Sunday 24 January 2016

California Run (Atari 8-bit review)

Developer: Syntax Software
Publisher: Alternative Software
Released: 1988

California Run is an Arcade style driving game and the only title Syntax Software developed for Atari 8-bit computers.

Playing as a street racer in Charlotsville your objective is to complete three stages within a strict time limit. There's three cars to choose from (Porsche, Ferrari and Corvette) that differ in terms of top speed and acceleration. The first stage sees you driving in the countryside with puddles that slow you down. After a while you'll reach a fork in the road which is similar to Outrun (1986, Arcades); here though there appears to be no difference as to which path you take as they look and play exactly the same. Stage 2 takes place in a desert with cacti littering the track and grease streaks that force your vehicle to skid. In Stage 3 you drive on the highway and have to contend with one lane being closed; however, there are some gaps where this lane becomes clear so you can risk overtaking a few drivers if you dare! Despite the promising premise the controls are truly awful as there's zero traction and it feels like you're driving on an ice rink. It's impossible to drive at top speed as opposing vehicles enter the screen far too quickly leaving you with no time to react. This makes you drive much slower than you'd like and after many failed attempts I worked out that driving at precisely 65 mp/h is the sweet spot; here the cars don't move as blisteringly fast as they do at 66 mp/h and above, and it makes the game extremely easy. I did spot a few technical issues, especially when it comes to scaling, as you'll often see cars in the distance that appear for a second and then vanish into thin air. On one occasion the game even refused to load the next area and I simply kept driving along a straight until time ran out! The graphics are dreadful with poorly designed sprites and barely any scenery along your route.
California Run is basically a poor-man's Outrun and it's really no more interesting than a crappy Tiger LCD handheld. The developers were clearly in over their heads and the result is a shoddy racing game with terrible controls and pathetic track design.
Random trivia: Alternative Software released two other games on Atari 8-bit computers in 1988; Desmond's Dungeon, and Leapster.

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