Eeww, what's that eyewatering smell? It's Ocean's new driving game! (Er...)
Burning Rubber, eh? Phwoar, sounds a bit like - no, sorry. I never could quite carry off that schoolboy innuendo stuff properly, even when I was a schoolboy. 'Bum', 'pants', 'poo', 'wee' even 'willy', they never raised much of a chuckle for me. Maybe I've just got no sense of humour. Yeah, that's probably it. It'd certainly explain a few things about International Rugby Challenge, at least. But anyway.
Burning Rubber, nee Hot Hatches, is Ocean's moderately long-awaited rallying sim. You drive one of a wide range of family hatchback-type cars (hence the original, even double entendrier, title) like the Fiesta (yes, yes), Renault 5, Golf and Astra through all your favourite European countries, then hop across the 'pond' to drive some fine American 'automobiles' through the USA in similar fashion. It's not your everyday kind of foot-down racer, though - before each stage, you're presented with a map of the country you're about to traverse (well, not all of it, obviously - just the particular microcosm of nationality that the race's unseen organisers have chosen to represent it), on which you can select your own route from a wide range of criss-crossing highways.
As you then drive the track, big red arrows pop up to show you which way you ought to be going at the numerous junctions and crossroads that crop up as you go along. If you go a different way to the one you chose on the map screen, or miss one of your turnings (easily done, for reasons I'll go into in a minute), you can still complete the course perfectly well, but you'll have to work out the turns for yourself until you get back on the right route. This is actually really good fun - there's a real glow of pride to be gained from accidentally shooting past a junction, then navigating yourself round an unmarked road network and eventually getting yourself back on course and still managing to beat your opponents to the finishing line.
One of the best things about Burning Rubber is that the rules apply to the computer opponents in the race too - they all choose their own routes, and you'll regularly see them splitting up at junctions, or coming down the road at you when you've chosen diametrically opposite paths to the finish. Also, because this is supposed to be a proper illegal road race, the computer drivers all stick to the left-hand side of the road (or the right when you move to Europe - another nice touch), moving across the white line only to overtake. This gives you a big advantage in that you can just drive up the wrong side all the time and overtake really easily, but you do risk smashing head-on into oncoming traffic, which brings me to my first big complaint - when you do this, you sustain a heavy amount of damage, but otherwise nothing very much happens, which is silly. Coming to a complete stop seems to me to be the very least you could hope for in this situation, and being able to continue on your merry way seemingly unscathed is daft.
And since I've started, I might as well get all the other gripes out of the way. It's really annoying to get thrown in jail by the police and lose a credit for going past a panda car at 71mph - there ought to be some kind of scale here, whereby if you stop and say "It's a fair cop, guv" when the sirens go, you just get fined some of your cash, but running away at high speed and ramming the police car when it pulls over in front of you gets you banged in the slammer with Mr. Big. It's extra-aggravating when someone else shoots past you doing 30mph more than you during the chase, but it's still you who gets nicked. If you ask me, Crazy Cars 3 handled things a great deal better in this department.
The amount of slowing-down you have to do for junctions is a bit ridiculous too (anything over 10mph and you'll either overshoot and miss completely, or smash your car to bits on the side of the road as you go round), as is the tiny amount of visual warning you get of one coming up (especially in the night-time tracks, where you don't see them until you're right on top of them). There is a changing-scenery motif that lets you know when one's imminent, but it's not really enough to give you a fair chance, and it takes the game's realism (and this is a very realistic driving game, in as much as you could reasonably expect) just one stage too far. And finally, just what's going on with the perspective? Going by the screen, you appear to be both inside your car looking at the dashboard and slightly behind it looking at the back wheels, which becomes all the more baffling when you notice that the car you're looking at doesn't appear to have a driver at all. Similarly, most of the other cars in the race appear to be twice the size of yours when you get up close.
Graphics in general are Burning Rubber's weakest feature - it's very jerky going round bends, which plays havoc with your eyes after a while, and the rainy and night-time courses just look like someone's dripping blue paint down the screen and blowing a load of soot onto it respectively. But the thing is, for all its faults, I really enjoyed it. In forcing you to drive realistically sometimes (when there's a radar trap coming up, or when you really have to avoid damage to get to the end intact, say), it's got a feel unlike any other computer racing game I've played, and that's something of a breath of fresh air as far as I'm concerned. I wish I had more space, because there's lots more I'd like to say, but I'm going to have to tell you that you could do a lot worse than this and leave it at that. Give this one a chance.
The Bottom Line
Uppers: It successfully captures the lonely rally-driving atmosphere, without ever just feeling empty like Jaguar XJ220 or F17 Challengee. Meeting an opposing driver coming in the other direction along the road because he's taken a different route to you is really quite exciting. No, it is. The fab and kicking intro by the Utah Saints, no less, is a bit corking too.
Downers: The scrolling's pretty jerky (pretty ropey graphics generally, in fact) and going round corners and junctions is a complete pain in the butt. The police are completely annoying, too - the system in Crazy Cars 3 was far better than this one-mistake-and-you're-completely-knackered kind of affair. Oh, and up for accelerate - aarrgghh! (But at least you don't slow down when you let go.)
As long as you don't expect it to be a Lotus-type all-out arcade racer, Burning Racer isn't half bad. It's technically naff in most ways, but I've got a soft spot for it I can't quite shake off. It's a different kind of driving game, and that's no bad thing.