“ Genre: Driving & Racing for Windows / Published by Mindscape „
I find it rather scary that there are people reading this who weren't even *born* when Megarace appeared in 1994, and who may indeed boggle at the very idea of PC games being released for DOS rather than Windows. As it happens, the original demo of this title was, I think, the second PC driving game I ever played, on a computer my dad borrowed from his work. (The first was the demo of IndyCar Racing 2.) This was long enough ago that it wasn't particularly startling that the computer had a monochrome VGA monitor, but it *was* noteworthy that it had a mighty quad-speed CD-ROM drive.
That's important, because this game takes up about 500 MB, which at the time - given that most games still came on a set of floppy disks - was vast. Why? Because back in the mid-1990s the in thing was "full motion video" ("FMV"), which in retrospect was a bit of a blind alley, and certainly led to some truly appalling "interactive movie" games being produced, but which at the time was seen as The Future, capital letters and all. PCs were so much less powerful then that seeing a real (or real-ish) person moving around in even halfway smooth video was enough to get people to stop and watch.
There's a great deal of FMV in Megarace, since the whole concept of the game rather demands it. The idea is that of a futuristic virtual reality game show, with you of course as the contestant, piloting an equally futuristic racing car in an attempt to obliterate the baddies. These take the form of "speed gangs", which you race around the tracks, picking off the slower henchmen one by one before attempting to stop the boss ("Packleader") before you get to the end of the race after three laps. If you fail, that's it: game over. If you succeed, you can progress to the next track. Actually, you do occasionally get a second chance even if you finish runner-up, but generally it's win or bust.
Bookending the actual race sections (of which more in a moment) are the "television" bits, which is where the FMV comes in. The "host" of the Megarace show is a (deliberately) fantastically irritating guy in horribly clashing colours who goes by the presumably-supposed-to-be-amusing name of Lance Boyle. He seems to like the sound of his own voice, as he goes on and on and on, particularly at the start of the game, and frankly you're likely to do as I did and skip a lot of his spiel once you've played Megarace enough times to know what you're doing. Thankfully his inane chatter stops during the actual driving segments.
The various cars (only three of which are available at the start, but more will be unlocked if you do well enough) have no sophisticated physics, and their handling is so simple that it is actually quite possible to control them with a mouse, using the buttons to fire; this is one way to destroy the baddies, but as you have limited ammunition you will also need to slam some of them into the walls with your own vehicle. The tracks look quite impressive (by 1994 standards!) although the illusion of 3D is just that - an illusion. In fact this is yet *more* FMV, with the circuits being spooled pre-rendered video that repeats each lap. You can steer and brake, but you can't actually stop your car.
This is very much an arcade game, as is further shown by the presence of that old arcade standby, the power-up. In a way that will be familiar to console racers, there are periodic symbols on the track surface, and driving over one of these will have a positive or negative effect. For example, a forward arrow gives you a brief speed boost, whereas a backward arrow slows you down for a few seconds. The variety of symbols is quite well thought out; for example there is the positive "Warning" symbol, which gives you slight advance notice of upcoming symbols, and the dangerous "Command Inversor", which reverses left and right steering commands.
Sound isn't bad, especially for the era. I played my copy under DOSBox (which handled it perfectly) and the emulated SoundBlaster Pro music and effects were quite well done, in a very electronic kind of way. You'd never mistake the 8-bit tunes for something from a modern game, but their very synthetic sounds actually suit the Megarace universe quite well. Graphics-wise, things are rather more mixed. The car cockpits don't actually look too bad at all, despite their simple design, but the sprites for other cars, and for things like missiles in flight, serve only to show how far PC graphics have come in the last 16 years. They're not bad enough to be totally distracting, but they don't look elegant by any means.
I was surprised at how difficult I found Megarace. Maybe it's the lack of feedback in terms of physics, maybe it's the variable quality of the graphics, or maybe (and I wouldn't rule this out at all) it's just that I'm not very good at most arcade games. It was addictive enough for me to persevere for a while, but I did feel my interest begin to wane as track followed track without all that much variety. You can still buy this game here and there, usually as a download for around $5, but unless your nostalgia level is very high I'm not sure I'd bother; there are freeware games now that are better than Megarace. An interesting diversion into PC gaming history, but not a classic, even in its day.
Released back in 1994 when cd drives and Full-motion-video was still something of a novelty, 'Megarace' is an incredibly simplistic futuristic racing game that borrows its aesthetic heavily from the 80s Arnold Schwarzenegger action film 'Running Man'. Set in America in a dystopian near-future, the west is disintegrating and a new game-show has taken off whereby racers in futuristic and heavily-armed cars must race along the deserted freeways of america's cities, blowing eachother to pieces for the entertainment of the survivors of the free world as they huddle round oil-drum braziers in front of massive videoscreens in the wrecked streets.
The game has some genuinely entertaining FMV sequences between races, in which an actor playing a slimy gameshow host named 'Lance Boyle' does a great job of imitating the equally unpleasant gameshow host from 'Running Man', but sadly the game itself is utterly repetitive and about as interactive as a modern-day internet flash game, only allowing you to move your car left and right and fire at cars that appear one-at-a-time ahead of you as the cd spools a looped fmv track (that admittedly looks impressive and contains numerous loops, twists and turns) in the background. The sprites look poor and totally out of place, and the gameplay is practically non-existent, and really Megarace is nothing more than a novelty game created to capitalise on the then-cutting-edge cd/fmv technology of the day. Worth a look for nostalgia reasons perhaps, and the acted FMV suequences are suprisingly good, but as a racing game Megarace has very little going for it at all.