Test Drive

Test Drive

Test Drive (1987)
By: Accolade Genre: Driving Players: Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Atari ST First Day Score: 7,460
Also Available For: Amiga, PC, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Apple II

There are a few games you could credit with the surge in popularity of racing games on home systems during the 90’s but the one that sticks in my mind most is probably The Need For Speed on the 3DO. Not only was this unexpected release fantastic but it was also quite realistic. The many, manysequels that followed it soon went down the manic, arcadey route rather than continuing the approach of the original and this is also true of most of the similar games that starting appearing. Amongst my favourite of these were the Test Drive games on the PlayStation. The series had undergone a ‘reboot’ around this time (purely coincidental, I’m sure) but the first games in the series actually had a lot more in common with the original NFS.
Test Drive

In fact, I had forgotten just howsimilar the two titles are until I played Accolade’s game for the first time in about twenty years for this review! There’s no options before starting the game aside from one important one – the selection of your car. The choices here include many of the supercar favourites of the day – Porsche 911, Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari Testarossa, Corvette, and the good old Lotus Esprit Turbo. Each comes with a detailed stats screen to help you make your choice, after which you’re on the road, ready to go. The game is viewed from the driver’s perspective and each car can only be driven with manual gears, and it’s a full gearbox too, not the usual ‘low’ and ‘hi’ gears! There are five stages altogether with each separated by a stop at a ‘gas’ station where you’ll discover your average speed and points earned.
Test Drive

The stages are all segments of the same road which winds along a clifftop, movie-stylee – one side is sheer rock with the other side presumably consisting of a drop of equal sheerness! Normal traffic passes along the road in both directions now and then, although it’s not too busy, and there are also police radars which will summon a police car if you go too fast. There’s no time limit or other vehicles to race so you can approach the presence of the rozzers one of two ways: either go too slowly to bother them, or the way I’m sure most gamers will choose – go as fast as possible to outrun them! The supercar you’re driving isn’t a Daytona stock-car that will bounce around all over the place though – they’re very delicate things, even more so than I would’ve thought. Not only does hitting the rock face or another car cause you to crash (indicated by a smashed windscreen) but even revving the engine too high will result in obscured vision too!
Test Drive

Fans of the original Need For Speed will no doubt find most of this very familiar but it appears that Accolade got there first! Indeed, Test Drive must have surely been the first ever ‘supercar simulator’ and it’s the opportunity to drive these amazing cars that provides the game’s biggest draw. To that end, it’s a pretty good game. Each of the cars handles differently and the roads, which later on feature the odd oil spill or pothole, are good fun to drive along. Graphically, I remember being mightily impressed with this all those years ago but the intervening years have seen it age considerably. The presentation screens are still lovely but the in-game aesthetics less so. The oncoming cars (and occasional big rig) aren’t too bad but the scaling can be quite poor. If you’re travelling at any decent speed they’ll often seem to appear from nowhere prompting panic-lunges to try and get out of the way in time!
Test Drive

Don’t think that the absence of any kind of time-limit means you can crash as often as you want either – five wrecks equals game over here! Talking of which, one area that Need For Speed improved dramatically is the crashes. EA’s game was famous for its spectacular comings together but the spectacle here begins and ends with the broken glass in front of you. Even the track-sides and backgrounds are rather dull too, and the sense of speed isn’t great, although there is a handy rear-view mirror. So, the visuals might have aged somewhat, which is understandable with this kind of game, but I’m confident the audio was never any good, or at least this version. There are a couple of short (and not especially nice) tunes but the in-game sound is restricted to a horrible engine sound and that’s it! So, this is certainly one to play with the sound turned down, but is it one to play at all?

Well, like NFS, I think Test Drive was probably made as more of a technical showcase than as a thrilling and involving racing game. Accordingly, there’s really not much to it – no opponents, no car upgrades, no forked roads, and certainly nothing as radical as a championship or tournament mode. What there is, though, is pretty good. No time-limit or opponents also means you can relax and drive how you want to rather than be forced to tear through the stages like a maniac, although having said that, the between-stage pit-stops do encourage you to up the ante (as well as provide the odd lairy ‘motivational’ comment) and the lure of improving your average speed is quite strong. It is all over pretty quickly though, so that, along with the number of superior examples of the genre on the ST and Amiga, means that this original probably won’t hold your attention for long

RKS Score: 6/10

 

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark

For those of us who remember well the 1980s, the phenomenally endowed Elvira – the campy TV persona of Cassandra Peterson – was and is much loved.  Dressed in gothic attire that tended to display her front-facing assets, Miss Peterson was a staple of the late night television viewing, and a highly recognizable advertising brand.  Many and diverse were her following, including myself…as I admit to being an Elvira acolyte.

Elvira - Mistress of the Dark - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Box art for Elvira: Mistress of the Dark

Accolade tapped into this cult following with the 1990 release of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, a horror-themed PC adventure game with RPG elements.  The developer was the aptly named HorrorSoft, which focused primarily on making games in the horror genre.  HorrorSoft was actually Adventure Soft, and was sub-branded to give the company the ability to explore both a new genre and a new gaming engine.  Elvirawas HorrorSoft’s second game, their first being the somewhat enjoyable “Personal Nightmare”(featuring an appearance by Elvira), and they didn’t disappoint.  From the back of the box’s flavor text – “Can somebody help me find my chest?” – to the ending credits, Elvira was a fun game.

Elvira - Mistress of the Dark - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

You play a helpful adventurer in Elvira, brought in to rescue the lovely Mistress of the Dark from the dangers of her own castle.  It seems Elvira’s quite-dead grandmother wants to return to the Realm of the Living, and plans to unleash a horrific assault on her surroundings – and upon her errant granddaughter, too.  Poor Elvira wants nothing to do with her grandmother’s schemes, but she’s lacking her usual magical arsenal as all her potion ingredients and equipment is scattered throughout her castle, and she needs you to collect it all and return it to her, while dispatching the nasty creatures that her dear grandmother has prowling the corridors and rooms along the way.

Elvira - Mistress of the Dark - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Like many RPGs and adventure games, inventory management was a straightforward exercise.  As you explored your environment (all 800 locations of it), approximately 300 objects could be picked up and placed into your pack, which was represented by a grid at the bottom of the screen.  Some objects could interact with others to create more powerful items (such as potions ingredients combining into potions).  The combat mechanism was equally as simple, involving clicking on either the “thrust” or “parry” icons at the correct moments (not button-mashing them into a fine powder, a laDiablo).  Some of the magical potions and items improved your combat or defensive prowess, which was absolutely essential when facing some of the more terrifying castle denizens.

Elvira - Mistress of the Dark - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Elvira was released on several gaming platforms, including MS-DOS, Amiga, Commodore 64, and Atari ST, and received favourable reviews.  Sales were sufficient to warrant a sequel, Elvira II: Jaws of Cerberus.  HorrorSoft would go on to make one more horror-themed PC game, Waxworks, before the company was abandoned to focus on the rebirth of its parent, Adventure Soft Publishing, and the release of theirSimon the Sorcerer series.

Elvira - Mistress of the Dark - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

If you are a retrogaming horror junkie, or a classic adventure game aficionado, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is a game well worth playing.  It has the right mix of humor and horror, action and exploration to warrant a place as my Retro Game of the Week, and is a worthy addition to any retro gaming collection!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwlaVJ35CdI[/youtube]