[Acorn Gaming]



[ 4/5 **** 4/5 ]

Review by Christopher Joseph, Copyright ©1998

Drifter is a racing game in the style of console games like Wipeout, in which you control a craft with jet engines and no actual contact with the ground. I'm not going to attempt to compare Drifter to the console equivalents, because I haven't played them, but I can certainly say that it is more fun than any other previously released RISC OS racing game.


In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I don't actually like racing games as a genre, possibly because I'm not much good at them. Drifter scores well on the first of those - I thoroughly enjoyed playing it - but not so well on the second, as I finished it after only a few days playing (albeit on the easiest speed setting), which probably means that a racing expert could do it in an afternoon with very few problems. On the other hand, having finished it I then went back and played it again (and not just to experiment with the "secret" extra craft), so it will survive beyond that initial dash to the finish line.

Whilst the game can be played direct from floppy disc, it should be quicker to install it onto your hard disc. Unfortunately it isn't, because this process does not appear to work properly - the title-screen is loaded, and then the game asks for the key-disc. Once this has been inserted, it then demands disc two, and proceeds to load the track and graphics data from that, rather than from the installed copies on the hard disc. [Ed: it worked okay for me, so it might work for you if you're lucky]

Another complaint at this point is the appalling behaviour of the game in respect to the monitor, which appears to be standard with The Fourth Dimesion's "Risc PC" games. Before loading, it asks what monitor you have, and then proceeds to load a mode definition file (MDF) containing only a single mode into memory - and being 320x256 this is no use for the desktop, so it is necessary to re-load your own MDF (or reboot the machine) after playing. What's more, the definition supplied is not actually very good - I would recommend selecting the "other" option, even if you only have the Acorn-supplied MDF, and certainly if you have an alternative "square" mode (such as the one supplied with The ARM Club's !GameOn).


The game itself has no particularly outstanding flaw - the various craft available handle reasonably well, although I was unable to distinguish between most of them. The only two that stand out are the "Hyper" bonus craft, which travels much faster than any of the standard ones, and the "Exocet", which has an extremely useful self-repair feature. The computer drivers are well simulated, and do appear to be actually driving round the circuit, rather than merely following a pre-recorded route. Not only do they swerve to avoid you (sometimes!) but they also make mistakes (crashing into walls and bridges), and can be quite aggressive (towards each other, as well as the player) when a suitable opportunity presents itself.

Graphically, the game is somewhat disappointing - the track is entirely flat, and the scenery and craft both lack variety. There are about three different kinds of wall, and a bridge over the track, as well as a couple of unique features on later levels, whilst the craft are distinguished only by the patterns on their wings. There is also a problem with the mapping technique used - the position of the scenery and the driveable area are stored separately (rather than using the edges of the track to control where the craft can travel), with the result that there are walls you can drive through, and places where you crash into thin air over the track. Whilst these can easily be learnt and avoided, a little more care in design would have removed this problem completely.


In addition to the various "normal" areas of flooring, there are a few squares scattered around each track that have special effects on the player (although not on the computer drivers) - there are three that affect your speed in various ways, one that causes you to spin around on the spot and one that gives you an extra missile. All the craft come initially equipped with missiles, which can be fired in an attempt to damage an opponent's craft - when hit by a missile, craft slow down temporarily and take damage to their shields. The Exocet, in addition to its repair system, allegedly carries homing missiles, but these seem to be barely more accurate than the normal kind.

Tracks are grouped into pairs, and when you can come first or second in both of a pair you are allowed to move onto the next two tracks. All tracks that you currently have access to can be selected from the practice screen, allowing you to improve your laptimes and tactics before racing. However, it doesn't remember which tracks you can practice on - even though the game saves the highscore table - so if you get to track seven before quitting, and come back another time, you have to play the game through from the beginning before you can practice on the later tracks again. Another thing the game doesn't save is your choices from the options menu, which caused me great trouble the second time I played it - assuming that my previous options were safely installed, I clicked on start straight away, only to find that I had no control over the craft because I prefered using keys to the default mouse. What's more, there is no way of quitting part-way through a game, so I had to crash the craft a number of times before I could change the options.


The other problem with the option menu is that it can only be used with the keyboard, whereas all the other menus are mouse controlled. The game in fact follows this inconsistency throughout - even if you have selected keyboard controls, you have to click a mouse button to move on from the screen informing you of your position at the end of the race...

As well as the options for keyboard/mouse control, speed and assorted graphics settings there is also sound control. This gives you a choice of either the "fx" or music, which consists of a rather tedious (verging on irritating) tracker file. The effects are lacking in variety (they consist of engine noise, a couple of explosions and a voice that announces "kick zone" - or that's what it sounds like - every time you pass under one of the checkpoints). However, they are not unpleasent, and are all that this type of game requires, so there's nothing wrong with that.

Overall, this is an entertaining, reasonably playable game let down by a lot of small flaws. The graphics and sound aren't great, but they are largely adequate (apart from the almost unreadable text on the buttons in the main menu) - a little imagination could have made a big difference in this area, but you are generally too busy avoiding the walls to be overly worried about what they look like...

The game's life would have been extended enormously by including a track editor, and also by the option to play against other people over a serial link or via the internet. My final verdict would have to be "could do better". This is a fairly good game, but with more tracks, better graphics, an editor and more attention to detail, it could have been great.

Review by Christopher Joseph, Copyright ©1998

[ 4/5 **** 4/5 ]

Drifter is distributed by:
The Fourth Dimension (now part of CJE Micros)
78 Brighton Road, Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 2EN
Tel. (01903) 213361
Fax (01903) 523679
Email: 4d@cje.demon.co.uk
WWW: http://www.cje.co.uk/4d/

Drifter is compatible with all Acorn RISC OS computers with at least 2Mb RAM, a hard disc and RISC OS 2 or above. It costs £35.

...this page last updated: 2/3/98...
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