London Racer

Blast from the Past

FBT fires up the XP rig and takes a joyride around London

The Past

London Racer was a great game. Great in a naff way. I got the 2003 Xplosiv budget release and despite it’s already dated graphics and game play, I rinsed the hell out of it. Especially that one time-trial ... I played that track hundreds of times and never beat it. But I recall so much fun blasting around recognisable locations in London, including that new ‘millennium dome’ in the quintessential Brit car, the Mini. I was gutted when Windows left this game behind, although to be fair I dropped it when I got GTA VC - still, it was a downer it no longer loaded the day I fancied a jaunt around old London town, and that's the mark of a good game - you want a particular game experience, and it's the only one that springs to mind.

Thanks to my trusty XP machine though, nothing’s stopping me now - except dodgy collision detection, iffy physics and unfair time-trials. I can’t imagine this has aged well at all, it was basic and budget back then. Still, I’m gonna nail that time-trial.

Still a Blast?

It’s aged a lot and there’s a lot wrong with LR now; the cars don’t crumple, you're basically driving through a 2D picture and when you hit something you’re stopped dead - plus, the obstacle blocks you, making getting around it practically impossible; while you can smash through some things, others are impervious and you never know which is which – in fact, some things can be destroyed on one track but are solid in others. But after a while I realise advancements like crush-able cars, sophisticated physics and realistic settings are the things that I bitch about in modern racing games; they make you cautious. LR is a clean, simple racer I can be a bad driver in, and its age doesn’t matter when I’m having this much fun.

It might look basic, but a fair amount of care gone into LR, and you spend time going ‘I know that’ as you piss through Piccadilly or past Buckingham Palace which are digitised photos. They must have had fun filming the runs ... You drive through boxes that kick up newspapers, disturb pigeons, leaves billow up, it’s all done really well. Outside of London the Oxford routes are nice winding streets or country trips taking in Stonehenge and that White Horse on the hill thing; this game really brings back my boy-racer days. All I need is Use Your Illusion II on the tape deck and my mate wolf-whistling at women we pass and I’m there. So are the boy-racer hating coppers.

The cops target you mostly, although they will get in the way of opponents, and if you get pulled over you get three warnings before being arrested. For saying this is an illegal street race the cops are very forgiving. It’s a shame you don’t have free-look because you never have any idea where the cops are, other than behind you, sirens blaring but somehow that makes it seem more fun. There’s one cop, Car 11 who seems to permanently be on duty. Throughout League 1 he’s the only cop out to get you, although it’s easy to see why no one else joins in, he’s terrible at reporting, simply saying there’s a speeding ‘yaguar’ or a pesky ‘MBW’ on the loose. I don’t know if it’s me going too fast for him to recognise the make, the basic graphics or a last-minute copyright-infringement dodge but I’m certain I’m in a BMW Z3 Roadster Convertible.

There’s lots of cars to pick from, and although they aren’t detailed they’re all fun even if they effectively drive the same. They sit stoically in the centre of the screen and never bounce, roll or slide; you can force the game to freak out if you clip the edges of the tracks or get enough speed to ride up a wall, but often that just gets you stuck. You can’t recover your car so where you put it is where it stays, and like all good classic-era racers, one good hit or collision will send you from 1st to last in seconds and you’ll never regain the lead.

Although cars are unlocked as you best leagues or reach certain stages, you still need to earn money to buy them and they’re not drastically different to the league starter cars; there’s a smart car in league 1 which is an absolute monster when driven by an NPC but isn’t much zippier than the Mini when you get it, although Car 11 says “In pursuit of a smart’. What is wrong with him?

It doesn’t take long to get through the leagues, and quite quickly winning becomes very easy – it’s a classic learn by repetition game; there’s only a set number of tracks which are repeated in each league so after a few goes you know where the turns are, the garages, the cops, the obstacles but it becomes a personal race, trying to beat your old times, when to gun the turbo to slip past cops, beat a turning that catches you out. There are several short cuts and secret paths if you’re willing to risk it – some routes aren’t actually there at all, leaving you to drive into an invisible barrier like Roadrunner painted a tunnel on a wall, and there’s also some odd physics at play; I can drive through a river to shortcut behind Buckingham Palace. Hey Queenie!

You do get the usual garage upgrades, but really they make little difference; you just go faster and crash harder. Although there’s no visual damage a meter warns you how much damage you can take, which can be repaired by driving through petrol stations. You’ll need to learn where those are quick-sharp; other racers just pile forward regardless, cut into you or break suddenly, while the cops sometimes set up roadblocks; kindly, they only put them across part of the road but hitting one stops you dead. Strangely, clobbering opponents or the pursuing cops does no damage and neither does knocking down speed cameras, but bump into a garden fence and you’ll take a serious hit.

Aside from the tournament there’s a Sunday drive where you just try to beat your own scores without opponents bothering you, and the time trials. Still can’t beat that 1m17.8s time for Oxford. The high scores are all around the 1.30 mark - not even the game can beat it! It's clearly a typo/bug. I’ll never unlock the black cab.

LR does have a sense of the cheap about it, there’s typos and weird sentences in the menus which has a very posh woman reciting everything while in-game there’s odd things like sign posts are reversed, the racing stripes on my Rolls are see-through and every collision has the same sound-effect, but it’s just so darn cute and fun you don’t care. Its rough edges add something that new games with all their sophistication and detail lose. I’m here for fun and this is fun.

LR is absolutely crying out for an App re-release. It’s incredibly well-remembered as one of the last knock-about racer games, like Microsoft’s Madness series or the original Road Rash. Just good, slightly illegal fun that’s not burdened by over engineering or complication. You just get in and go for it. Come in Car 11, race you to the ‘illennium Dome’.

2000 | Developer Davilex Games | Publisher Davilex International/Xplosiv

platforms; XP, PSOne