ersatz Designers' Republic logos and typography. There's something that they forgot to copy, though. Playability.
In any racing game, the first priority has to be speed. Snail racing games are unlikely to top the charts. The next vital element is handling; it doesn't matter how quickly the scenery moves if your car can't get around corners. San Francisco Rush, I'm talking about you! After that there are little things like variety, the intelligence of the other racers, the number of tracks, graphical quality - you know, sort of basic stuff.
Aero Gauge falls down at the first hurdle, which doesn't look too promising for any of the other elements. Unless you set the game up to play on the hardest 'High Tension' setting, it's only moderately nippy, a long way behind Extreme G and F-Zero X. The only way around this is to play in cockpit view mode, which makes the game a lot harder. If you do decide that you feel the need, the need for speed and play the game on High Tension, the other racers are so fast that you lose sight of them three seconds after the race starts and don't see them again until they're practically lapping you as you finish!
The problem in the races comes right at the start, because unless you get a turbo boost when you set off it is impossible - literally impossible - to catch up with the leaders, even on the easiest difficulty level. The thing is, nobody who played the game ever managed to figure out how to get a turbo start. I managed it once, and that was sheer fluke - nothing I tried ever succeeded in duplicating it. This is bad design, because if a game is to be fair to the player, it should at least offer a slim hope of recovering from a poor start. With Aero Gauge, if you can't get a turbo start you might as well give up there and then.
Even though the game isn't dazzlingly fast, some truly gruesome graphical compromises have been made nevertheless. While the textures of the tracks aren't anything out of the ordinary (though the F-Zero influenced Vegas-style stage does look rather good), Aero Gauge features some of the most appallingly obvious scenic pop-up you'll ever see! It's at its most apparent on the coastal track, but all the courses suffer from it to some extent. If you remember the bit from The Wrong Trousers where Gromit is frantically building a model railway track just ahead of a speeding train, it'll give you an idea of how Aero Gauge feels when it's in motion. Bits of the track appear from nowhere about a second before you actually reach them, which adds an entirely unintentional extra level of difficulty to the game as you try to tackle corners. When's the next tur - aaagh!
To what I imagine they thought was to their credit, ASCII have attempted to disguise the pop-up by using fogging, as did Turok. Unfortunately, they don't seem to have quite got the gist of it. On some levels, as the scenery vanishes into the distance it gradually (well, considering how far away it's drawn, it's more like 'amazingly quickly') fades into featureless grey polygons - which then stop abruptly and make the popup even more obvious! Hint to ASCII -when it's foggy, the fog also tends to obscure the horizon as well. Just thought you should know.
Steer We Go
Graphical shortcomings can, of course, be overlooked if the game itself is good enough. Oh dear.
Aero Gauge has five different craft to choose from, which at least do vary slightly in their performance. Each craft is rated according to speed, steering, acceleration, stability, shield and the mysterious 'aero limit'. None of which alters the fact that if you don't get a turbo start you're doomed, but never mind.
What doesn't really change, no matter which craft you pick, is the handling. Steering left to right doesn't present any problems, but you also need to go up and down to negotiate obstacles on the track, and there isn't a single ship amongst the lot that could outpace a granny with a zimmer frame trying to negotiate a spiral staircase. There are a couple of places on the tracks where the only way to change height fast enough to avoid a crash is to slam on the brakes - and if you do, then anyone you might by some miracle have managed to overtake whips past you again.
The Z trigger is supposed to help you avoid this problem, as holding it while you manoeuvre increases your angle of turn. Yeah, by a factor of ten! Hitting the trigger results in your craft making like one of the light cycles from Tron and changing direction faster than one of Saddam Hussein's clones at a shout of "incoming!" Even if you only tap the trigger for a fraction of a second, you still slew around so far that you usually end up pointing at a wall.
All the craft suffer from this problem, whatever their individual characteristics may suggest. As a result, you can either have a ship with the mobility of a pregnant cow in a tin bath full of tar, or one that... oh I don't know, this game has sucked the life out of me and exhausted my capacity to come up with amusing metaphors. It turns too fast, anyway. There's nothing in between.
The two-player game does Aero Gauge no favours at all. Even though the other competitors have been removed to make it a straight head-to-head, the already poor responsiveness of the craft is lowered still further, and the speed is down as well. It soon becomes a matter of profound disinterest who's in the lead, because Aero Gauge provides absolutely no incentive to win.
There's a pervasive air of 'why bother?' about the whole thing. With only four tracks, none of which are all that interesting, Aero Gauge has only limited testability. You never feel as if you're battling for position either; if you manage to catch up with another racer you can't fail to overtake them, and if you then hit an obstacle they'll pass you again. But since all the other craft just cruise around the circuits like the drones they are, who cares whether you beat them or not? There's more excitement in a packet of Rich Tea biscuits!
As wasted opportunities go, Aero Gauge is near the top of the pile - it's the only area where it achieves any kind of competence. Extreme G completely hammers it in all respects on the N64, and when compared to Wipeout, its progenitor, it looks totally laughable. Even something as simple as mounting a weapon on the nose of the ships would have doubled the replay value, bringing it into the realms of the vaguely interesting. But since you can't shoot anything, all you can do is go round and round the same few courses until something more enthralling beckons. Like worming the cat or watching Carlton Select on cable.
As I said at the beginning, this is just a clone of Wipeout., and a failed clone at that. It's a pity that human cloning hasn't been developed yet. That way, I could have forced my clone to review Aero Gauge instead of me!
AeroGauge DownloadsAeroGauge download
This dodgy Wipeout wannabe got a pasting last issue because it seemed impossible to win. Well, now we*ve found out how the turbo function works, which does slightly improve your chances. Slightly.
Hold A and B while you're waiting at the start, then release B after the announcer says"Ready!" to get a much-needed turbo start.
Ah, the world's least intuitive and player-friendly turbo function! If you need extra speed in the race, hold down A to accelerate, make a hard turn in either direction while holding Z, then release both buttons. If by some miracle you've got your timing right and haven't sent your car into a wall, you'll get a burst of extra speed. You can keep using the turbo until the temperature gauge rises too high.
Secret Cars And Tracks
To be honest we couldn't get this one to work, but maybe you'll have better luck. When the start screen appears, on controller two push and hold Up on the d-pad, then press R, L, Z and C Down simultaneously. You should now supposedly be able to play with extra vehicles on a new track.
Top Gear Rally
Whether you play the English, American or Japanese version of this game, there are cheats galore behind the garage door! They do work, trust us - the best way to enter them is to start pushing buttons quickly when the Kemco screen appears after switching on or resetting the machine.
Enter B, B, A, Left, Left, C Down, A, Right on the Arcade mode-selection screen.
Cupra (Ice Cube) Car
Enter C Down, Up, B, Right, A, C Down, A, Right on the Arcade mode-selection screen.
Enter Up, Up.Z, B, A, Left, Left on the Arcade mode-selection screen.
Pick up twenty crowns on each level and a box marked with a question mark will pop up on the level selection screen. This option will let you take on any of the level bosses without needing to play through the level each time. The markings on the door let you know which boss you are about to fight.
Get ready for some serious game-busting action with the help of 64 Magazine's Cheat Central! We scour the world for all the latest underhanded codes and passwords# and have even been known to play the odd game to death ourselves. For example, Roy never wants to see Bomberman again...
Envious eyes looked upon the PlayStation and the success of Psygnosis's Wipeout games. A plan was set in motion -clone Wipeout for the N64. The bad news was that the cloning process was faulty, bringing a monster into the world! Actually, Aero Gauge isn't that bad - it's just grotesquely limited in scope, lacking in speed and having the world's worst pop-up effects.
Surgically remove the fun from Wipeout and re-program with Bubbles as head coder - nice plan. ASCII. Could only have been worse if the forfeit for losing was to have the game electrocute you through the controller. Utterly vile.
A feeble clone of Wipeout, rendered totally pointless by F-Zero X and the real Wipeout 64. Massive pop-up and low speed don't help.
A real stinker of a Wipeout clone with game-affecting pop-up. cheating computer opponents, and terrible controls.