Sunday, September 26, 2021

Matter of Import 72: Chequered Flag [Sinclair Research 1982]


Chequered Flag was one of the first racing games developed for the ZX Spectrum, and a great example of an early driving simulator. Rather than focusing on pure arcade action, the game has the player managing fuel and engine temperature while avoiding hazards.

Played from the first person perspective, Chequered Flag has the player racing laps alone trying to get the shortest time possible on one of ten different tracks modeled on famous Grand Prix circuits. Drifting too far off the track or hitting glass can damage your car, requiring the player to spend precious moments in the pit getting repairs. Likewise, longer races will require the player to reach the pit in time to refuel.

The game provides three different cars to choose from, each of which provides a slightly different interface and play experience.  The Ferreti Turbo, modeled after the Ferrari, is the most difficult vehicle with the most powerful engine. The McFaster Special is ideal for beginners, as it’s the only one with an automatic transmission - having to focus on shifting gears while learning the controls can get a little overwhelming. The Psion Pegasus is middle of the road, with easy handling and a manual transmission.

This being an early ZX Spectrum title, of course the controls bear mentioning. 0 accelerates, I breaks, and the keys on the bottom row control your gear shifting - keys from “M” right shifts up, keys from “N” left shift down.

Steering is a special case, an attempt to simulate analog controls with a digital keyboard. A is a fast turn of the wheel left with S as more of a gentle drift, with the S and D keys performing the same to the right.

It is, in fact, a little clumsy, and definitely necessary to make some of the sharp turns on some of the tracks with anything like a good time.

Aside from the fact that you’re alone on the road the game plays pretty well, complex without being too overwhelming, challenging enough after you’ve picked up the controls, with some decent variety of track and car. One of the better racing titles for the home computer market, and one of the best games on the Spectrum.

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