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Review by: Bob Mandel
Published: December 23, 1998
Sometimes when you look at a game you can tell what kind of audience it will appeal to. There are delicate puzzle games that you know will appeal to the cerebrally inclined. There are games with sophisticated humor that you know will appeal to urban yuppies. There are war games that appeal to those who yearn to dominate and control everyone around them. There are provocative games full of gore or sex that you know will appeal to testosterone-dominated teenage boys.
Powerslide, the first game from the Australian company Ratbag (formerly Emergent Software), is one of these games where the target audience seems immediately apparent. To me, it seems the ideal personality of the player of this game would be rough-and-tumble, undisciplined, and free-wheeling, a kind of pragmatic no-nonsense person for whom “I do it my way” is an appropriate motto. Juvenile delinquents who get a kick out of breaking the rules would love this game. As an off-road racer, you can go wherever you want, with no invisible walls or narrow corridors for driving (there are not even tracks to follow), and you can go right over any obstacle in the game if your tire traction permits it. Aggressiveness is virtually always rewarded. Distributed in the United States by GT Interactive, this is a game that flaunts its violation of conventional restraints associated with any civilized force in modern society.
The game’s story is set in 2020 after a major ecological disaster. The rich have fled underground and on the surface you find the desolate cities and barren wastelands inhabited by the kind of freaks we saw in the movie Road Warrior (indeed, virtually everything about this game reminds me of that movie, which starred the Australian Mel Gibson). Since most people are dead, there are lots of vacant vehicles just waiting to be driven around. So surface dwellers now compete in races against an underground firm — the Nutopia Corporation — that wants to use the races to test out new technologies, and this competition heavily rests on the ability to “powerslide” (given the low traction surfaces that are the norm here, to powerslide successfully you must be able to accelerate into a turn without spinning out). The decimation of the natural environment is so complete that the prize for winning is the extremely rare commodity of fresh fruit (somehow, this does not fit the tone of the rest of the game).
This game deviates from other racing games in having an underlying theme of class struggle; when is the last time you looked to a driving game for social commentary? The surface dwellers, called the “ferals,” are so poor that they have to use whatever is lying around to get their machines to run, while the “corporates” (as the rich underground dwellers are called) are experimenting with new technologies and clean fuels to power their vehicles. The ferals drive out of desperation with nothing to lose, while the corporates drive with a tone of condescending arrogance that comes with money and power. The two groups despise each other, an element that adds to the tension of the racing experience.
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