Car games! Aren't you just tyred of them? Feel like braking the cassette instead of loading it? Exhausted with the monotony of endless roads? Will I sure was until Overlander crashed through the letterbox. It's so brill it drove me up the wall! (That's it, no more motor jokes – Ed).
The year is 2025. The world is not as it was - well not as it could've been if it had become what it was going to be (Eh? Ed). Anyway, our once green and luscious planet is now a scorched wasteland, devoid of all vegetable life (yes, including Keith Chegwin). And the reason?
Yes, those chilly things you jam up your armpit every morning caused the end of the world. Why? The ozone layer. Deodorants destroyed the ozone layer and the sun happily baked the planet. Naturally, the peoples of the world (apart from washing more frequently) decided against being oxidised and retreated underground instead, to live in vast subterranean cities while the Earth roasted at Gas mark 92.
Meanwhile, roving bands of beefy blokes claimed the deserted freeways and roads for themselves. The only people who dared travel them were the beefier car freaks who devoted their lives to adding extras to cars. And we're not just talking their fluffy dice and intermittent windscreen wipers here - I mean the hard stuff: battering rams (cor!), missile launchers (wow!) and turbo chargers (gosh!). The hardened collectors of these pieces became known as... Overlanders.
And that remarkably enough is what you plat in this game, an Overlander. You must smuggle either counterfeit for the Crimelords or secret papers for the Federation. Whichever you choose, it's off in Allegro 3 (as I affectionately names my car) and down Devil's Straight where death is but a skid mark away (honk!).
But wait! First you must buy some petrol and extra add-ons before you embark, shadowy flank and all that. Most things are too expensive for you to purchase at the start but you can afford stuff like turbo chargers (extra acceleration), flame-throwers (throws flames) and battering rams (rams better). These cheapo items however have a limited warranty and are likely to conk out after a use of three.
Of course, this smuggling racket of yours isn't as cushy as it sounds. Out to get you are the gangs of surface dwellers, intent on exacting the exact toll for travelling their roads... death (crash of distant ominous thunder).
The road is quite nice actually. A green gliding affair as smooth as a conveyor belt, rising and falling with the programmed undulations of the terrain. Trees and the odd overturned car pass down the side of the road, and the mountains on the horizon bounce up and down in realistic fashion. Allegro 3 steers left and right with gentle smoothness, responsive beyond belief.
Cars and bikes shoot past you. The cars hang around and either have to be rammed into the scenery or blasted by your forward cannon. Motorbikes go faster than you and try to collide with Allegro 3 in true Japanese style. These too, must be shot. As you progress, gun turrets begin to zoom past and occasionally a big mega-truck will appear, depositing grenades in your path.
Your car is very easy to steer since you can't actually drive off the road, so curling round those light bends and abrupt corners is a cinch. However you do need to be skillful at steering to avoid the bikes and shoot the trucks.
So what is the challenge here? I mean steering is easy, you can shoot and ram other cars, and there's extra weaponry to boot - so what will keep me at it? Well, the attraction is that there's an end and a purpose to the driving. In other similar games (Out Run, Road Blasters) you just go on and on and on (i.e. very boring). In this game there's an actual final point to reach, an incentive in the form of extra add-ons to buy, and therefore more playability and variation.
This is a game that developed the more you played it. A simple idea when coupled with good programming works amazingly well.
This month's budget driving game is, would you believe a re-release. It's promoted as the first game to enable you to climb hills and drive down into valleys. And indeed it does. You can also shoot things and buy add—ons. It's even 'environmentally aware' - the plot's all to do with the ozone layer and our 'once green and beautiful planet'. What more could you want?
Otherwise, it's pretty much a standard driving game. It's all monochrome, of course, but the graphics are all very nice. Those hills and valleys undulate pretty effectively, motorbikes weave from side to side frantically before disappearing under your tyres and there are some quite fetching backgrounds. It's a bit like Enduro Racer with twice the number of wheels (and things to shoot). But it's not quite as playable as the old biking classic - the controls don't seem to respond quite as realistically, and the skidding-round corners is a bit questionable. Oh, and the shooting can be a little haphazzard. But it's nothing to worry about.
If you're wanting to add a driving game to your collection, and can't quite stretch to a copy of Chase HQ, Overlander is a lot better than most purpose-built budget efforts.
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