Posted by boyo on Apr 12, 2011 10:46 (Apr 12, 2011 10:46)
In 1983, the Spectrum phenomenon was still in its infancy and the wider gaming market was years from maturity. Software was being coded by bedroom enthusiasts and Clive Sinclair was basking in the glow of his ‘pre C5’ success. Even ‘Ram pack wobble’ and the Spectrum’s nemesis, the Commodore 64, couldn’t prevent the machine’s onward march into the hearts and homes of British gamers.
Considering the technical achievements and programming prowess demonstrated during the Spectrum’s considerable lifespan, it’s somewhat ironic that one of its earliest and most basic games is widely regarded as its finest hour. Voted ‘Best Spectrum Game Ever’ by Your Sinclair Magazine, Mervyn J Estcourt’s 3D Deathchase is as fresh now as it was twenty eight years ago.
Plot-less and devoid of variety, the game borrows its inspiration from the speeder chase scene in Star Wars, Return of the Jedi. Charged with racing through an ever more densely packed forest, two enemy bikers are your elusive primary targets. The pursuit unfolds across eight sectors, each split between night and day patrols – giving 16 levels of play. And though the 3D visuals are atrocious by today’s standards, it’s the sheer sensation of speed and sustained peril that make this such a white knuckle ride.
Targeting your foes is initially straightforward because the trees are sparse and generously spaced, meaning full acceleration can be applied and bonus points earned by hunting the helicopters and tanks that tantalise in the distance. Before long, though, mere survival becomes your goal as trees rush headlong out of the screen making manic weaving essential. Unfortunately, slowing down to save your skin isn’t an option, lest the opposition pull away. So it’s with reckless abandon that the suicide mission unfolds, motion sickness sets in and sweat starts gushing from every pore. That this sensation of urgency is created in something less than 9K makes the experience no less immersive, but all the more remarkable.
These days, Deathchase virgins are most likely to experience its wicked addictiveness through the joys of emulation and for once this mimicry actually enhances the experience. Overclocking the Spectrum to around 300% causes the trees to charge forth like Triffids on acid, confirming the suicidal nature of your mission and turning survival against the clock into a stunning ‘after pub’ multiplayer experience. Meanwhile, true enthusiasts with the original hardware will know that lying on the floor - eyes inches from the screen - and steering furiously using the flesh-like rubber keyboard is something akin to gaming heaven.