1-6 players, horizontal game
Beyond Games, for the Atari Lynx
Even before Mel Gibson slipped behind the wheel as Mad Max, the blend of cars and weapons has always appealed to action fans who dream of combining speed and power. The newest electronic incarnation of this genre is BATTLEWHEELS, the first title by new Lynx developer Beyond Games. One to six players drive armed cars, competing against computer drones and each other to be the sole survivor. Most of the action takes place from a first-person perspective, though you can change views, check vehicle damage, and locate opponents on radar. A round ends when one driver remains, and the first player to get a specified number of kills wins the game.
Various options are available both before and during a fight. Selections include seven levels of computer expertise, sixteen arenas, player colors and images, while multiplayer games also allow team formation. You can use pregenerated cars for quick playing, or build your own with rules for weight, cost, and weapons placement. In the arena, weapons and tactics range from paint sprayers and missile launchers to sideswipe and hit-and-run. You can even leave your car and fight on foot, either to escape an explosion or pick up prizes left behind.
The basic premise of BATTLEWHEELS demands action, and the game delivers it in spades. A typical round may last no more than five minutes, but each second is filled with fast, frantic combat. There are few opportunities to rest, and ensuring your survival is a full-time task. The computer is not an unbeatable juggernaut who overwhelms the player; rather, drones operate on their own, and will often attack each other as much as you. Beginners will naturally find the game a bit confusing due to the numerous actions available, but can soon overcome this with practice.
Beyond Games recruited hundreds of playtesters, and it shows. Everything about this game screams quality and care. Controls are responsive and natural, allowing quick changes of weapons, views, and displays while fighting in the heat of battle. The driver's view includes indicators for speed and heading, ammunition remaining, armor and engine alerts, and direction of enemy attacks, all without inducing clutter. The option selection and car building phases are equally user-friendly, and handicapping is available to keep multiplayer games balanced.
BATTLEWHEELS can be played on many levels. The use of prepared cars allows for quick games, while the custom mode allows more planning along with the task of managing a budget. Options are significant, and winning tactics change depending on the conditions chosen. Another appeal to the game is the level of detail and realism present. For instance, you can't leave your car if the door is blocked, but once outside, you can run, dive, shoot back, and commandeer other cars. This level of depth permeates everything, and enhances the fun.
The graphics on BATTLEWHEELS perfectly capture the spirit of the game. Images are drawn appropriately, mixing gritty views with clear and concise displays. Sprites are distinctive and scaling is used extensively, though things never become too blocky. Extra touches round out the visuals, such as the drivers' assorted expressions and the garbage-pelting crowd at the end.
While the sounds do not set any new trends on the Lynx, they are done well and used appropriately. A few tunes play between duels, but the roar of the engines and bursts of weapons fire sharply punctuate combat. Sounds and alerts are unique, which helps attentive players to follow the action, and stereo is used during the fights to convey the location of enemies.
Beyond Games has hit the Lynx community in a big way, as BATTLEWHEELS is a high-quality title that promises plenty and delivers it all. It is, quite frankly, the best implementation of the "Car Wars" idea I've ever seen on any computer or video game console. The design allows for fast play without compromising complexity, and the graphics and sound effects are as hot as the action. Whether solo or with friends, electronic road warriors should get this explosive card immediately!
GAMEPLAY: 9.5 GRAPHICS: 9 SOUND: 9 OVERALL: 9.5