Another 8-bit machine from the 1970s – the Apple II – had its share of driving games. Prepare not to be blown away by amazing displays of graphics and sound.
You know, if I could stretch the boundaries of what I consider to be a racing game by wide enough margins, I could call “The Oregon Trail” a racing game and review it. That would make this post way more fun and interesting. But I don’t think I could really get away with that now, could I? I’m more likely to break my arm or die of dysentery.
Yeah, the Apple II struggled with those “high-res” graphics. This game is a fairly simple top-down view racer with keyboard control. The arrow keys control steering as well as speed control. The space bar starts the game.
The action is surprisingly fast for the Apple II. You must dodge other cars and the sides of the track. You only get three “lives” or cars or whatever you want to call them.
There is some variety in the way the other cars look. The AI seems pretty good too, and this game is challenging.
Hitting other cars or the edges of the race track causes you to spin out and crash.
Not a bad game, but not the best. The sound is absolutely atrocious, which is what you would expect from an Apple II.
Night Driver (19??)
This isn’t the same game as the more famous arcade game with the same name. It is similar in many ways though. Unlike all the games I’ve reviewed for the Apple II so far, this game utilizes the joystick! Hooray! Well, it actually used a paddle back in the day, and it used the keyboard too. Here is the instruction screen:
The AppleWin emulator handles the paddle emulation via my USB gamepad just fine. Once the race starts up, you’re racing solo down a dark street with only the barest hint of a road or a track to guide you.
Sound is better than the horror that came out of the last game, but it’s still pretty bad.
This is the eye-popping graphical display you get to see when your car goes out of control and you bite the dust… or the asphalt… I can’t actually see what you’re driving on.
After you crash, you are rated. I am a menace.
Like the original “Night Driver” arcade game, the total darkness aspect of this game was used to obfuscate the severe limitations of the hardware. I wasn’t actually expecting to find any first-person driving games on the Apple II, and I’m not surprised that one of those that I found looks like this.
International Gran Prix (1981)
This one is another first-person racing game, and it is better than “Night Driver”.
You get to choose from five different courses, though with the Apple II’s graphics, they all look about the same.
This one is also controlled by paddle, and if you’re using an emulator that means joystick or gamepad. Or paddle, I guess, if you’re some sort of weirdo who owns a USB paddle controller.
This game introduces (to these reviews anyway – it’s most certainly not the first game like this) an interesting feature. You must be conscious of the amount of fuel you carry. Too much fuel will make your car heavier and too slow. To little fuel will cause you to run out of gas before the race is finished.
This game also features difficulty settings. These are done the way most racing games handle difficulty – by adjusting “skid” control.
Once you’ve made those settings, you’re ready to race. You get counted down with those starting lights on the right side of the screen. The bottom of the screen is mostly self-explanatory, except for that little graphic in the middle. That represents the sides of the road and the position of your wheels. You can see at a glance if you are taking a turn too sharply, or if you are getting too close to the edge of the track.
This is a very well-thought-out game, and I was quite pleasantly surprised to find something this in-depth for a computer as primitive as the Apple II. There are no other cars on the road, and the object of the game is to make it to the finish line as fast as you can. The joystick button accelerates, and releasing it will let the car come to a stop.
The text at the top of the screen will flash with the names of landmarks as you pass them. I guess this is meant to make up for the lack of actual detail on-screen.
It’s obvious from playing “International Gran Prix” that Richard Orban tried to make it as realistic a simulation of a driving race as he could. One thing he could not overcome was the severe hardware limitation of the Apple II. This game is incredibly slow, and sadly, playing it doesn’t feel like a race at all. On a real Apple II, there would be no way around this.
As I played, I got to thinking. I remembered how Apple released a faster, beefier, improved version of the Apple II called the Apple IIGS. Although this machine was ostensibly compatible with all Apple II software, it would run games faster because of the higher clock speed of the processor used.
So if you had an Apple IIGS, this game might play more like a race, and it might be way more enjoyable. But since I’m playing this game on AppleWin, I can really mess with the speed! Take a look at what I can do:
Playing this game at twice the normal speed is an absolute must if it’s to be any fun at all. Playing it at the fastest setting (which looks like about 4 times normal speed) made the game truly challenging.
The emulator, my gamepad, and my computer were all able to keep up at this speed, and I even guessed just right with the amount of gas I gave myself at the start of the race.
So, like a modern emulator fixing the flaws of the Atari 5200, an emulator broke through the limitations of the Apple II and made a very well-designed racing game fun to play. This is the only way I can recommend playing “International Gran Prix”, and this game is the only Apple II racing game that I think is worth playing. Even though it’s not much to look at, and even less to listen to, I did have fun playing it after all.