Book review: Digital Retro – Gordon Laing

Another reprint of an old review from

People of my age grew up during one of the most exciting periods in computing history. Computers were just moving from the business world of mainframes, time-sharing and minicomputers and in to the domain of the personal user. For the first time, it was feasible for a member of the general public to get their hands on a real computer and to be able to do new and exciting things with them. The roots of this movement can be traced back to the mid 70’s and the MITS Altair 8800 which could be bought in kit form or pre-assembled. Of course, others, especially at the Homebrew Computer Club in Silicon Valley were working on their own home made devices for no other reason than they could.

From these humble beginning, a huge industry was spawned that produced multitudes of different computers, none of which were compatible with each other the way the ubiquitous PC is today.

Anyone who was involved with microcomputers between the golden years of 1975 to around 1990 will remember the intense rivalry. Were you a Speccy fan or a Commodore C64 user? Were you allied to the Atari ST or Commodore Amiga? Did the Atari 800 or Apple II impress you?

Digital Retro by Gordon Laing draws on his regular retro column in the sadly now defunct PCW magazine and brings together some 44 machines, including key games consoles, that were released between 1975 and 1988. Along the way you can read about the Commodore Pet, BBC Micro, Oric 1 and Dragon 32 as well as lesser known or vaguely remembered machines such as the NASCOM 1, Tangerine Microtan 65, Jupiter Ace and the ill fated Mattel Aquarius which has the dubious distinction of having the shortest period on the market, being withdrawn after just 6 months.

Each machine gets an ‘overview’, ‘a company history’, ‘did you know?’ and what ‘happened next’ sections along with all new photography of each machine. This makes a nice change as many machines are always documented with the same old tired images. The new ones are often large, high quality and in many cases show how the machines have fared over the years – the PET had a few rust marks!

The text is fascinating and full of interesting snippets. I found the background information particularly absorbing, especially on some of the less well known machines. Gordon Laing has managed to interview a great many industry names including various Tramiels, Chuck Peddle and Joe Decuir and it shows in the resulting insights.

I noticed one typo where the Atari ST’s special features had been repeated for the Acorn Archimedes which was a pity but otherwise everything seemed accurate.

The machines are presented in release date order providing an interesting overview of computer development during the period. A side effect of this is that some machines appear so glaring underpowered compared to their peers that one has to ask ‘why did they bother?’. You may also do a double take on the original IBM PC – a cassette port?

Naturally there are some gaps, mainly due to a lack of example machines in good enough condition to photograph or simply for space reasons. I would have liked to have seen the Enterprise 128, Sord M5 and the almost unknown DAI which I seriously considered against the Atari 400 when I was looking for my first computer back in 1980.


Overall this is a fine book and Gordon Laing is to be congratulated on the breadth and accuracy of the material it presents. The all new photography is the icing on the cake. I can only hope that an expanded edition or a volume 2 appears at some point to mop up the remaining machines from the golden age of home computing.

Book Review: Atari Inc.: Business is Fun

Having been a hardcore Atari nut since the late 70’s when the VCS came out then moving through the various 8bits (400, 800, 130XE, 800XL), STs (520 STm, 4160STe, Mega STe, Falcon) etc, I was looking forward to this book immensely.

The authors are well known in the Atari community, particularly Curt Vendel who has a stunningly improbable collection of documentation, prototypes and source code. Heck, he even has one of their old mainframes. Marty Goldberg is also steeped in Atari-ness and well known amongst the hard core. Basically, if you wanted a book written by those who know, this is it.

First, the bad news. Whoever edited this book needs shooting. Some pages had as many as a dozen typos. Some sentences just don’t parse and the photos have various captioning issues. Oddly, great big chunks go by without so much as a missing apostrophe. Go figure.

Once you get past that, what you have is a stunningly thorough book that covers Atari’s history from the lead up to its inception as a company to the sale of the struggling once mighty entity to the Tramiels. (The next volume will cover their part of the story).

The authors have interviewed a great many Atari alumni, key industry figures and had access to Atari’s old email system, engineering notes and more. The result is a wide ranging, hopefully authoritative and detailed history. Along the way, the truth behind many long standing Atari stories/myths such as the cartridge burial in Mexico, the Amiga chipset saga and others are discussed, along with documentary evidence of the reality.

I thought I knew pretty much everything about this period of Atari but there were several projects discussed that were new to me. Machines I’d never heard of, even if they’d only made it as an on paper concept as well as ones that got to more functional states. There were also quite a few people I’d not realised were ex-Atari and it was fascinating reading what they did there. There are lots of good photos although as someone else noted, the reproduction quality isn’t always great. Maybe when this finally comes out on Kindle it will have better quality images.

One of the book’s stated aims is to recreate the atmosphere at Atari, which it does well and focuses on the people and internal ‘policies’ to a larger extent than most books of this type. It was also interesting to read the various problems the company had to deal with, the politics between them and Warners, Atari’s owners for much of this key period and the damage done by the marketing department at times.

The only thing I’d have liked more on was the development of the 8bit series. I was a huge fan of the Atari 800 and wanted more on the OS development, the chipset design process and the peripherals. There is a lot on these machines but it’s nothing that wasn’t already well documented elsewhere. It was only after reading this book I found out the OS was bought in, something not mentioned here.

Overall though, if you’re an Atari fan, particularly in their first incarnation (or two), this is an essential read. This will end up as a 3 volume set and with this book alone weighing in at almost 1,000 pages, Atari will end up one of the most thoroughly documented companies of this era. A fantastic piece of work. I’m looking forward to volume 2, I just hope the editing’s a bit better!

You can buy Atari Inc.: Business is Fun from Amazon UK or Amazon US

Atari Jaguar – Fight For Life – Review

Last one… <sniff>

Iain Laskey previews what is possibly the most eagerly awaited Jag title yet, Fight For Life

Every console these days must have its beat-em-up and after some decidedly lacklustre titles, the Jaguar bounces back with a real winner.

Fight For Life has been a long while coming. More than any other Jaguar game, it has been back to the drawing board time and time again as the opposition have upped the ante. It looks like the wait has been worth it though.

From the moment you plug the game in, you know it’s something special. The intro screen is like a mini pop video with the music and fighting synchronised along with zooms and cuts from one view to another. Choose from training, two player or tournament and the battling begins. The plot is largely irrelevant. You can play against the computer or a human opponent. The computer plays a pretty mean game and is great to practice with but you can’t beat (sic) playing against a friend to really get the competitive juices going.

Each of the eight opponents have their own special moves as well as the standard ones. Every time you beat one, you get to choose two of their special moves to add to your own. As you progress, your range of kicks and punches increases. However, there are so many, most people will probably settle on a few favourites. There are also combo-moves which are extremely hard to get right but well worth it in terms of hit points and spectacular on-screen action. How about a face slap combo? Try and remember >^B<^B>^B! With button combinations like that though, a few more hit point wouldn’t have gone amiss.

A fun feature is an invisible force field that surrounds the play area. If you can push your opponent into this, you get to see them electrocuted by long blue sparks. The jerking bodies and sound effects are not for the squeemish!

The computer controlled opponents each have a definite personality and what works against one may not work against the next so it’s a constant learning process getting the tactics right. To beat an opponent, you need to win two out of three matches. The early ones are soon mastered but later ones do take a bit more work. If successful, you get a password to allow you to keep the new skills you have gained.

Given that so many people try to put down the Jaguar, the speed and detail of the graphics should be a revelation to many. Each fighter is fully texture mapped and the various moves are well animated. A nice touch are the little ‘dances’ that the winners perform at the end of each match. The camera angle can be set to fixed or rolling. In the latter mode it pans wildly around the arena following the players. Sometimes close up, it can then fall away to a long shot. Very occasionally it can make it difficult to judge your positioning but this rarely lasts for long.

The music is good and consists of the usual techno tunes. Tempest 2000 has a lot to answer for! The sound effects whilst sparse are well chosen with kicks producing gentle whooshing noises and characters grunting and squeeling when hit hard. An awesomely deep voice introduces each new match.

Comparisons to Tekken and Virtua Fighter are inevitable. I’d be lying if I said this came into their league. Given that they come on CD with hundreds of megabytes of sounds and graphics and Fight For Life is all packed into a 4Mb cartridge, it’s an astounding achievement. It may be missing some of the polish and sophistication of Tekken but it matches them for sheer playability. The only real caveat is that for long term value for money, you need another human opponent to play against. Highly recommended.

Product: Fight For Life
Price:     £59.99
Contact: JTS Atari
Telephone: 01753 xxxxxx

Highs: Superb playability, texture mapped players, sound effects
Lows: Price, some moves tricky to achieve, no really powerful moves

In Short… The wait was worth it! 90%

Atari Jaguar – Cannon Fodder – Review

Nearly there with the retro reviews…

Cannon Fodder is the first Jaguar title from Virgin. Having been released on just about every other platform, it needs no introduction. When you first start the game, you are treated to a bouncy theme song that is rather reminiscent of Ace of Bass. Press the fire button and the action begins.

The game consists of 24 missions, each with up to 6 phases. Once each mission has been completed, you can save your current position. With so many missions to get through, this is pretty much an essential. Each mission requires you to destroy various targets in order to finish. You start off armed with machine guns but you can bolster up your kit with grenades and bazookas that can be picked up along the way. These can be a bit hard to use in the heat of battle though, requiring you to hold button B whilst pressing button C. Each enemy is dispatched with a blood curdling variety of screams and groans and buildings explode with satisfying amounts of flame and debris, the latter sometimes landing on your head if you’re not careful.

Later missions add new features including a variety of vehicles. These are a bit tougher to kill although you always board them yourself and turn the tables on the enemy. If you’re lucky you can find the Supa Dupa Boostas which add such nice things as heat seeking missiles and bullet-proof vests to your troops.

There are five different terrain types, jungle, arctic waste, desert, moorlands and underground. Each has its own set of features and traps. The enemy comes in different varieties too. It can be a bit embarrassing to pick on a single enemy with your team, only to find he’s armed with a bazooka or grenades.

The graphics are small but detailed with lots of humour as dead bodies bounce around, exploding trees fly across the screen and at the end of each level, your victorious troops jump up and down.

The sound is excellent from the intro tune to the various background noises of trickling water, howling wind and jungle sounds. The graphics however seem to be unchanged from the computer versions. The shading is fairly course with few colours being used. Even the ray-traced stills look like they haven’t been updated. The Jaguar is capable of much better than this and it’s a pity Virgin didn’t see fit to get the graphics improved for this release.

I found the controls a bit tricky at first. I think this game is more suited to a mouse. After half an hour or so though I found it much better though. The only time it got frustrating was when the troops get stuck behind an obstacle and you have to fiddle about trying to get the right angle to free them again.

Where this game really scores though is in the ‘just one more go’ stakes. Every time you die, you KNOW you can do better next time. Each level adds new features and when trip wires blow you up, you just have to try again and again until you find the best way to complete it.


Cannon Fodder won’t get top marks for its graphics but when it comes to sheer addictive gameplay, it’s a thoroughbred. This isn’t a game to show your jaguar off to your friends with but it will certainly give you many hours of good plain fun and in the end, that’s what it’s all about.

Product Name: Cannon Fodder
Publisher:         Virgin Interactive Entertainment (Europe) Ltd.
RRP:                 £49.99

Score               7 out of 10

Atari Jaguar – Defender 2K- Review

Yet more Retro goodness although rereading this, not one of my better reviews. Pretty shabby. Sorry.

Save the humans! Defender 2000 has arrived and it’s blasting time.

Once again, Jeff Minter has woven his magic to create an updated and enhanced version of the timeless arcade game Defender. There are three versions to play, Classic, Plus and 2000.

For those who aren’t old enough to remember the original, Defender has you controlling a ship that flies over a scrolling landscape protecting humans from invading nasties. There are several kinds of enemies. The main ones are landers that steal humans and use them to turn into mutants which are faster deadlier versions of landers. Other targets includes ones that break into swarmers when blasted. These are small,fast and very hard to shoot. You can either be shot or collide with trails left by certain invaders. Each level has a fixed number of enemies and when they’ve all been destoyed you get a bonus for your remaining humans. Your basic weapons are a laser and smart-bombs that destroy everything currently on screen. You get an extra life and smart-bomb every 10,000 points. If all the humans are lost then the planet explodes. It’s then wall to wall mayhem as you get attacked from all sides. The action is fast and exciting. On later levels the adrenaline really starts pumping. In my opinion, Defender is probably one of the finest games ever designed. Atari brought in the original designer and coder of the arcade version, Eugene Jarvis for final approval and he was very happy with the conversion.

Starting with the Classic version, this is a near as dammit perfect copy. The sounds effects are sampled straight from the original game. The game plays and feels just like the arcade version in almost all respects. I couldn’t find a real arcade machine to check but the end of wave graphics did seem a little different though.

The Plus version adds updated graphics with detailed, shaded sprites. The ground features some psychedelic swirling colours that only Mr Minter could provide. Finally, there are some power-ups to enhance your weaponry. This too is very playable.

Last and unfortunately least comes the 2000 mode. Whereas Tempest 2000 was a superb variation, Defender 2000 sadly doesn’t cut it. The graphics are just far too fast. The background is completely different and it’s quite hard to keep track of where you are and what’s going on. The scrolling is rough and leaps along in quite large jumps. There are some nice bonus items to collect to help make your ship a bit more powerful though. Despite many attempts at playing this version, I found it more a case of luck that skill when achieving a high score.

Each flavour of Defender has its own high score. The high score letters have those Minter sparkling trails as you add your name. There are some nicely drawn static screens too.

Another plus is some excellent techno music that’s even better than that in Tempest 2000. Crank up that volume and enjoy!

Defender 2000 has a lot to live up to after Tempest 2000. If you want an almost perfect copy of original Defender then this game is a must. The Plus version is a bonus and in some ways can be more fun to play. However, the star of the show, Defender 2000 is really just a case of ‘nice try’.

The bottom line for me though is that when I send this review cart back to Atari, I’m going to go straight down the shops to buy my own copy, just for playing Classic Defender.

Product Name: Defender 2000
Publisher:         Atari.
Telephone:        01753 xxxxxx
RRP:                £49.99

Pros:                Classic version. Sound effects, Music.
Cons:               2000 mode too hard.

Score 7

Atari Jaguar – Dragon The Bruce Lee Story – Review

You’ve seen the film, now play the game. Are you worthy to be a master of the martial arts?

I have to lay my cards on the table. I’m no great lover of beat-em-ups. They’re one of the biggest movers of the games world though and have been for some time. With Virtua Fighter and Mortal Kombat as its rivals, how does Dragon shape up?

Dragon has several different modes of play. As a single player you can choose to follow the plot of the film or just take on the computer for some serious fighting. Two player options include human versus human and two humans versus a computer controlled player. You can also choose from five difficulty levels and three speeds. It’s a brave fighter who tried tough and manic mode.

You control Bruce against the various enemy fighters. The gameplay is the usual frantic hammering of buttons and joypad bashing. There are several modes of combat controlled by your Chi rating. Each successful hit boosts your Chi and each failure reduces it. When your Chi is high enough, you get access to different sets of moves. You also have to keep an eye on your energy level as each hit you take reduces your strength. Luckily, death isn’t always permanent and if your killed, you get a chance to reprieve yourself in one last fight for the right to return again.

There are a total of ten locations, each with a progressively tougher opponent culminating in the Graveyard where you meet the Phantom who was said to be the cause of the real Bruce Lee’s death. One location, the Long Beach Stadium adds an extra twist, you only get 60 seconds to defeat your opponent.

There are so many moves in this game that it would take a serious amount of practice to even remember them all, let alone use them effectively. I counted 39 in total! Luckily, most are a combination of the A, B, C and option buttons which makes it a bit easier in the heat of the battle. Which moves are available depends on the distance between you and your enemy. The manual recommends that you practice in two player mode but with no second player until you get used to the myriad of punches, kicks and throws. A few rounds of this and I was starting to get quite proficient at head stomps. Very satisfying.

The graphics are all hand drawn which in these days of digitised fighters in games like Mortal Kombat, is a bit of a mistake. The backgrounds are nicely drawn but nothing to get excited about. The animation is good enough. By current standards, Dragon is a bit of a letdown in this department. The sound is more of the same with adequate noises and tunes. The high scores and game settings are saved but you can’t save your current position in the story.

A nice touch is a short one page resume of Bruce Lee’s life until his premature demise at 32. I wonder if they’ll ever find out how he really died?

Dragon would have been a great game if it was released a couple of years ago. As it stands, it just can’t keep up with the current crop of beat-em-ups on other machines. It doesn’t even have the extreme violence of Kasumi Ninja to give it an edge. Mortal Kombat III is on the way for the Jaguar though so hopefully we’ll soon have a quality combat title to boast about.

Product Name: Dragon The Bruce Lee Story
Publisher:          Atari.
Telephone:         01753 xxxxxx
RRP:                  £49.99

Pros: Lots of moves. Chi feature.
Cons: Average graphics and sound. No game save.

Score 5

Atari Jaguar – Flashback – Review

Is Flashback more than a flash in the pan for the Jaguar? Iain Laskey regains his memory and reports back.

Flashback is US Gold’s first Jaguar release. Unfortunately they have decided to debut with a title that has been and gone on just about every other platform. With the game now a budget title for many other systems, is it worth the full price on Jaguar?

Flashback is a kind of graphic adventure albeit a fairly simple one. You have seven levels of running, jumping, shooting and general exploring to do as you attempt to get your memory returned. I found the gameplay to be intensely frustrating. A lot of tasks boil down to precise timing for a leap or shot at an enemy and if you get it wrong you have to start again from the last save point. You cannot save the game at any place other than the predesignated save points and these are far too few. Flashback does have a curiously addictive quality though. I found myself tearing out my hair in annoyance but still trying again and again to complete each stage.

The graphics wouldn’t look out of place on a SNES and US Gold really could’ve done something to improve them. One of the games original selling points was its use of rotoscoped graphics and these do work well with some very realistic animation of the main characters. However, the overall look is less than stunning. To be fair, they have packed the cartridge with lots of very different looking levels. At fixed points you also get movie sequences to help tell the story as it unfolds.

If you like this kind of game then I’d recommend trying it before you buy. It’s not terrible but then it’s not particularly good either. Far too many Jaguar developers are taking the easy route when porting games and the console deserves and can do much better than this.

Product Name: Flashback
Publisher:         US Gold
Telephone:        0121 xxx xxxx
RRP:                £39.99

Pros: Lots to do.
Cons: Basic graphics, frustrating gameplay

Score 5


Atari Jaguar – Hoverstrike – Review

Hoverstrike adds a new twist to computer gaming. This time you have to save the human race by taking on the Terrakian pirates in an armoured hovercraft!

Hoverstrike puts you in the seat of a state of the art military hovercraft. Only you can defeat the Terrakian pirates with your firepower and cunning. Your task is to launch a pre-emptive strike in front of the main Federation armada, knocking out as much of the enemy as possible.

Hoverstrike follows the standard formula of having to complete various missions. Each one is based on certain terrain types such as water, ice or dessert. After the short mission brief, a quick animated scene shows your craft being dropped by a mothership. At this point the mayhem begins. This game is fast and furious. As soon as your hovercraft touches down, tanks, aircraft and other assorted  nasties start to attack.

It takes a little while to get the hang of the controls. Your hovercraft behaves just like a real one. If you’re flying forward and then turn, you don’t suddenly change direction, instead you start to slide sideways, gently changing direction as you do so. You can either fly this way or use the brakes to fly in a go-stop-turn-go kind of way.

Your main weapon is your photon blaster. Depending on the mission and what items you come across during the game, you can also have different missiles, mortars and flares. Your craft has a targeting system that can lock on to the nearest enemy allowing you to fire off guided missiles without having to worry too much about your accuracy.

Your hovercraft is equiped with a radar which shows primary targets, enemies and bonus items in different colours. This helps enormously. Your cockpit also shows fuel and shields.

Once each set of missions is completed, you move onto the next level and a new set of missions. The first ones are quite straightforward but even on level 2 you have some quite tricky fighting to do and it only gets harder.

You can just play this game like a standard shoot-em-up but you won’t get far. Once past the early levels, you have to start using your head as well as your trigger finger. Some missions are virtually impossible unless you make strategic use of the terrain, dodging around hills and hiding in valleys, ready to ambush your target.

The graphics are a mixed bag. On the plus side, everything is fully texture mapped. Some of the enemy vehicles and targets are beautifully rendered and look very convincing. The night time missions use shading to great effect creating an eerie sensation as you fly along in almost total darkness. On the downside, the frame rate, whilst very fast, is also very choppy. As you manoeuvre your hovercraft, it is all too easy to become disorientated as the walls and sky jerk about in a rapid succession of totally different views.

The sound is adequate. The in-game effects are basic and the music is good enough but overall, Hoverstrke is rather weak in this department.

There is only one game save and this has to be made when each mission has been finished. When you start the game, you have a choice of a new game or returning to the save.

Hoverstrike has some nice touches. The texture mapping is good and the pace is energetic, a bit like Cybermorph on speed. Unfortunately, the poor sound and sometimes choppy animation detract from what could have been a much better game. Try before you buy.

Product Name:    Hoverstrike
Publisher:            Atari
Telephone:          01753 xxxxxx
RRP:                  £49.99

Pros:        Excellent rendered graphics. Fast and fun.
Cons:          Average sound and a little repetitive after the first few missions.
Score         6

Atari Jaguar – Iron Soldier – Review

Finshed AvP and looking for a great new game to show off your Jaguar? Iron Soldier could be just what your looking for.

Iron Soldier puts you in charge of a forty-two foot high robot known as an IS or Iron Soldier. That alone is a tempting start. Your job is to defeat the Iron Fist Corporation who have conquered all the world’s governments with a military dictatorship. Your robot has been captured from the enemy and with it rests the hopes of the resistance movement.

The aim of the game is to complete sixteen missions. Each mission requires you to destroy a target or penetrate enemy positions  At the start of each one, you have to equip your IS with the various weapons you will need to complete the task. These range from assault rifles and grenades through to the ultimate weapon, a cruise missile.

Once the game begins, you can start blasting your way around. The main enemies are tanks and helicopters and these can be easily dispatched  with a quick shot of your guns. More advanced missions introduce super-tanks, planes and other nasties which are harder to deal with.

You can tread on tanks that get too close or punch buildings until they collapse, often revealing hidden ammo or new weapons which can be picked up. Later missions can be very tough unless these newer weapons have been found so it’s well worth doing some serious demolition to the cities as you wander about.

The various buildings have different properties. The fuel tanks have to be treated carefully as shooting one can create a chain explosion, damaging your IS. The Control Towers have to be destroyed quickly as they help to co-ordinate the enemy.

Unlike other weapons, the cruise missile has to be controlled all the way to the target. When fired, the screen changes to show the view from just behind the missile as it flies along. You have to guide it around buildings and other obstacles to the target. You can even fly around yourself if you want.

The graphics are impressive with a good sense of 3D. As you walk, you can look around  to see what’s going on. You can even look down to admire those iron legs stomping about on the enemy. The explosions are excellent with a mixture of huge flaming blasts and big chunks of debris flying about. On later levels it’s well worth just getting a big set of guns and shooting the place up to see the spectacular carnage.

The helicopters and tanks are particularly well done with texture mapped surfaces that look very realistic. Some of the buildings have excellent shading that shows off the Jaguar’s huge palette of colours to good effect.

The sound matches up to the graphics with a range of suitable moody tunes and good sound effects. In case you can’t wait to hear the tunes for later missions, the options screen lets you play them all.

Unlike many Jaguar games, the delay as each mission ‘loads’ in minimal. The game remembers which missions have been completed and any new weapons you have found. To round off the package, you get a joypad overlay. The manual has a replica of this for photocopying in case the original gets mislaid. Nice one, Atari!

Atari have a winner on their hands with Iron Soldier. It’s great fun to play and the missions often require some serious thinking rather than brute destructive power to complete them. The graphics and sound are well up to scratch too. This is the sort of game the Jaguar was designed for.

Product Name:    Iron Soldier
Publisher:            Atari.
Telephone:           01753 xxxxxx
RRP:                   £49.99

Pros:  Great graphics, great gameplay.
Cons: A few more missions wouldn’t go amis.
Score 8

Atari Jaguar – Power Drive Rally – Review

(Another ST Review article from days gone bye)

Power Drive Rally steers its way on to the Jaguar. Iain Laskey puts on his crash helmet and gives it a spin.

Time Warner Interactive have finally arrived on the Jaguar scene with their first title, Power Drive Rally. This is an enhanced version of the title Power Drive that was released on the SNES and PC some time back.

I must admit to have been expecting another average game having played it briefly some months back. How wrong could I have been! This game has obviously had a lot of effort spent on it and now oozes playability and great attention to detail.

Power Drive Rally starts you off with a choice of 2 standard cars. From here you go through 48 different races in a bid to complete the rally. At each stage, you need to perform a qualifier race before going up against the computer controlled car. If you complete the race in the given time, you win cash. If you’re first, you get a bonus. If you lose you have to pay again to race. The object of the game is not to run out of cash. If you do then it’s all over.

After each race you have to spend your precious winnings on repairs to your car. After several races you can upgrade to a better model, funds permitting. Periodically you get put through a skill test which involves reversing, stopping on lines and finding your way through a circle of cones within a given time. This is easy the first few times but soon gets much harder. By level 20 onwards, trying to turn tight circles in snow becomes a real test of your control and when every cone you hit loses you 15 seconds, it can become a bit frustrating too. However, it does have that ‘just-one-more-go’ factor that keeps dragging you back for more.

The various courses are set in different countries. Weather conditions from dry to snow along with day or night racing all help to add to the atmosphere. If you’re unlucky enough to be driving past water when lightning strikes, the flash can really dazzle you. In addition, the roads often contain obstacles that can be steered around or tackled head on. It’s great fun to see your car bounce through the air after hitting some rocks.

The control of the car is excellent. You can make full use of the different conditions to skid and slide around corners. The dynamics are spot on and it feels very realistic when driving. Each type of car has genuinely different driving characteristics and needs to be learned to get the best from it.

During each race, your navigator barks out the directions such as ‘right 90’ and ‘left hairpin’ to warn you of the track ahead. The computer controlled car is fairly easy to keep up with initially but gets much more proficient later in the game and becomes extremely hard to beat but never so hard as to put you off.

Power Drive Rally is full of wonderful little details such as the tracks left by the cars, tinkles of broken headlights when you catch barriers and changing engine pitch inside tunnels. Reversing lights come on to help you during those delicate backwards manoeuvres.

The graphics are nicely detailed and well animated. The cars and other objects cast realistic shadows. The sky is reflected in water and the reflections moves as you do. The tunes complement the game well. The spot sound effects as well as the navigators voice are all clear.

There are very few Jaguar games that I would consider essential purchases but Power Drive Rally is one of them. The whole game feels very polished and is great fun to play. After what has been far too long, the Jaguar is finally getting games worthy of its power.

Product Name:    Power Drive Rally
Publisher:            Time Warner Interactive
Telephone:           01604 xxxxxx
RRP:                   £49.99

Pros: Loads of tracks, speech, attention to detail, realistic dynamics.
Cons: Can be frustrating, only one opponent.
Score 9