Retro Review: Stunt Car Racer – 1989
I’ve decided to write a few retro-reviews of some of my favorite games from various formats. A personal retrospective of my feelings towards the fun I had with them, and the future they helped to create in the industry. Were they ever beaten? Were they the last of their kind? Read full introduction…
Geoff Crammond hasn’t been seen since 2002 when he released Grand Prix 4. Before his disappearance his impact on the gaming industry, and more importantly the genre of racing games, is legendary. Whether it was REVS, Formula One Grand Prix or Stunt Car Racer, many people had their first experience of racing on their home computer using one of his titles.
My first experience with virtual racing which I clearly remember came at “youth club”. They had an Amiga 500 and they had Crammond’s Stunt Car Racer for it. Most people were interested in doing other things, so I got my turn relatively quickly and found a challenging and fun experience. This led me to asking for an Amiga for Christmas and essentially led my life to where I am today (working for a software developer making racing simulations).
Set in 2006 (17 years in the future when the title was released), the idea of course, is crazy. You drive on elevated circuits, inches from death. You have to perfectly time jumps and carry the correct speed to stay on-track, all the time fighting an opponent for the victory.
Box and manual
As you can see in the video below, the Amiga version of Stunt Car Racer came with all the usual things you expected from a game in that period. The manual was an interesting read and really did show just how much Crammond loves racing. Although the type of racing being simulated is entirely fictional, they took the time to write an interesting piece on the history of racing.
‘Unboxing’ of the Stunt Car Racer/Stunt Track Racer Amiga version.
Features and content
The title came with one car capable of nitro boost and eight tracks of varying difficulty. The tracks were split two in each division. You raced 11 opponents (four in each division, one per race) and scored points. If you beat your opponents by the end of the season you could move up a division and the difficulty increased with it.
The races themselves were quite an experience. You were lifted by chains and dropped onto the starting grid beside your opponent, then were able to race. Any time that you crashed, those chains would lift you back onto the track, unless you had sustained enough damage to be unable to continue. Each track varied enough that you would often have a minimum and maximum speed that you had to hit a ramp to do it right, or you risk losing time in the air, or plummeting to your doom.
Division 4: The little ramp / The hump back
These tracks and this division are very easy. You can simply sit behind the opponent and wait until the last turn if you want to. The tracks can all be taken completely flat-out with boost on the whole way around. There are jumps that you are better off actually going slower (you’ll lose less time in the air), but you don’t honestly need to worry about that.
Division 3: The Stepping stones / The big ramp
These tracks are again pretty easy, but there is a risk of making race-ending mistakes (see video). On the stepping stones you just need to keep a speed of around 140 (use boost to keep that speed), while the rest of the track you can blast your way around. The big ramp on it’s namesake circuit must be taken at over 200, while the smaller jumps need to be taken at 170 so you can avoid jumping straight into the abyss. Unfortunately I was unable to boost and turn at the same time, so getting over 200 for the big ramp became a problem in the video!
Division 2: The high jump / The rollercoaster
These tracks can be tricky, and the AI opponents are pretty fast. You have to carry 200 over the high jump to make it, and on the rollercoaster you have to go under 160 on the largest hill or you will miss the next turn. It’s a difficult balance, but minimizing your time in the air is probably for the best on both courses, while slowing down on the sloped straight on the high jump course is vital.
Division 1: The ski jump / The drawbridge
I wasn’t able to get into division one by the time I wanted to post this review. That should tell you how difficult division two is! I only managed it a few times back in the day, but I do remember how to drive the tracks (I’m just not as good at it anymore). It should also be noted that you cannot drive these tracks without damaging your car on landing, so it is important to do as little damage as possible in the lower divisions.
The ski jump has some jumps you have to be slower over, while the main jump has to be taken at over 200mph. The drawbridge should be taken at/just over 140, while the rest of the track can be taken flat-out.
The menu and race access system is very simplistic. Simple keyboard navigation gets you in and out of the car.
The in-race HUD gives you the all information you need:
The physics seen in Stunt Car Racer are weirdly believable. Like all Geoff Crammond titles it feels to me as if there is a driver aid which keeps you on the road, and while it’s certainly possible to crash off at any time, it’s also a little bit easier than it should be. This could be because it was designed for keyboard control, or it could simply be because this is how they believed gameplay needed to be for commercial success.
The best thing I could say about the physics are that being on two wheels, flying through the air or smashing into surfaces all have believable physics which are amazing for the time. Infact it could be argued that if someone improved the graphics, these physics could still sell to this day as a modern title.
3D tracks and cars, realistically built to give a proper sensation of distance and speed. Easily one of the first titles I tried which gave me a proper feeling of immersion in a 3D world. It’s a retro style which I feel I would still accept today if available at higher resolution, and it’s actually interesting when you do play it to see just how effective this was 23 years ago on period hardware.
The deep and growling sounds of the engine in Stunt Car Racer were incredible for the time, and are still acceptable to this day when the hardware it was designed for is taken into consideration. The differing sounds of the engine ticking over, scraping metal and crashing are also fantastic. In the sound department, Stunt Car Racer gave you every piece of information you needed to be able to drive effectively.
Effects on the genre
Few people have been quite as far ahead of their time as often as Geoff Crammond. While it would be easy to argue that someone else, probably David Kaemmer, would have reached all these milestones, it is important to recognize that often it was Crammond who got there first. Had Crammond not have seen so much success, we could easily have lost the influence of both him and MicroProse. We may never have seen the F1GP series and we may have lost MicroProse far earlier than we did.
Effects on me
Those early experiences at ‘youth club’ were what led me to get a Commodore Amiga, this directly led me onto other racing titles, and wound up leading me to my current employment with a racing simulator developer. It is incredible to think that (until rFactor2, at least) there still hasn’t been a better implementation of wet weather in racing since Grand Prix 3 (12 years ago).
Not that I am aware of. Geoff Crammond did announce a sequel back in 2003, but it was cancelled. There have been a few attempts to build something similar, and I did have fun with Nitro Stunt Racing for a bit, but it didn’t hold my attention for very long. When you include the single player championship features, etc, Stunt Car Racer certainly feels like it was the last of it’s kind.