I was cruising North View looking for trouble when the message came - "Armoured car seen on E 17". I gLanced at the map and saw that a right turn would take me one street south of the drop. I glided across the lanes and prepared for the turn. The lights changed - I rowed the engine and let go, hurled back by the acceleration of my Lotus Turbo Esprit...!
This sort of amiably silly plot makes good movie and TV thrillers and now it's made a great computer game. Let's face it, if you're tailing drug dealers through crowded city streets, a flashy sports car hardly helps you fade into the background. But as a hero you have an image to maintain and your boss has agreed to let you have four of the expensive autos in case you crash one. He's also given you a useful map which unlike the average A to Z indicates both your position and that of the drug barons too.
Your mission is this: the drugs are brought into the city in an armoured vehicle and soon after, four smugglers' cars drive in to rendezvous at the drop (dontcha love all this criminal slang? I've seen French Connection too, you know!). At this stage you have to keep out of sight or you'll scare them off. Then the drugs are handed over to one dealer after another and that's where you leap into action, intercepting them before they reach their secret hideaways. After that it's time to pick up Mr Big in his armoured jalopy and win the eternal thanks of all good citizens. But be warned, there are hit cars riding shotgun who will try to ram you off the road.
Jamming all this into a standard size Spectrum has led Durell to a novel solution. The lower part of the screen shows your dashboard and vital instruments but the windscreen doesn't provide a true Pit Stop view because your car actually appears in front of you. This means that turns into new streets are achieved with a flipping of screens rather than a continuous perspective view. It all works well though and the 3D graphics are reasonably smooth and fairly crowded with pedestrians, other road users, zebra crossings and the like.
The controls are admirably simple too, Joystick or keys accelerate and decelerate with a maximum speed of 150 mph and an automatic gearbox. Left and right alone shift lane in the direction chosen but with fire they actually turn the car for changing streets. This calls for a little skill, particularly at high speeds. If you don't want to drive into a wall, but there's a Learner mode for everybody who thinks BSM stands for Be-like Steve McOueen!
Pressing fire alone activates your gun and you can always blast away at the enemy though you'll gain more points for ramming them or driving them into a cul-de-sac and forcing them to surrender. This is the only way to stop the delivery car anyhow because of its armour plating. The only other control is M to call up the map, which shows the city chosen from the four initially offered (choosing a new one unfortunately calls for a reload) and can be scrolled to locate the position of the dealers in relation to you. Further help is from messages which appear at the bottom of the screen to keep you in touch with pursuing hit cars and the like. These hired assassins are great fun, suddenly zooming up from behind and delivering a broadside - real car chase stuff. They are purple while the supply car is red and the delivery cars are blue. All other vehicles are black, yourself included, which can cause slight problems if you round a corner into a crowded street - just which one are you?
The only other thing to watch out for is fuel consumption. Nothing makes a hero look less heroic than grinding to a halt with an empty tank. There are various garages around town to provide refills assuming you can reach the pavement next to one in time. The great thing about Turbo Esprit is that it plays so smoothly that you're never left searching for the key to do something vital. In fact, it should become as effortless as driving a real car. The plot is classic chase stuff too and quickly becomes involving. It's a novel game which works well and anybody who has ever thrilled to Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman or our very own T'zer McQueen's driving will want a go.
Wow, your Turbot Esprit - something fishy about the name of the car! It's a sleek, all black job, more macho than a mini and faster than a Ford.
Fuel consumption on this mission isn't for the budget conscious. In fact you could double petrol company profits so keep an eye on this guage.
Is that an antelope or a zebra crossing? Everyone knows cities are made for cars, not pedestrians. You'll find that there are also road works to get in your way.
Speeds like these are hardly safe for city driving even along the straight freeways. Be careful you don't run into the back of some small snail paced Sunday driver.
Engine temperature is well regulated unless you take too much damage - but the thrill of the chase should raise your blood pressure!
Here you are on your radar assisted map. Scrolling it will show you where your main targets are but don't dawdle - they won't wait for you.
The arrows indicate a one way street and it's worth getting to know the street plan because there's nothing more embarrassing than screeching round a corner to face a solid line of cars!
As well as scoring for saving the city from the drug barons and losing points for wasting innocent bystanders, you'll get information from base here.
The grid references tie in with the messages, so that N17 would be the 17th street running North, not a London postal district.
Though it may look like a squashed fly on your map, this is in fact the local petrol station. Sadly it doesn't tell you whether they've got that offer on the mugs that you were collecting.