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by Robert Jung
Atari Corp., for the Atari Jaguar
It's time to strap on the helmets and return to the tracks; as the name implies, CHECKERED FLAG presents auto racing on the Atari Jaguar. As with the Lynx game, the class is Indy racing, with the ground-hugging racers that symbolize breakneck speed. The usual elements are all here: cars to pass, curves to negotiate, and roadside obstacles to avoid, all while trying to be the first across the finish line. Game options allow the player to choose weather conditions, car configuration, and race duration, while ten tracks and up to five opponents promise to keep the player busy.
It's clear that CHECKERED FLAG was meant to be Atari's attempt to emulate other polygon racing titles, such as VIRTUA RACING and STUNT RACE FX. It's partially successful, as this game offers more variety and options than other games of this type. The selections are not trivial, as the choice of tires, transmission, and foils have a significant impact on the car's performance. Similarly, the weather and race options add to the replay value, allowing anything from a quick sprint to an endurance contest.
But while CHECKERED FLAG advances from other games in some areas, it also falls short in others. There is no two-player mode, which is disappointing for those who enjoy competing with a friend. The controls are a bigger problem: a "geometric sensitivity" is used, and the result is that the sharpness of the turn increases the longer that the directional pad is held. First-time players will be caught by surprise and spend some time oversteering into obstacles. Mastery is possible, however -- tapping on the pad and using wet tires helps a lot -- and then the game can be enjoyed in earnest.
The sights and sounds of CHECKERED FLAG are respectable, though there is certainly room for improvement. Polygon graphics are flat, with little of the advanced shading or lighting effects that the Jaguar can do, and the backgrounds are colorful but nondescript. The screen rate and animation speed is reasonably fast, though crashes are a little jumpy. On the plus side, six different camera views are available, and assorted amusing touches decorate the various tracks.
In the audio department, sound effects consist mostly of generic engine noises, tire squeals, and car crashes. There's nothing wrong with this, except that it's nothing that haven't been heard before. The background tunes that play throughout the game are better. They range from merely quiescent to quite catchy, and manage to be enticing without being overly distracting.
Taken as a whole, CHECKERED FLAG is a decent game, though not a showcase title for the Jaguar. It's held back from greatness by a few shortcomings, most notably the quirky controls, and leaves the feeling that more could have been done. Still, for those who can accept these flaws and take the time to adjust to the game, they'll find it a fairly enjoyable experience.
No, it's not the best driving game of all time. But it's certainly far from the worst, too.
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