Lotus: The Ultimate Challenge
Who wants to drivh a Lotus in an exciting new game from Gremlin? Paul cried in the strangely high-pitched voice he gets when hes been drinking. Oooooh, we squealed, Me, me, me, me, me! wrestling our way over the desks, throwing aside copies of Tornado, X-Wing and Titanic Blinky in our maniacal haste to get the game of our dreams. Or maybe not. My memorys shot to hell these days.
Lotus - The Ultimate Challenge is an arcade game. No car set-ups to worry about, and a complete lack of anal-retentive appeal. There are three cars to play with, all made by Lotus, purveyors of fine spreadsheets to the masses. There are various ways to play: racing around courses or along stretches of road, against the clock or against computer opponents in a championship and with one- or two-player options. Courses range from snowy ones, to desert ones to future ones, all with their own little hazards. Theres also a course-generator that allows you to decide the parameters for a course of your choosing, and a facility to combine any ten courses into a championship.
Whether on track or road youre handicapped not only by obstacles and opponents but by your lack of a bottomless fuel tank. At some stage youre going to have to pull in for petrol. Many a race has been lost by misjudging this moment. The cars, despite their unique performance figures, all handle and perform similarly. Likewise choosing between a track and a road to race on has no effect; tracks dont often seem to repeat in the way tracks should, and some road sections repeat rather more often than youd expect.
Lotus dont like to see their cars being crashed and hurt (except in James Bond films), so you cant crash in this game. This removes most of the enjoyment of a racing game straight away. Wheres the thrill in racing through a fog-bound forest at i5omph if, when you plough head on into a tree, you merely slow down for a second, before zooming on unharmed? The terror of venturing into the wrong lane in dual-carriageway racing is also eradicated.
Distant voices, still drives
The sound, even with a Sound Blaster, is not particularly inspiring. The engine note is less like the roar of a powerful sports car than something produced by a six year old with a hose pipe and a sense of humour; every time I braked I kept looking around for the Wild West train, until I realised that the wailing horn noise was supposed to be squealing tyres. Contact with walls, tumbleweed or large boulders at the side of the road provokes a rustling like someone eating a packet of boiled sweets. However if you can live without engine noise then the in car stereo offers you a range of mid American driving music.
The sense of speed in Lotus is somewhat inconsistent. When youre accelerating, roadside objects hurtle past you and theres a great sensation of speed. Once up to speed, roadside objects and the dark and light segments of road occasionally seem to stay in the same spot onscreen and may even recede a little. At one point I had the sensation of being completely stationary, with cars reversing towards me.
Theres been little attempt to add details to the game - no matter how sharp the crest of a hill you fly over, you never leave the ground. The varying roadside surfaces have negligible difference on your cars performance (though you do slide around a bit on the dirt tracks). There are no brake lights on the car, and - even worse - no headlights in the night sections. It seems odd to me that Lotus are so concerned about their cars image that they dont want to see them crashing in a computer game, but are quite happy to see them race through cities at night with their lights off.
Competing drivers have hilarious names such as Merry Walker and Nijel Mainsail. Unlike you they lead very easy lives, being unaffected by wind conditions, fuel shortage and do not slow down or skid when driving on treacherous wet or icy surfaces. They are also unaffected by the magical Turbo Zones and the Speed Trap Rays in the future race sections.
Whilst being utterly unambitious themselves, they resent success in others. You can set their level of competitiveness. At its highest level their sole aim in life is to stop you getting past. Overtaking becomes a nightmare of weeving and manoeuvring. Its this rather than the track that provides the challenge and excitement.
Lotus is one of those games that comes into its own in two player mode. The split screen (which was a fairly unique feature when it appeared in the first Lotus game) allows you to see both your own and your opponents viewpoint. Its a shame, given the importance of the two player section, that the screen doesnt include a wing mirror view but this is still the most effective part of the game.
Although Lotus is not as good as it might have been (and is perhaps looking a little dated) its still very playable and in two player mode pretty good fun. If youre looking for a genuine driving sim then look elsewhere. If, however youre looking for a knockabout arcade driving sim then Lotus is one of the best in its, admittedly small, field. Mind you, I wish you could damage opponents. They should have gone for the Austin licence. Just imagine it: Austin Princess - The Ultimate Smash-Up. They wouldnt mind crashes, explosions and detonations of thermo-nuclear devices.
Download Lotus: The Ultimate Challenge
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP