Monday, 3 August 2015

Early Driving Games #12

World Grand Prix (1986)
By: Sega Genre: Driving Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Master System
Also Available For: Nothing

The poor old Master System wasn't really blessed with a tremendous number of quality racing games so it remains a mystery to me why I never got around to buying World Grand Prix back in its day. It did look very similar to Hang-On after all, which was released the previous year, and I loved that fun little racer, so I should love WGP too, in theory at least. Sadly, due my own idiocy, it took many years to test that theory, but when I did finally play it I found that it is indeed a very similar game to Sega's famous motor-cycle racer. Both place you in control of a nameless driver whom you must guide around a series of courses in his/her respective vehicle with the object of simply reaching the end before your time runs out. Sounds easy enough.

Indeed, Hang-On was rather easy on the MS and I was able to play through its four repeating courses several times over, but it was quickly obvious that WGP offers a much greater challenge. There are an impressive twelve courses this time, for one thing, which are based on real circuits from around the world (Fuji Speedway, Watkins Glen, Monaco, etc), but an even bigger reason for the increased difficulty is the other racers. Those in Hang-On rarely moved so you could plot your route past them from afar, safe in the knowledge that said route would remain available, but here the bloody drivers switch lanes so much it's as if they all have scorpions up their sleeves, and of course, if you hit one you'll explode into a fiery ball of... well, fire I guess!

I've seen some claim that this is a result of poorly programmed AI but that's nonsense - the other drivers were clearly designed to get in your way, and they do just that, frequently, and usually right before you pass/hit them. Not all of them move either, which leaves you guessing where to go until the last second. It's not usually worth the risk of running off-road to avoid them as that will invariably result in a similarly fiery encounter with a signpost or something (which, contrary to the screenshots here, do definitely exist), and all these crashes cost you time - time that is in short supply as you need to finish one lap of each circuit within a particular limit before you can move on to the next course, and that means dodging an awful lot of cars.

A helpful hand, however, comes in the form of the points you earn. The more you finish within the time-limit the more you'll get, up to a maximum of 200 points. These can then be spent on upgrades to your car's acceleration, handling, and engine. The effect of each upgrade is clearly noticeable but also only lasts for a single race so they are best saved for the trickier courses. Your standard car is pretty responsive anyway though. It only has two gears (low and high) and can take a while to get going (which makes 'acceleration' the best upgrade for beginners) but it's fast once it's up and running and the brakes work well too, which means the only thing potentially stopping you from shredding up all twelve courses is the other idiotic drivers.

Even if you put in the practise and conquer all the courses, though, there is a course editor included here as well, so you can design even more courses to fool around on (and I'm sure no one will mess around, making the most ridiculous courses possible!). The only real downside to this splendid feature is that just one background is used - that of the first course which isn't especially interesting - and that's a little irritating as the examples found on the various 'proper' courses are quite varied. Each includes a stereotypical feature of the country in question (Brands Hatch is apparently right in front of the Houses of Parliament, for example) and there are a couple of night-time courses too. Aside from that the graphics are a little basic though.

All the other racers drive blue cars and there are never more than two on screen at once. Even then a little bit of flicker can be seen here and there and the track-sides are almost totally bare, and the audio is even more basic, featuring no music beyond a few short jingles and limited effects. It's certainly no technical marvel then, but what it does it does well. Progressing through the courses can be tough thanks to the indecisive (and slow) drivers but the time-limit isn't so tight that you can't slow down and pass some cars carefully, and there are three difficulty levels too. It may seem a basic, even generic game, and I suppose it is, but it's also pretty addictive and reasonable fun. A slightly flawed game then, but I'm at least glad I finally got around to playing it.

RKS Score: 6/10

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