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Newman/Haas Indy Car Featuring Nigel Mansell

Genre: Racing Developer: Gremlin Graphics Software Publisher: Acclaim Players: 1-2 Released: 1994

I find it hard to write a proper review for this game. Not because it is outstandingly good. Not because it is horribly bad, either – though there are both good and bad parts. No, it’s because most of the time, this game is overwhelmingly mediocre in almost every regard! It doesn’t stand out in any technical area, in terms of racing it doesn’t cover a particularly exciting variety – heck, it isn’t even endorsed by a very familiar racer/celebrity!

Granted, Nigel Mansell won the Indycar (known as CART at that time) Championship in 1993, following right after his first (and only) Grand Prix win on the Formula One Circuit, but in terms of well-known drivers 1994 had far more famous people to offer (Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, or – in terms of Indycar racers – Al Unser, Jr. and Bobby Rahal come to mind). It was a rather short-lived celebrity status, that’s what I’m getting at, one whose fame definitely didn’t last into more recent days. Pretty much the same could be said for this game.

Apologies to any Indycar fans who might be reading this, but I don’t find this particular kind of racing all that appealing. Maybe that’s because, being from Europe (most of the Indycar tracks are in the USA – as reflected in this game: Most of the sixteen tracks available are located in the U.S., a few in Canada, and one in Australia), all I know about this circuit I learned from games like this. And honestly, what I see here isn’t very interesting. With a few exceptions, most of the tracks are more or less simply ovals with only a few have steeper curves or chicanes thrown in.

The presentation is a bit confusing. In the start menu you have six options, four of which are represented by huge symbols while two of them (the password section and “Exit” symbolizing the start of the game confusingly enough) are small text options that get lost in between the icons easily. Other than that the options are represented in text boxes, with only a tinny main theme as the sole soundtrack. This doesn’t really set the mood for an exciting race. Games are saved by means of a twenty-six-character password – that spoils the fun quite a bit right here.

You have quite a few options, which range from more or less useless (like setting the speedometer display from mph to kph for those who prefer metrics) to usual (automatic or manual gear shift) to rather nice (more or less free button configuration of your three-button game pad). At the start of each race, you have three further options (Yeah, this game is keen on options): you can practice the course as often as you like without any opponents, you can opt to “qualify” (racing the empty track for two laps in order to reach a good time) and finally start the race itself. If you select “race” right away you have to start from the twelfth and last position, making the race a bit harder than when you placed yourself ahead with a good qualifying time first. You get only one shot at qualification though. At least some thought went into this, but it gets kind of bland after a while, and once you know the tracks by heart the qualification doesn’t make that much of a difference.

The gameplay itself is… okay. Really, I can’t say much more about that. The controls aren’t bad, but they aren’t too good, either. You’ll slide from left to right in no time and don’t get a decent feeling of traction, but the controls aren’t sluggish either. The tracks themselves, while plentiful, are rather boring however. Most are variations of simply oval courses and are way too easy to win since you can pretty much just race through with hardly any braking and with only some left turns. Once you have to race corners, though, the difficulty takes quite a leap. This is mainly because objects don’t zoom in but rather skip towards you. For example, when you crash into a roadside sign it seems as if you were teleporting across the screen.

If you crash too often into buildings or opponents, your car can actually be damaged so far that you are unable to further complete the race. Also, with more collisions you may increase the risk of running out of gas. It is here where the main difference between “arcade” and “simulation” mode is located. In arcade mode, you hardly notice any consequences of crashes besides of a rudimentary graphical indicator on the bottom right of the screen. Therefore, it comes as a huge surprise when you suddenly find yourself unable to move because the game has decided that you now have officially “crashed.” Also, in “arcade” mode refueling is pretty much unnecessary (except on a few occasions): Even if the game indicates that you might run out of fuel shortly before the end of the fourth lap, you can still complete the fifth and final round without doing a pit stop. In simulation, damage and fuel play a slightly bigger role, but not by an incredibly huge margin.

The graphics are a mixed bag. The main screen is just horrible, with an ugly pixilated mug shot of celebrity endorsement Nigel Mansell gracing the main menu. The menus are very bland, and the scenes that play after a race has been completed are barely 8-bit worthy. The in-game visuals are decent, however. Buildings are simply huge white or orange blocks, but otherwise the looks are colorful and with a bit of detail. Nothing to write home about, but at least they look like they belong on a 16-bit-machine.

The sound, on the other hand, is bland and boring. Besides of the aforementioned tinny soundtrack, the engine sounds are rather monotonous, and aurally your opponents are next to nonexistent. It isn’t ear-rapingly bad, but it should be more than just tolerable in order to make for an enjoyable experience.

Noteworthy is the inclusion of a two-player mode. While it may seem neat at first, the implementation is awful, because the frame rate drops immensely, and the object skip becomes unbearable. Racing into a corner on a split-screen with two or more opponents onscreen becomes a slow and near uncontrollable experience. So, while a neat feature, the two-player mode is pretty much unbearable and useless.

So overall, we get a rather tepid mix of a racing game, boasting a few nice features and decent race controls buried in a bland presentation, with many options but few diversions…

…kind of like real Indy car racing, actually.

SCORE: 5 out of 10

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