ST Format Review (Issue 18)
- MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
- The usual suspects didn’t work, getting stuck with joystick controls not working, but there’s a Pompey Pirates crack available within the TOSEC collection found on archive.org.
- Speedlink USB Joystick
So this one’s a bit of a personal favourite of mine. Toyota Celica GT Rally is Gremlin’s take on rally driving, an early foray into the world of 3D and a game with a shedload of innovations of which some are rare even today. It was my first taste of something approaching proper sim racing, my second being Geoff Crammond’s wonderful Microprose Formula One Grand Prix (and its sequels would keep me going for years).
There are few pleasures in life like driving a car sideways at high speed. My personal favourite real world experience of this came at a race track in the UK – Donington. Some of you will know it, some of you won’t, but it’s most notable for Ayrton Senna winning a ridiculously wet race there. The track itself has some wonderful undulations and features a magnificent uphill blind right hander over the crest of a hill so you have no idea what the corner looks like til you get to it. However, the area of interest here is on the main straight. Now this straight originally had a chicane in the middle, a simple right, left chicane which just broke things up a little to give a braking zone for overtaking and to control speeds a little. Now the track was a little too short for F1 so what they instead did was to at the right-left chicane fork off to the left instead for a left-right chicane and then a straight line to a 180 degree hairpin, back again to the chicane and a hairpin back onto the main straight where the old chicane was. It sounds utterly mickey mouse and it is. However, it’s bloody brilliant for taking a Caterham R300 sideways around. Two main memories of that, the first being that my best man was in the passenger seat as I took to the track having never been there before in my life with only iRacing for experience and proceeded to absolutely floor it the whole way around, and then go sideways around those hairpins scaring the living daylights out of him. The second was doing some synchronised drifting around those same corners, the two hastily-added hairpins, with a lovely old Porsche 911. Honestly it was one of the best days of my life and I wouldn’t have done it without years of racing sims leading me to that point.
Anyway, back to the game. So you get to experience the joy of throwing a fast car around narrow country roads with lots of trees and houses to crash into, quite often sideways, as is the way with rallying. Rally drivers are nutters, and to be fair so are those who watch in person, often standing around in rain and mud inches from the road seeing cars come hurtling around barely under control typically on loose mud or gravel surfaces. It’s an incredible sport, visceral like no other and marked by intense dedication among its fans and participants. Ideal for a computer game then.
Gremlin could easily have gone down the rolling road path, with sprites at the edge of the track to represent the trees you might crash into. It would undoubtedly have run faster, and might have sold more copies. They didn’t, however, and perhaps that’s why Celica was overshadowed by Lotus (in hindsight releasing both at the same time was an odd choice). Still, to me they made the right choice to go full 3D. Indeed throughout the game the choices made reflect a desire for quality over doing things the easy way.
That choice to go fully 3D enabled them to give the car something approaching proper physics. No it’s not quite Dirt Rally, or even Colin McRae Rally, but it’s pretty damn good for a 16-bit machine. You can throw the car around convincingly and the back will swing out as you’d expect. Success requires you to turn in early for those sharp bends to allow you to swing that rear out and get round the corner rather than into the house inconveniently placed right where you might crash into it. What kind of idiot puts a house there?
All through this your co-driver calmly reads off instructions ‘hard left’, ‘easy right’, without a care in the world. You can even prepare him before the race and tell him what to say and when as you move through a map of the track. All this is wonderfully innovative stuff and way ahead of its time. The sound is excellent even beyond the speech synthesis, with a cracking bit of sampled music accompanying the intro and menus, while in the car you’re treated to some wonderful sampled engine sounds. On the ST it was rare to have samples in-game, these were generally kept for menus and intros where there was less CPU work to do, but Gremlin really went for it.
One of the things that really grabbed me as a kid, and honestly I have no idea why, is ths snow. You’re driving around sliding everywhere because there’s absolutely bugger-all grip, and the snow is coming down and your windscreen gets harder and harder to see through as a layer of snow builds up, and then you press F1 to turn the wipers on, and they actually work, and what’s more they clear the right areas relative to the path they take. The areas the wipers don’t reach build up with more snow, just like in real life. It’s such a silly thing, such a tiny addition and yet one that must have taken enormous amounts of work, and they did it brilliantly. I honestly don’t remember seeing anything like that for a good number of years after that as it took quite a while for rain and snow on windscreens to come to PC racing sims.
One thing that’s worth mentioning is the difficulty. It’s hard. You will not get away with flat-footing it around every corner like it’s Outrun. You have to slow down, you have to think about each corners, about how far the car will drift, and you do not want to end up on the grass on the outside of a corner because the lack of grip will make it an absolute bitch to get back on again. Further, while the UK is tricky enough it is at least tarmac roads, even if you do get a bit of rain to make things a little more slippery. However, in Mexico you get to drive in the desert and face frequent sandstorms which make visibility poor and your windscreen wipers will do nothing to fix that. Finishing up in Finland you get the snow, which means zero grip. Visibility is fine, your wipers take care of that, but you have to seriously watch your pace or risk flying off the track.
We’ve got another video – slowly getting the hang of things and we now have much better audio, with the game sound dipping so you can hear me more easily, and I’ve used a better mic. On this occasion I’ve done the chat after playing, and I’ll continue to experiment with the format until I find something I’m comfortable with. Hope you enjoy it.
So the all-important question here – is it any good? Well, there’s not much suspense around this, yes it’s bloody brilliant. It may be a little slow and jerky but the controls remain crisp, and the slower pace is required to allow it to achieve something akin to sim physics. If you consider the traditional Outrun-type rolling road game – effectively the road is a canned animation, it’s generated on the fly but it’s canned. The player impacts the speed it runs at by speeding up and slowing down and might move that animation left and right by moving around the track, but the game is still effectively only registering that you’re at frame 387 on the track and your car/bike is 60 pixels from the furthest left edge, or something of that nature. It can never properly understand the corner and the forces associated with it, only cheating a bit to say that there is a corner of maybe one of 5 levels of sharpness and drifting you out accordingly, but that’s about it. A true 3D game can consider your orientation relative to the track, your momentum, and what surface you’re running on. It makes it much easier to implement real physics because there’s a real 2D plane (the ground) upon which to enact those physics.
For me, the realism combined with some wonderful presentation touches, the choice to go with sampled sounds, all adds up to a brilliant game. It’s hard as nails and in career mode you can’t afford to screw up if you want to keep up with the fastest drivers, but the game is absolutely tonnes of fun. The ST version is very close to the Amiga version with the Amiga having proper stereo sound for the music and higher quality samples but otherwise there’s not too much in it, so you’ll have fun with either version. So, go play it, have fun and let me know in the comments how you got on with it.
Reviews From This Issue of ST Format
ST Format Review (Issue 18) Equipment Used/Recommended MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator. Any of Automation 399, Fuzion 23, Pompey Pirates 64, SuperGAU 402, Vectronix 281/828 Speedlink USB Joystick My Review So we’re bringing out the big guns.…
ST Format Review (Issue 18) Equipment Used/Recommended MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator. Any of Automation 427B, Flame Of Finland 48, Pompey Pirates 65, SuperGAU 473/805, Vectonix 35/112/801 Speedlink USB Joystick My Review I’ll start with a confession…
ST Format Review (Issue 18) Equipment Used/Recommended MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator. Any of Automation 473, Pompey Pirated 66, Vectronix 518 Speedlink USB Joystick My Review And so we finally conclude this run of racing games –…
ST Format Review (Issue 18) Equipment Used/Recommended MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator. Any of Automation 392, Flame Of Finland 48, Medway Boys 102, Pompey Pirates 69, Vectronix 417/667 Speedlink USB Joystick My Review Continuing our run of…
ST Format Review (Issue 18) Equipment Used/Recommended MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator. Any of Automation 383A, Fuzion 20, Medway Boys 98, Pompey Pirates 60, Vectronix 219/904 Speedlink USB Joystick My Review Making our way through the wonderful…
ST Format Review (Issue 18) Equipment Used/Recommended MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator. Any of Automation 377, Flame Of Finland 45, Pompey Pirates 61, SuperGAU 476/809, Vectronix 192/342/814 Speedlink USB Joystick My Review This game did not score…
ST Format Review (Issue 18) Equipment Used/Recommended MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator. Any of Automation 400, Fuzion 30, SuperGAU 374/541, Vectronix 593/785 Speedlink USB Joystick My Review In many ways there’s really bugger all point in me…