Game Review: Night Racer (Commodore 64, Mastertronic)

Night Racer, Commodore 64, Mastertronic, 1C0258
  • 6.5/10
    Score - 6.5/10


3D racing games that are playable with a decent frame rate are not as common as you would think on the Commodore 64, and Night Racer bucks the trend, with four sections of racing with increasing difficulty.  There is the challenge of beating the computer opponent too, and whilst some may find it dull after a while, it does have that one more go factor to beat your best, and a game I still enjoy today for a quick session of racing.  Your mileage will of course vary.

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If there is one thing that is in short supply on the Commodore 64, it is a good 3D view racing game that is reasonably fast and is playable.  Those that are amongst that category are rightly lauded for praise, so I can remember well back in 1988 when I purchased Night Racer hoping that it was one of those few good games.  The scene is set by the fact you are in a night time rally heading through the pine forests in central Europe, and that due to too many competitors in the rally, each car is fitted with explosives which will go off after a certain time unless you reach the check point.  There is also a computer-controlled car which starts alongside you, and is in effect your timing gauge for each stage – beat it, and you have no issues with explosives.

On The Trail of the Not So Lonesome Pine

After entering your name, you are asked to go on the green light for section 1.  The countdown of red to green light begins, and away you go.  Controls are relatively straightforward, left and right to turn the car, hold down fire to accelerate, let go to slow down, with down shifting up a gear, and up shifting down a gear.  That becomes more intuitive once you get used to it and does allow for some nice upshifting to get to full speed at the start of each section.  Each section has you in the white car chasing the computer-controlled car in yellow, with light green cars being the other competitors to get past and avoid.

What is immediately apparent is the feeling of speed with the 3D engine used.  The road seems to look as if it is fast, and the simple but effective black shadow graphics of the pine trees really does give it that feeling of driving at night.  The sound is mainly the drone sound of the engine as it builds up speed, with screeching noises if you hit the outside of the track, especially when attempting to pass one of the green cars.  Initially, they will stay in their lane, but in later sections they will tend to veer a little bit across the track and hinder your progress.  You sometimes need to almost steer across their path to get around, and it is learning that and squeezing through the gaps in corners that will help you go through the sections.

Dashing Around

The bottom half of the screen is all the dashboard, with the top half for driving – most likely to help with the frame rate.  The dashboard has a map of the course on the bottom left, with the first three sections sharing the same map and the fourth and final large section having its own map. The centre of the dash has the gauge for the explosive timer (note the red section for the last quarter, you are in trouble if you hit that) with the gear from 1 to 4 at the bottom centre, and on the right-hand side a speedometer and rev counter – the key to change gear is ensuring that counter is almost full before switching when you start the stage.  It does at least add to the presentation by having this nicely laid out.

Completing Sections

The end of the section is marked by a small checkered flag in the road.  At this point, if you do happen to beat the computer-controlled car, the screen border changes to white and you get an extra bonus for doing so.  If not, the explosive timer will start and rotate the dial around the timer – if it goes beyond the red, the car will explode, with a nice effect and showing the driver waving to get out of the car.  You get a time bonus if you complete the section, as well as a distance covered bonus and that adds to the overall score.  Each section has a course record which you can beat as well and have your name up in lights for others to beat, giving it that one more go factor.

Avoiding the Carnage

The car responds very well to the joystick control and you can steer around the corners without the need to decelerate for the most part.  Even if you bump into another car, you can easily get back up to full speed and do not always need to go down a gear.  The only occasional issue you might get is if you attempted to go inside a car on a tight corner and have that squealing effect as you hit the outside, which on the final section you can get trapped in on rare occasions.  Overall though, the feeling of speed is very nicely done and with the good responsiveness really does draw you in and give you that factor of one more go, especially on the challenging final section.

Graphics and Sound

Presentation between stages is minimal with an instruction to go on the green light, even using some of the standard PETSCII characters for the fonts.  The high score table shows you the best times for each section and overall, as well as overall scores.  In the game itself, the pine trees all in black and standard road graphics do give you that feeling of speed well, although the cars might have been slightly better drawn based on the viewpoint. Parts of the dashboard may have been drawn better,  but it is functional and you know what each part does. The music by David Dunn (now Julie Dunn) is nothing special, but does at least give you something to listen to at the start of the game and in between stages to get you motivated.  The droning sound effects of the car engine may be annoying after a while, and a choice of having the music playing during the game instead may have been a nice touch.

Final Thoughts

Night Racer may not be the best Commodore 64 racing game, but for the two pounds you do have a playable game that has four sections of challenge to progress though, with a good feeling of speed with the 3D engine, a computer opponent to keep track of and beat in each section, and an incentive to beat times and set high scores as a game to beat your friends at.  It also does show what an effective bit of programming can do, with the same engine later being used by the author in International Speedway by Silverbird.  It is an example of a budget game delivering a solid experience on all counts, with a perfectly playable game that you will get some enjoyment out of, even if it may not be for the longest time.  Oh, and you also have Invade-a-Load during loading too.  What more can you ask for?

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