Game Review: The Last V8 (Commodore 64, MAD)

The Last V8, Commodore 64, MAD - MAD1
  • 3/10
    Score - 3/10


The first MAD release is sadly a case of style over substance.  While The Last V8 is pleasant graphically and does have an excellent Rob Hubbard soundtrack, the game is let down by the implementation of the controls and coupled with the high difficulty level makes it for a very unrewarding experience, which masks the fact of how long the game lasts if you complete it.  It feels rushed too, and a wasted opportunity to justify the extra price tag of a MAD release.  One to avoid.

User Review
2/10 (1 vote)

V8, return to base, immediately!

That piece of synthesised speech will be one many will remember the first time that The Last V8 has loaded.  The plot line explains that it is 2008, seven years since a global war happened, with a nuclear winter appearing to pass.  The Earth’s surface is radioactive, and as a scientist you were underground in a bunker and therefore survived.   You were also working on a secret project of The Last V8 car, with radiation shielding and a top speed of 410 km/h – and have used this to go the surface, only for an imminent threat from a delayed attack nuclear warhead that goes off periodically.  So you need to get back to the city and then to the scientist base before the radiation shield is no more.

No Time Like The Present

Naturally the plot line and the speech get you straight into the game and the first of what turns out to be two levels.  You control the V8 car and need to steer around the roads to get back towards the entrance to the city (the base) before the time runs out, or you run out of fuel and so cannot make it.   The moment you start, you will note the controls.  In an attempt to be innovative, the car goes the way you push the joystick (none of the “scroll commands” as mentioned in the manual, incidentally.)  However, because this is different from the normal steer in the direction of the car with fire to accelerate from an overhead view, inevitably you’ll steer too fast in one direction and hit the barrier – and game over.   Yes, you have one life.

The graphics in the main from an overhead perspective are pretty good – with the road, the trees and other objects sensibly defined, and the same when you are in the second city level also.   The large dashboard at the bottom of the screen does take up a significant portion of the screen though, so the play area as a result feels really narrow – even with the smooth scrolling and attractive presentation of the dashboard itself, complete with fuel gauge, radiation levels, the timer and so on.

Broken Controls

Playing the game for some time really does highlight the main issue with The Last V8 and the source of wall denter territory for many players at the time – the feeling that you are not really in control of the car due to the way the controls operate.  If you had an option for the control method to be more conventional, and you could choose, that would improve the gameplay significantly.  You will try to steer down or left or up into a bend and end up driving too fast and hitting the barrier, and it does take considerable practice to get used to.  By that time, many would have given up in sheer frustration at not being able to get any further each time.

Caution – Avoid Radioactive Zones

If you do manage to get to the initial base, the second and what proves to be the final level opens with some more synthesised speech to avoid radioactive zones.  In this one you need to drive through the city and at certain points drive fast through any zone that may be radioactive (punctuated by some sound effects also) whilst keeping control and following the road markings that indicate the zones to locate the scientist base and to return safely.  Again, inevitably when attempting to drive fast to avoid the radioactive areas, you will want to steer round a corner and hit the barrier – and that’s it – game over.   If you do complete the level, and the game, well done, and it would have taken you around four to five minutes overall to do so.

Nice Soundtrack, Shame About the Bug

The one main redeeming feature this game has is the Rob Hubbard soundtrack that plays throughout the game, comprising of a main theme, a game over theme and indeed a game complete theme if you do manage to finish both levels.  However, the fact that most players will have crashed early on the first level disguises the fact that the music in the game itself is bugged – it falls out of sync after a time and certainly appeared to be an issue with the game mastering.  I was able to investigate this many years ago and found that a mere seven bytes of the music player data had been overwritten incorrectly – and fixed this for the High Voltage SID Collection (HVSC), so that the version you hear there is what Rob intended.  It is an excellent soundtrack when heard properly and with Rob already gaining a fan base and reputation amongst C64 owners at the time, I wonder how many people bought the game to hear Rob’s next magnum opus?

Final Thoughts

If there was ever a missed opportunity to justify the additional cost of MAD releases, this game was it.  The presentation and polish is all very nice with a good loading screen, decent graphics, some synthesised speech (from the Covox Voicemaster no less) and Rob Hubbard’s soundtrack.  But take away that style, and the substance is a game that is spoiled by its broken controls and the difficulty level that really does mean that most players will have resigned it to the shelf before attempting to complete it.  And if you do complete it, is around four to five minutes of gameplay to complete a game really worth it?  I think not.

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1 Comment

  1. I think I probably loaded this once, maybe twice when I first got this back in the 80s. Gave up on it completely because of the frustratingly difficult gameplay and just sat there listening to the Rob Hubbard soundtrack instead. I think I might have managed to get to the second stage once but it wasn’t something I had the patience to cope with back then and couldn’t wait until the next Mastertronic release came out!

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