Hot rubber, throbbing engine, and other such entendres

No Second Prize logo Amiga Computing Gamer Gold

THALION * £25.99 * 1 meg * Mouse * Out now

One of the biggest disappointments of my life came when I was about seven or eight years old. I think it was Halloween, but it might have been Christmas, and occurred at a fancy dress party held at our local parish church. Now my mum is dead good at sewing and had spent days working on what turned out to be an absolutely top wizard's outfit - pointy hat, moon-and-stars jacket, magic wand - the lot. I was a bit shy as a lad and didn't really want to go, but after a little persuasion and the threat of a spanked bottom, along I toddled in all my regalia.

On arriving my mood improved almost instantly, not only because I spied the Grandstand "Pong" video game and numerous chocolate treats that constituted the prizes, but because all the other kids' outfits were completely cack. Well I was laughing, I can tell you, as that sorry bunch of misfits traipsed hopelessly around the parish hall in dress that looked about as fancy as a Michael Foot overcoat. Pong was mine for the taking!

When it was time for the prize giving I sat between my parents with a smug grin on my greedy little face - a grin that would soon turn to utter disbelief as some girl or other from my class at school was ushered towards the makeshift stage and presented with the fabled Pong as a reward for her pathetic-looking fairy outfit.

"But well done to everybody, especially Paul Roundell - and his mum!" boomed our compere jovially. All was not lost - at least I'd won the sweets. "And now ladies and gentlemen, please give a big round of applause to our infants for last week's smashing play." He continued, whereupon a dozen or so five-year-olds trooped towards the front to be dutifully furnished with spangles and Texan Chew Bars. Scandal! The sweets were for the kiddies and I would go home empty handed for there was... No... Second... Prize...

Video games have come a long way since the days of Pong - now renamed the Sega Master System - and Thalion are taking a bit of a risk in thrusting yet another racing game into a market already overcrowded with mediocre offerings. If No Second Prize is to have a hope in hell of raking in a decent chunk of the Christmas loot it will have to provide us with substantially more entertainment than the vast majority of its predecessors.

It does - in fact I think it's safe to say it's one of the very best racing sims around, and it even has a story. The most completely fabulous one-of-a-kind biketastic dreamcycle in the world is up for grabs - the owner is unknown but has offered his machine as a prize to whoever proves themselves as the best motorcycle racer in the cosmos.

Competition has been narrowed down to just six riders who must now race head to head for the ultimate supremacy. You can choose whichever rider you want to be - some are particularly good on bends, or may be very fast, while others have a high hit point count, meaning they can sustain all manner of damage and continue racing unabashed.

After making this momentous decision you will then need to decide how to set up your bike. Basically this involves choosing a sensitivity setting for the mouse - no joystick option at all, which is a bit of a shame - and locking the gears onto either manual or automatic. Having done this, you're ready to race.

There are 20 tracks in all, and you must chug bravely round them all for points - coming last actually results in a deduction from your overall score.

Chug really wasn't the right word to use at all, as the game is incredibly fast. Viewed from a 3D driver's eye perspective, it will have you and anyone watching swaying from side to side as you swing around bends, under bridges and into surprised bystanders.

Changing gear manually involves toggling a couple of the keys, and is a bit tricky at first considering control is by mouse. The game has a replay mode, and you can watch your hopelessness from four separate angles including from a chopper - I enjoyed playing the replay backwards as it gave me the impression that I was actually overtaking someone.

Graphics and sound are pretty much what you would expect from this kind of game, but how could I complain when it's as fast as this?

Since my last encounter with a real motorbike resulted in treatment for abrasions in a Greek hospital, I might not be the best person to advise you about the difficulty, but it does seem very hard. In the races I did manage to finish I came sixth out of six every single time - there's nothing at all wrong with the control, once mastered - it's just hard.

Hard it may be - but I played it sold for many hours without becoming ever slightly frustrated and I'm dying for another go right now. Well done Thalion of producing one of the best racers I've seen.

No Second Prize logo

Things seem to be hotting up of late for the two-wheel ton-up merchant. It seems like only yesterday we were wrestling with the realistic but terminally twitchy Red Zone from Psygnosis, while in this very issue we're kick boxing in EA's decidedly violent Road Rash.

Thus Thalion's No Second Prize emerges from the paddock with plenty of competition already on the grid. NSP is a fast-paced thrash around the world's most famous motorcycle circuits in pursuit of first prize (remember, there's no second one) - that only prize being not a Championship First, but for the ownership of the Sexiest Motorcycle in the World.

Some anonymous dude has fronted up this unique machine in the hope of attracting six monied privateers to duel their way through a 26-race season taking in such exotic locations as the Paul Ricard, Hockenheim and Oulton Park Circuits.

Totally unreal
As such, we're not looking at a terribly realistic outing along the lines of Team Suzuki. Although the view from the saddle, the filled polygons and the accurate tracks are reminiscent of GBH's offering, NSP is more of a throttle-to-the-stop thrash and aimed more at the speed freak than the Grand Prix buff.

Unusually for a motorcycle game, you get to choose more than just the colour of the bike you ride. Each of the six competitors has certain attributes, such as impressive top-end speed, or brilliance at corners or, for the more ham-fisted, the ability to take the knocks when thwapped full-tilt into the nearest tree.

Having chosen whichever rider suits your riding style, it's off to practise on any of the 20 tracks before the first race of the season. It soon becomes clear that the bike, while not all that easy to control, behaves much more sensibly than Team Suzuki's Suzis. Where a mere twitch of the mouse would have you veering wildly off course and into Mamola-ville in TS, the action in NSP is far more controllable, while still keeping up a fair old clip.

It's a mouse-only affair, which is fine by me, and merely requires holding down the right button to accelerate and the left to brake. Unless you want to be flash and use the manual gear change mode, which means keeping a hand hovering over the Amiga's keyboard.

Once into the races proper, things get a little more disturbing. Getting round Silverstone is job enough, but someone has taken the trouble to scatter bollards at some very inconvenient points around the track. Hit once and you'll damage the bike (which has a limited tolerance that ticks away until you stop for good) and lose places.

There also seems to be a fair number of riders who apparently spring up from nowhere. You can see the pack you're meant to be leading highlighted on a small circuit map, but other riders abound, creating mobile chicanes that add to the overall mayhem.

A bit backwards
It was after an encounter with one of these amateur riders that I found out you could do something totally brilliant: ride round the track the wrong way! I've always wanted to do this, but many racing games simply won't let you. Howling head-on for the leaders at a closing speed of around 400mph is great fun when you've given up on ever winning the race.

You also get to see the helicopter that follows the lead bike and provides one of the platforms for the four replay cameras that show you how you screwed up on that last chicane. It's reckoned that by studying replays you can learn the mistakes you're making and how to avoid them.

But most simulated track racing is so uncontrolled that it's more often than not a case of balls-out pace all the way (and scrape it round corners at silly speeds) so 'riding' technique rarely plays a part. Replay cameras are fairly pointless, but fun.

While lacking in the authenticity stakes, No Second Prize is a good halfway house between the mindless tharsh of Super HangOn and the hard-to-control realism of Red Zone and Team Suzuki. If it had the two-player mode of the now-defunct Palace Software's Hot Rubber, then we really would have something to write home about.

Der Zieger kriegt alles?

No Second Prize logo

Hochkonjunktur für Vektor-Raser: Erst in der letzten Ausgabe schrammte der Psygnosis-Feuerstuhl "Red Zone" knapp am Hit vorbei - und Thalions Motorrad-spektakel ist glatt noch ein Eck rasanter unterwegs...

Daß die Jungs aus Gütersloh ein Händchen für schnelle 3D-Grafik haben, konnte man bereits an ihrem furiosen Ballerspektakel "Trex Warrior" erkennen - aber hier werden Geschwindigkeiten erreicht, die selbst einem hochgezüchteten 486er-PC zur Ehre gereichen würden!

Doch selbst der flotteste Biker muß sich zunächst Zeit für die Auswahlscreens nehmen: Hier entscheidet man sich zwischen manuellem und automatischem Getriebe und darf sich eines von sechs Pilotenportraits aussuchen. In der Praxis kommt das einer Wahl Motorrads gleich, denn die Typen unterscheiden sich durch technische Qualitäten wie Kurvenhandlung, Beschleunigung oder Endgeschwindigkeit.

Zudem können noch allerlei Statistik-Tabellen, Rundenrekorde und Strecken-Infos abgerufen werden, ehe man entweder ein paar Trainingsrunden zieht oder gleich in den Positionskampf einsteigt. Insgesamt 20 Strecken gilt es zu absolvieren, von Hockenheim über Brands Hatch bis hin zu Imola ist alles vertreten, was Rang und Namen hat.

Das Fahrerfeld umfaßt dabei stets dieselben fünf Computergegner, allesamt wahre Cracks. Sicher, auf den ersten Pisten sind die Kontrahenten mit etwas Übung noch relativ einfach zu beschwingen, aber wenn später ölpfützen und Felsen den Asphalt verunzieren, wird's echt hart! Für Abwechslung im Renngeschehen sorgen Straßensenken und 90 Grad Kurven, auf Boxenstops und Detailschmankerl wie Rückspiegel oder Zuschauer auf den Tribünen muß man jedoch verzichten.

Das fällt umso leichter, als sich No Second Prize einfach fantastisch spielt: Die Maussteuerung (deren Sensitivität einstellbar ist) hat man fast augenblicklich im Griff, bald können Kurven elegant geschnitten und Gegner gekonnt von der Bahn gerempelt werden. Allerdings führen zu exzessive Kollisionen zum Totalausfall der Maschine und damit zum Verlust des Rennens.

Tröstlich immerhin, daß eine Rekorder-Funktion stets die letzten Momente des Geschehens aufzeichnet, so daß man seine Fahrfehler jederzeit nachprüfen kann - wahlweise aus der Fahrerperspektive oder von einem Begleithubschrauber aus. Ein prima Gelegenheit, die pfeilschnelle Grafik gefahrlos zu bewundern, denn hier wird das Tempo nicht bloß am Tacho angezeigt, hier huscht die 3D-Landschaft wirklich mit einem Affenzahn vorbei! Das erstaunliche dabei ist, daß es an grafischem Beiwerk wie Häusern, Bäumen oder Bergen im Hintergrund trotzdem nicht mangelt...

Während der Fahrt müssen sich die Ohren zwar mit dem Gedröhn der Motoren genügen, ansonsten werden sie jedoch mit feiner Musik verwöhnt. Hätte Thalion noch Boxenstops, unterschiedliche Witterungsbedingungen und einen Zwei-Spieler-Modus untergebracht, hätten wir No Second Prize die Hit-Trophäe gewiß nicht verwehren können - so reicht es halt "nur" zu einem astreiner Rennspiel! (rl)

No Second Prize logo

It seems those clever Germans have turned their attentions to motorbike sims.

You may be aware by now, if you're a regular reader of AP, that I've recently become interested in motorbikes. Not passionately, you understand. Not in that obsessive, posters on the wall, books and magazines all over the house, only topic of conversation sort of way. I'm more your 'these motorbike things are quite a good idea' sort of a chap who's just realised how cheaply you can get around the place if you're prepared to get a bit cold and wet.

Nor, I have to say, am I obsessed by the idea of riding exceedingly quickly. Not for me the sleek race replicas with all their faring and hunch-backed riding positions. Give me a big far tourer and some heated handlebar grips and I'll be as happy as, er... well, I'll be as happy as a Tim that just got a big fat tourer with heated grips.

Ah yes, but I've racked my poor addled old brain and I can't think of a single thing that would make a game about riding around on a bike like that even remotely appealing. How, after all, can you make an entertainment about big fat bikes that don't go very fast and peope that wear cowboy boots?

You can't. So the next best thing for bike fans has to be a game about racing around jolly quickly. And that, oh dearly beloved, is exactly what No Second Prize is.

The game arrived while I was out of the office, so I came in late that night to play it. I loaded it up with no small amount of trepidation - I've tried this sort of thing before. The intro sequence looks particularly fabby - vector 3D a-go-go. But we've all seen groovy intros that belie the shoddiness of the game they prelude, so I kept my enthusiasm in check. Nice neat option screens let you choose whether to race, train, or load a saved season.

The world whizzed by at breathtaking speed

Then you choose your rider. There are six, each with their own strengths and weaknesses (including a hit point system for the rider and their bike). So far, so ordinary. The enthusiasm was still there, just bubbling under the surface, but as yet there was no reason to run whooping around the office.

Just the track selection to go now and I can get on with some racing. If you're practising, you can choose any of the 22 courses, but in a proper race season your choice is made for you. The tracks are familiar - Donnington Park, Thruxton, Hockenheim, etc - and there's plenty of info available on each. I chose Paul Ricard because it was a) the first one, and b) simple looking.

The race finally started. I couldn't believe my little eyes. What I thought I saw was a 3D world of shaded polygons that moved smoothly and realistically. But it couldn't be. That can't be done, can it? I mean, we've had countless games in here that use polygon 3D systems and they're slow and jerky and altogether not fun to play. Surely that's because silky smooth fast 3D isn't possible on an Amiga.

Another thing I thought I could see was a world whizzing past at breathtaking speed as if I were on a real bike. The white line down the centre of the road was shooting past in an alarmingly realistic way. And those trees - approaching slowly and the flashing out of sight on either side. This couldn't be right either. Surely things should just sort of blob past and you have imagine that it's a really convincing simulation. Maybe it's all just a dream.

Anyway, played on even though I was worried that my old eyes were deceiving me. The control system for motorbike games is a tricky thing to get right. You can have the Road Rash-type joystick control that makes no claims to realistic simulation. Or you can have the hopelessly slippy-slidy Red Zone system that tries desperately to be realistic but just, frankly, gets on your wick.

Or you can have the No Second Prize system which is mouse controlled and is so very nearly intuitive that you make allowances for it and blame yourself rather than the controls when you crash.

I have to own up at this point and say that I'm so stultifyingly bad at this game that, at the time of writing, I haven't actually finished a race without destroying my bike. But unlike some other games, this hasn't dampened my enthusiasm at all and I carry on playing, regardless of my total lack of ability, because it's fun.

It looks utterly fabulously smoothly groovy

As well as being not particularly good, I'm also one of those strange people that alays turns the sound off when they play computer games - it's usually either dull and uninspiring or irritating beyond dreams of exasperation. Imagine my surprise, then, when I turned the sound and found atmospheric bike noises and Doppler-shifted sounds from the other bikes as I roared past them.

And the option-screen music? No plinky-plonky tat here, mate. There's a groovy tune with a '70s-style funk guitar riff that sounds most convincing in a vague Starsky And Hutch sort of way.

Much is made in the instructions of the replay option. Oh, actually, before I tell you about that. I should mention that there is a plot of sorts lurking in the game - it's got something to do with two really great bikes being built and one of them being destroyed and some people who decide to have a contest to see who should have the remaining one and there's no second prize and... I lost interest and stopped reading at this point.

Anyway, back to the action replay. There are four cameras that shoot the action. One is on your bike, one races along beside your bike; one follows your bike from the middle of the track, or thereabouts, and the final one is in a helicopter (which you can see) and follows the race leader.

At any point in the action you can get yourself a replay of the race so far by selecting one of the cameras (the race stops while you do so). Ah yes, but that's not the clever bit. Using the cursor keys you can fast-forward or rewind the recording to your favourite bit - the bit where you smash inot one of the other riders and take them out of the race is always quite satisfying - and the speeded-up action is almost as smooth as the normal speed version. Astonishing.

The only disappointment is that you can't use any of the external views while you're actually racing - you can only view things as seen from the handlebars of your bike. Still, how many times have you ever been driving down the street and been able to watch your bike/car from the outside? You'd need a particularly sophisticated radio control system, a stout rope and an especially rugged pair of roller skates. Or something. Wouldn't you?

I checked with the rest of the team and it turns out my eyes hadn't, in fact, deceived me. No Second Prize looks utterly, fabulously, smoothly, wonderfully, groovy. Well, that's probably veering a little towards hyperbole, but it does look and sound jolly good.

It doesn't have much direct competition, so as a motorbike racer it's the best so far. But it's also sufficiently god that it stands up pretty well against more conventional four wheeled racers.

No Second Prize logo CU Amiga Screen Star

Since we asked him if he wanted something hot and throbbing between his legs, Mark Patterson jumped at the chance. You can imagine his disappointment when he found out it was only a motorbike sim.

Living in central London like I do gives you ample opportunity to play such wondrous games as dodge the motorbike dispatch rider, most of whom go around thinking they're at Silverstone and that 70mph is an acceptable speed in a built up area. Naturally, having to check eight-inch gaps between vehicles for on-coming bikes does get a little tedious, breeding a slight contempt for anything on two-wheels with a Japanese name.

Recently my disrespect for these bastions of hand-delivery has waned, with the discovery of this excellent, and extremely challenging motorbike race game. There's none of the leather and, more importantly, none of the danger, which makes this my cup of tea.

As you can guess from the title, No Second Prize is a game about winning. There's you, your mean machine, five opponents and 20 tracks. All you have to do is get past the line in first place and one piece.

One surprising feature is that it doesn't use a conventional joystick, instead it requires an analogue device such as a mouse. This is presumably because a normal digital joystick wouldn't be responsive enough. The left and right buttons are used as brake and accelerator, which is fair enough, but to change gears you need to keep a finger or two poised near the Shift and Alt keys to change up and down.

In theory, using the mouse in conjunction with the keyboard in this manner should be easy, but I preferred not to play this way as it felt awkward and detracted from the action. Using the mouse to control the game is very uncomfortable at fist, but surprisingly it doesn't require much room as the game responds to the slightest movement. The mouse sensitivity can be adjusted, but I found the default setting fine, with anything above that making the game uncontrollable.

There are a total of 20 tracks set around Europe, although most are in Britain. To begin with they have lots of nice straight bits and easy to handle corners, but as you progress they become far more twisted (in the literal sense) with less opportunity to open the throttle. As if that wasn't enough there are also hazards like bollards and concrete blocks which are placed in inconvenient positions to block off lanes and force errors.

Because each race is six laps long the programmers have included a save-game option. It comes in very handy indeed as one race can last well in excess of eight minutes. All the lap records are stored when you save your positions, so when you've completed each track there's the added attraction of going back to beat your old times.

Points are awarded for coming in the first five, and as there are only six riders (including you) it means that the field doesn't separate until mid-way through the season, so only the most disastrous performance warrants re-starting the game after only a few races.

Accidents do happen, so it's fortunate that you and your bike are a little more resilient than Barry Sheen's legs (am I showing my age?). Obviously smacking into a bridge at 200mph doesn't leave much behind, but simply sliding off into a road-side object or another bike adds to the two damage gauges, and it's when they're full that you'll be forced to retire from the race.

There's a practice mode which allows you to ride on any track in the game against one or more riders, and it's well worth making use of this option as you won't stand a chance on the later tracks if you're not familiar with their layout.

The graphics are really something special. Because everything is vector based, there are no problems with the scaling of road-side objects, so they really add to the feeling of speed. To prevent the tracks looking the same there are a variety of grandstands and bridges for you to look at, as well as a helicopter which follows the progress of the race by buzzing over every track. The other bikers look a bit something from Tron, i.e. not very convincing. But they're often going so fast you don't see much of them.

There aren't many displays to distract you from the action. The dashboard consists of a speedometer, revs counter and gear indicator, and a map in the corner of the screen shows the positions of the other riders. You're forwarned about corners by signs which appear a few seconds by signs which appear a few seconds before the turn. These indicate which direction it goes and how sharp it is, which is handy as some corners can be taken very fast so it pays to know how much you have to slow down.

Most of the sound effects are made up from the rumblings of your bike's engine and the occasional screech of tyres when you take a corner too fast. There are also some smart stereo effects when you pass another bike. The way the track moves is fantastic. Whereas the road in most race games just runs left or right, in NSP the whole horizon tilts when you steer, giving an excellent sense of realism.

This is to motorbikes what Microprose's Formula One Grand Prix is to motor racing. It has all the essential features, which tend to be speed and realism in this type of game, and there is even a little intro.

If I had one little criticism it is that when you hit another bike, or another bike hits you, it's only your bike that spins off the track, which is a bit unfair. That aside the sheer speed of the game means you don't have to be a real-life biker to enjoy it. Without a doubt the best motorbike sim on the Amiga.


There are two types of bike available in No Second Prize, one with manual gears the other automatic. Naturally the automatic is easiest to ride as you don't have to worry about bothersome things like revs. The disadvantage from this bike is that it doesn't accelerate as fast as the other, which is a crucial factor as many of the later tracks have many turns which you have to slow down for.

Before you race you have to select your character. There are six to choose from and they, along with their bikes, have different strengths and weaknesses. Although there are many other bikes on the track, it's only the remaining five riders you have to worry about.