Written by: Rik

Date posted: July 28, 2001


Now these are awkward buggers. Not quite as bad as the corkscrews, though.

Racing games don’t tend to age too well, relying as they do on up-to-the minute visual treats, as much as anything else, as the main basis of entertainment. Generally they disappear almost as quickly as they arrive, with the most well-realised ones enjoying only fleeting critical and commercial success. With the exception of Gran Turismo on the PlayStation, few offer sufficient depth to satisfy long-term gamers, revealing themselves to be largely hollow affairs once their graphical sheen and initial novelty value wears off.

This is especially the case on PC: gamers long-accustomed to 3D accelerated graphics, lens-flare, motion-blur and similar gimmicks would be most likely shocked and offended at what they were impressed by a few years ago. On first playing the original Need for Speed, for example, I remember thinking that no racing game could ever possibly look or feel more realistic. The fact that the game steadfastly refused to let you leave the road no matter how hard you tried to break the invisible barrier surrounding it was conveniently ignored by all and sundry because, at the time, it was the shiniest, best-looking racer around.

The replay options are comprehensive, and put some modern racers to shame.

4D Sports: Driving had been around for years when NFS arrived on the scene. Around the time of release, it followed the path already identified: acclaim from reviewers, then into the wilderness. From there it acquired a kind of cult status in some circles, owing largely, it has to be said, to the widespread circulation of pirate copies of the game. Having said that, we wouldn’t be talking about it now if it didn’t have a lot of other things to recommend it. Essentially it’s an arcade driving game, with players racing a range of sports cars around stunt tracks involving ridiculously unfeasible jumps and bridges, either against the clock or a range computer-controlled opponents of varying skill levels.

First things first – it’s nothing to shout about in the audio-visual department. No surprises here: chances are you’ll be taken aback by the sheer size of the pixels alone once you get the thing running, and the cheesy (though catchy) theme tune that belts out from your sound card (or PC speaker) is a stark reminder that there was a time when games designers had to come up with game music using only an Adlib soundcard. In-game, graphics are representative of most early 3D efforts – vaguely car-shaped blocks squirt along a grey line running through a green landscape punctuated by the occasional triangular tree, while the engine noise is bumble-bee city.

Ahem. I wouldn’t worry about what it says in his bio, ‘Skid’ is rubbish – like all the AI racers.

But we knew all that, right? Well I did. And you could have guessed even if you hadn’t seen it before. So let’s talk about the good things. Well, for one thing, while 4DSD is pig-ugly, it still retains a fantastic sense of involvement. The road zips by at a terrific rate, and the cars are impressively responsive. You’re also free to leave the track; attempt a corner at an unwise speed and you won’t be rescued by the game engine’s ‘invisible wall’, because it’s usually set well away from the course itself. As a result, you always feel in control; that it’s your task to drive the car around the track, without the game ever interfering.

However, while the driving experience is a satisfying one, it’s something else that really makes this game, and it’s not the initially impressive array of cars available to you (because you’ll probably only ever use about three of them), and it’s certainly not the AI racers (who manage to crash in about 8/10 races, no matter what their skill level, usually into you). No, it’s something that astoundingly few developers have thought about including in their racing games either before or since – a track construction kit.

The Ferarris and Porsches of this world aren’t that much cop in Stunts. Which is why I’m driving this one towards a concrete barrier.

I won’t wax lyrical about the many hours I’ve spent crouched over my old keyboard creating the ultimate driving challenge (and then repeatedly failing to drive around it) – for one thing it’s pretty sad, although I do know of several others who’ve done the same, but needless to say it adds a huge amount to the game in terms of longevity. The editor is easy to use, and you can create some insanely impossible courses, with death-defying jumps scattered around liberally. What’s more, it’s a testament to the game itself that you can get so much more mileage out of it simply because you can drive around courses that you’ve created yourself.

Now, I could claim that 4DSD is a much ‘purer’ driving game than most of the mass-market stuff you can buy nowadays, and in fact provides a more satisfactory experience than more high-profile racers like Gran Turismo or Colin MacRae Rally. But I would be talking a load of old rubbish if I did. Nevertheless, while 4DSD looks and feels like the ten-year-old game that it is, it remains a worthy and involving driving game, and if you can put up with the graphics and sound, chances are you’ll find yourself giving it extended periods of your time, especially if you start using the construction kit.