Lombard RAC Rally logo Amiga Computing Excellence Award

THE deal had hardly settled over Harrogate when Mandarin released a driving simulation that used the Lombard RAC Rally as its inspiration.
Having clocked up average speeds of over 120mph on that other well know driving program Test Drive, I was eager to put my talents to the test on this new contender for pole position of the software scene.

Like most people reading this magazine, my chances of owning a rally-going Cosworth Sierra depend very much on the number of score draws that I manage to select on a Sunday afternoon. So I was quite excited about the prospect of trashing the computerised version around a digital rally circuit on behalf of Amiga Computing.

The game controls are identical to those of Test Drive - move the joystick forward to accelerate, back to brake. Pressing the fire button while performing either of these actions causes the driver to shift up or down through the four speed gearbox.

As you would expect, the engine note changes in relation to the revs you are doing in each particular gear. Unfortunately Mandarin didn't employ the superb throaty roar that features so prominently in the title music. But then the programmer also forget a fifth gear.

Before competing in the rally you must first prove your competence behind the wheel. This is achieved by racing round all five legs of the proposed route and qualifying as one of the three fastest drivers in at least one leg.

Every leg of the rally consists of three stages, each posing its own particular problems. A stage may be open road, a forest section, or a twisting mountain track - on top of which you must also race in thick fog or at night.

Most unusually for a racing game, you are not shown sat in the driving seat or behind the car - your viewpoint is from just behind the driver and navigator, giving the same view as you get on the TV. As there is no rear seat in a racing Cossy I can only assume that you are perched on the toolbox.

With the starter's flag draped across your windscreen a digitised voice shouts a countdown - "Three, two one, GO!". Slamming the throttle to the floor, you scream away from the start. With the power still on your dab the fire button, the driver responds instantly, smoothly snicking the beast into second gear. Similarly, all left and right movements of the joystick are echoed by the man at the wheel.

The sense of movement is achieved graphically using the age old technique of scrolling a series of horizontal lines down the road. Additional realism is obtained with the extensive use of hills, dips, and bends in the circuit. The whole sheebang is made more effective by jiggling the screen.

It is quite unnerving to race up to the brow of a hill and realise that while your bonnet is pointing skywards you can no longer see which direction the road before you is following. On several occasions I found myself straining my neck to try and keep sight of the road as it fell out of sight.

These occasions can be made less frightening by taking a quick look at the navigator's clipboard, which displays a route map upon which your current position is highlighted. I must say that the map did not always appear to show what was happening in front of me; life would have been easier if the navigator wasn't as shy and would shout directions as we tore round the circuit.

Just like the real world, there is the merest possibility that you may hit an immovable object at some time during your exploits. When this occurs there is a loud "SMASH" and bits of number plate, wing and broken glass fly up over the bonnet. Not only is this highly dramatic, it is also very costly.

After each stage you can visit the workshops to assess and repair the damage to your car. Or if you are very rich, you can upgrade various features - a beefier engine perhaps, more powerful headlights, or even four wheel drive. All on offer at a price.

Money can be won by finishing in the first three on any leg, or by answering questions correctly during the optional TV interview that is available after each leg.
The questions are all in the rallying vein, and pretty difficult if you're not a rally buff. Correct answers are rewarded with cash; wrong ones result in your account being deibited.

It is essential that you try to keep your car in a good state of repair - if the damage becomes too severe you will be retired from the competition.

Before today I thought that Test Drive was the ultimate driving game, and Buggy Boy the most fun you could have behind the wheel of an Amiga - but not any more! The Lombard RAC Rally combines the thrill of the two.
Nothing can compare with the thrill of throwing the Cosworth around a forest stage in the middle of the night - this game is for real.

Lombard RAC Rally logo

Price: £24.95

The Lombard RAC Rally is probably the biggest, and most famous motor rally held by Lombard with the letter RAC held in the title. As you can probably tell from the intro, I don't know a whole lot about rallies, other than they involve you driving a car, plastered with stickers, around a very muddy course, skidding left, right and centre and continually coming within an inch of killing reckless spectators or overturning.

The particular rally that this game is based on is a five leg heat from Harrogate to Harrogate, stopping off at Carlisle and Telford on the way. Before you are allowed entry to the rally itself, you have to prove your merit by racing all five legs separately, and this is the important bit, you have to win a prize in at least one. To win a prize, you have to complete the course in any of three time ranges, earning you first, second and third prizes.

As well as racing, there are lots of other exciting aspects of a rally that have to be taken into consideration. Firstly, and probably most importantly, you have to keep your car in shape. This is done at the workshop. You are shown the four main aspects of your car (engine, tyres, suspension and bodywork) and a percentage to represent the amount of damage for that area.

Repairing it is no problem, b ut the cost is. Each percent costs one pound to fix. On top of that, there are numerous extras that need to be bought, such as fog lights four-wheel drive (to help you get up hills), optional saucy lady (in case you get bored) and fluffy dice. The only real problem here is getting money.

There are two ways to get money. The first, though by no means the easiest, is by winning a race. The second is by protecting your public image and going for a TV interview. To qualify for an interview a quick-fire trivia quiz based of the accompanying manual and more besides.

So once you've done all that you do the actual race. The game is viewed from a slightly unusual angle, from the back set, looking between the driver and the co-driver. In effect, you're driving a remote control, and the driver is fully animated. See him turn the wheel, and change up and down the gears.

Control is fairly standard. Left/right to steer, up/down to accelerate and decelerate and fire held down activates the gearbox, with up and down then changing gears up and down .

The road is smooth and the update of the stripes on the road and the roadside objects convincing and jerk free. The other cars, when you find any, are presented very badly however. The come towards you in around three updates, which is more than just a little jerky. This doesn't spoil what is essentially a fun driving game.