Atari Jaguar

from AEO Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 14


 |||   Checkered Flag
 |||   By: Mark "Stingray" Santora
/ | \  GEnie: AEO.4  Delphi: SANTORA
       -------------------------------------------------------------------

It begins with a sound. The purr comes to life and surrounds you,
echoing through your head. It is almost deafening. Your heart starts
to pound harder. It gets louder, almost blocking out the revving
engine noise. Then it happens, in a flash of light the green comes;
and the race begins.


=-=-=-=-=-=-=
//// Overview
=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Taking a break from blasting imps, aliens, and predators, you strap
yourself into the first full fledged racing game for the Jaguar,
Checkered Flag.

In this tribute to Virtua Racing you control your racer as you speed
around 10 different tracks with 6 different views, in four different
weather conditions, with up to 5 drones that compete with you for the
title. As you can see, there are quite a number of different options
in this game.

A quick note: This review is based on having played Checkered Flag for
over a week. So, none of those, "he only played it for five minutes
comments," please.


=-=-=-=-=-=-=
//// The Game
=-=-=-=-=-=-=

After the title screen comes the set up screen. Here is where the best
part of Checkered Flag lies. You can control just about everything in
the game. First you start with your car. What Color, sir? Choose
between 6 color combinations. Next, what's it like outside? The
weather is either Sun, Rain, Fog, or Dark (available with joypad code
8,4,7,3 when "weather" is highlighted). Next your airfoil, sir, would
you like that high or low? Tires, dry or wet? Now, would you like to
control the 6 speed transmission yourself or would you prefer the 5
speed automatic? And how many of the 5 drones would you care to race
against? Fine. thank you. Is this a tournament, single race, or free
practice? Good. How many laps would you like to go sir? Up to 99, we
do have to sleep, you know. Splendid. And finally, which of our 10
tracks would you like to drive? If there were any more questions I
would be certain a butler was hovering about. After selecting from
your plethora of options, hit A, B, or C and let's go!

You are on the starting line with the Announcer, very crisply saying,
"Gentlemen, start your engines!" You drop your car into gear and your
engine screams into action, redlining. When the starting light turns
green, you speed off into the horizon. As previously stated, Checkered
Flag is a tribute to Virtua Racing. Your car, the opponents, and the
landscape are all comprise of polygons. The only bitmaps are the
excellent skies that are the horizon.

There are six different views in the game for you to choose from.
View one is in the car looking out from the drivers position. View two
has you just outside the car just above your airfoil. View three
places you about 5 feet above and behind your airfoil. View four is
like a helicopter chase view of the race. View five is a little lower
than the helicopter chase, but much closer to the car. View six best
represents another helicopter chase, but from quite a bit higher up.
The exterior views smoothly flow from one to the other. They are
changed by pressing buttons one through six on your numeric pad. I
find that views three and four are the best for the game.

Your joypad controls the movement of the car, left turns you left and
right turns you right. When using a manual transmission, pressing up
shifts you into the next higher gear. Pressing down, shifts you into a
lower gear. There are six gears in the manual transmission.

Control is one of the main factors that seems to have everyone
talking. Of course, I picked up Checkered Flag on the day of release
and my initial comments were not very good. The control is
exceptionally touchy. The manual refers to steering as, "While holding
the joypad down, the car will turn a small amount at first, then will
turn more sharply before lessening again." What does this mean? It
means that you can not hold the pad down while you turn. If you do,
you will end up turning ninety degrees and crash into whatever polygon
is there. Trust me, you do a lot of crashing in this game.

Thank god your car is invulnerable. It does not get damaged, it does
not blow up. It either stops completely, slows down, or flips - a lot.
And it always ends up on its wheels. (I think they are taking this
cat/jaguar thing a little far.)

Another thing to note about the flipping is that while you are
flipping you still have control of your car! If you keep your
accelerator depressed, you will keep moving once you land. You can
also steer your car somewhat, while you are flipping to help you
correct your course once you land. The problem with the steering in
this game is what will keep it from becoming a full blown hit like
AvP.

On the other hand, and if I didn't mention this there would be plenty
of angry CF players out there, you can turn around. In other words,
this game is not on rails. You can drive anywhere on the track you
want. Sure, you can't drive over the water, but who can? So in essence
you get 20 tracks, 10 in one direction and 10 in the other.

There is also a pit right next to the starting line. You can pull in,
and pull out. As far as I can tell there is no practical purpose for
the pit. I wish there had been. Perhaps if you damaged you car, or in
long races if your tires wore down. Maybe someone in your pit crew
telling you how many laps you've done.


=-=-=-=-=-=-=
//// Graphics
=-=-=-=-=-=-=

The graphics are quite colorful. Your car is sharply animated and the
horizon smoothly comes into view from the lower camera angles. As you
move up, though, the horizon jumps into the frame much like
Cybermorph.  However, the distances to the horizon are accurately
portrayed here by the use of color. The colors are faded and less
vibrant in the distance than they are in the immediate vicinity of
your car.

Speaking of distance, there are several things that can hinder your
driving ability (besides the control). There is Fog, which is very
nicely implemented. In fact, you must specifically change your tires
for it. The distance is covered in a wet looking blanket, and so is
the road. Without the Wet tires, you're all over the place more than
usual. The Rain isn't that impressive an effect. The rain is flat and
boring looking and appears to be placed on as a sort of transparency
behind your car. Ok, imagine the HUD on AvP. That's where the rain is.
It isn't half a mile down the road. And the road doesn't "look" wet.
You know little puddles and such. The best of the weather conditions
is night. The darkness is great and I find it to be the most
impressive of all the backgrounds and driving simulations. It kinda
reminds me of the classic, Night Driver.

On the screen you have the race course in front of you laid out and
your speed indicator, gear, position, lap time and best lap time,
tachometer, and your track map. All of these remain on screen
throughout your race. You can, by pressing the option button on the
set up screen, turn off the tachometer, and stop the race map from
spinning - or turn it off as well. From the option screen you can also
customize the controls of your pad. Default settings are "A" for
accelerate, "B" for brake, and "C" for cruise. From within the game
the Option Button gives you access to the sound f/x and music volume,
which you can alter. These alterations, along with the pad controls
and the screen display will be saved to the cartridge's flash memory.
Like all the other Jaguar cartridges to date, up to 100,000 changes
can be made before the memory is no longer usable.

The five drones (maximum) that you race against are just as well drawn
as you. Unfortunately, they are difficult to see at times until you
are almost on top of them. All of the sudden you seem to be on top of
them, and then you are, literally. You crash and go flipping through
the air, and then you're on the road again. The sound of the other
cars are not very well used, as it is difficult to tell sometimes if
they have passed you because you can't hear them!


=-=-=-=-=-=
//// Sound
=-=-=-=-=-=

The music in the game is one of the best parts. For each of the ten
tracks there is a specific tune. There is also a specific tune for the
opening screen and option screen as well as the "Race Winner" screen.
The music is top class, different than Tempest 2000, but then that
type of music wouldn't work here. The sound effects are limited to
that between your car engine and the other cars whizzing past you.


=-=-=-=-=-=-=
//// vs. Lynx
=-=-=-=-=-=-=

I know, I know, it isn't really fair to compare a 64 bit console to a
8/16-bit handheld. But I felt that this review would be strangely
incomplete without it. Some say that the handling is identical between
the two versions of the game, so I dusted off my Lynx case, dropped in
my Checkered Flag card and played again. Like the Jag version, your
car is invulnerable. It will come to a complete stop or spin 360
degrees before allowing you to take control of it. But unlike the Lynx
version, the Jaguar version has multiple views. As for the control,
the Lynx version handles much better. It handles exactly how you think
it would handle for a video game. It doesn't overturn you for holding
the pad.

Also where the Lynx version shines over its younger brother is in the
Lynxability of it. This is my biggest gripe with the Jaguar version,
a one player game. If a split screen wasn't possible (I don't see why
not) than you should at least be able to link the systems together
like Doom. This would severely helped the gameplay of the Jaguar
version. We all know there is nothing more fun than beating your
friend at a video game. Don't believe me? How many times do you see
people lining up to play Mortal Kombat 2 against a friend. It's one
thing to beat up a computer, but beating your friend is another story.


=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
//// Conclusion
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

I was disappointed in the end product of Checkered Flag for the Jaguar.
I was expecting more, at least a two player option. I could at least
forgive the harshness of the controls but without it, is just becomes
a VR knock-off that can be fun, but requires patience to learn to
drive. And then after a while, you end up wondering what else is there
to do in the game besides drive in circles. We can only hope the
Checkered Flag 2 will be what we hoped Checkered Flag would be.

If you are in desperate need for a driving game, I'm not telling you
to buy it, but you could do worse. With some other racing games in the
pipeline, perhaps you should save your money and pick up other stuff
until then.


=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
//// Final Ratings
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

       Title: Checkered Flag             JagNet: No
      Design: Rebellion                 Players: One
Published by: Atari Corp.             Available: Now (US, UK)
       Price: $59.95

Here's the Summary ratings:
    "*" is a whole
     "+" is a half
   5 stars maximum


Graphics - **+   They are good, but not great.  After 6 months delay,
                 you wonder if this was the best they could do.
Audio    - ***   Sound f/x are only adequate, but the music helps out.
Control  - *+    It just doesn't work all that well.
Gameplay - **    Just below average. If it was average, you could
                 control it better.
Overall  - **+   There are other racers in the pipeline. Wait for them
                 unless you need to buy it.


Pts Stars  AEO Ratings
""" """""  """""""""""
 10 *****  GAMING NIRVANA!!! - You have left reality behind... for good.
  9 ****+  Unbelieveable GAME!! - Your family notices you're often absent.
  8 ****   Fantastic Game!! - You can't get enough playtime in on this.
  7 ***+   Great Game! - Something to show off to friends or 3DOers.
  6 ***    Good game - You find yourself playing this from time to time.
  5 **+    Ho-hum - If there's nothing else to do, you play this.
  4 **     Waste of time - Better to play this than play in traffic.
  3 *+     Sucks - Playing in traffic sounds like more fun.
  2 *      Sucks Badly - You'd rather face an IRS audit than play this.
  1 +      Forget it - ... but you can't; it's so badly done, it haunts you.
  0 -      Burn it - Disallow programmer from ever writing games again.


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