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Checkered Flag (Jaguar) artwork

Checkered Flag (Jaguar) review


"One of the favorite genres of many videogame players is auto racing. Just like many other folks I enjoy racing games, and when I first read that Rebellion, the creators of the two fantastic games Alien vs. Predator and Skyhammer, had also made a racing game for the Jaguar, I guessed that it would have to be good - but as I researched further I learned that Checkered Flag has a reputation as one of the worst games for the Jaguar. C’mon, did Rebellion really create a lemon? "



One of the favorite genres of many videogame players is auto racing. Just like many other folks I enjoy racing games, and when I first read that Rebellion, the creators of the two fantastic games Alien vs. Predator and Skyhammer, had also made a racing game for the Jaguar, I guessed that it would have to be good - but as I researched further I learned that Checkered Flag has a reputation as one of the worst games for the Jaguar. C’mon, did Rebellion really create a lemon?

When a Checkered Flag cart is first fired up, we see a checkered banner on the title page, followed by a menu system for track selection, car configuration, weather, and other options. The menus seem to be well-designed and intuitive; so far, so good. You pick the options you want, and then the race begins! As with other racing games, in Checkered Flag you simply drive around a racing track circuit and try to beat the clock or outrun other cars. Unfortunately, there’s no two-player option, so all your opponents are CPU-controlled.

Your initial viewpoint follows at a short distance behind your onscreen car. One nice feature is that you can use the number keypad to select different viewpoints; I prefer to use the #5 or #6 viewpoint, with the camera set further back and higher up. CF's graphics are built-up from clean, simple 3D polygons. By today's standards it looks pretty darn blocky, but back in 1994 this was state-of-the-art for a home system. It's hard to estimate, but I'd guess that CF displays several hundred polygons per second, perhaps even over a thousand. For comparison, I'd say that Flag's polygon count is roughly the same as Cybermorph, but CF has deeper draw-in distance - and of course Checkered Flag is using a selection of colors that is less harsh on the eyes than Cybermorph's rather bright neons!

There are ten circuits, each with differences in track layout. Some courses have tunnels, some have bridges, and others simply twist between hills. As with Cybermorph, there's no texture mapping at all, but unlike Cybermorph the programmers didn't bother with Gouraud shading, leading to rather vanilla-looking landscape. The light-gray terrain in "Concrete Canyon" doesn't really look that much different from the grayish snowy Arctic track - except that the Arctic track has snowmen and penguins on the roadside. (Someone should have pointed out to Rebellion that the Arctic has polar bears; penguins hang out in the Antarctic.) Still, in Checkered Flag the Jaguar's limited polygon drawing abilities are pushed hard.

And here is where I think Checkered Flag starts to fall apart. I think that Rebellion made a major mistake in trying to use 3D polygons to draw every single object onscreen. By forcing the Jaguar to draw so many polygons, the screen refresh rate drops to an abysmal rate. I'd estimate that the refresh rate is perhaps a mere eight or ten frames per second. Frankly, the screen stutters and flickers so badly that extended play hurts my eyes! Ouch - hand me some Visine! There's no reason for it; if one looks at other Jaguar games such as Super Burnout, Atari Karts, or Val d'Isere, a 3D racing environment can use 2D sprites and still be fast and look great. Why, oh why, Rebellion? The developers could have used pre-rendered sprites for the cars and roadside objects. That would have looked better, dropped the polygon count, and lead to a smoother-running game. As it sits now, Checkered Flag would have been better named Flickering Flag.

Of course, there's far more to a game than just graphics. How about the sound? Did Rebellion come up with some great sound for this game? Alas, no. The sound effects, especially the 'engine' noise, sound awful. What happened here? The sound effects are absolutely rotten! Seriously, I've played Atari 2600 racing games that managed to have better - far better - engine revving sounds. I quickly learned to turn the sound effects volume down. Thankfully, the background music is tolerable, but unfortunately that music is also rather repetitive. I wish that Rebellion had skipped the music completely and instead concentrated on more realistic sounds for the engine revving or the car crashing!

In the game manual Rebellion are proud to state that CF uses a "bell curve" to handle steering input: at first the steering input is very gentle, and then quickly becomes more sensitive. This is very different from most racing games. Let's face it, in the majority of racers you press constantly on the controller and lean hard into the steering as you sweep through the curve. However, with CF you must use "gentle taps" on the steering to finely tune your cornering; if you steadily hold the steering left or right, it's just too much input and your car swings wildly out of control. Rebellion apparently claimed this was more a more accurate depiction of true racing. Hey guys, it's a video game - it's not supposed to be accurate, it's supposed to be FUN! Now, I could buy into this "accurate simulation" argument if Checkered Flag were a simulation, but it's not. Clearly the game is meant to be an arcade racer, and the input should have been similar to every other arcade racer.
This input factor really hurts the game. I don't know how Rebellion let this control input get past the play-testing stage. Some folks comment that you have to "give it a chance" and learn to work with the touchy steering. To a certain extent that's true; I've found that with some patience and practice I can race around a circuit without crashing too often, and sometimes I even win! Still, it's a bit tedious and annoying. C'mon, this is supposed to be just a game; I want to relax and have some fun, not have to work at trying to be accurate.

Overall, what do I think? Usually I complain that the overly-critical are just haters of the Jaguar, but in this one case they have a legitimate beef. Checkered Flag could have been fun and it isn't. This is definitely not a game for the Jaguar to be proud of. If you're thinking of buying a copy, this game isn't worth the postage to mail it! My score is a well-below average 3.5 out of 10.

Rating: 3/10

LS650's avatar
Community review by LS650 (May 24, 2007)

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