Version tested: Retro
Back in 1982, Pole Position was the star of the arcade racing track. Realistic racing games were in short supply, so this rubber-burning new arrival set the standard -- achieving tremendous success over the next couple of years. Its realistic visual style was unlike anything seen before, with a (then) unique third person perspective, good use of synthesised speech and turbo scrolling speed which gave it the authentic feel of a real formula one vehicle. Chuck in a steering wheel, pedals and a sit down cabinet and YOU were the driver, pursuing your wildest championship fantasies on the open tarmac.
Time has taken the shine off Pole Position's colourful exterior, however. The much-lauded realism now feels to be an exercise in patience, where the slightest wrong move results in a collision with a car or a billboard. It's a punishing game, unforgiving in its demand for perfection from the driver, where even qualifying for the main race requires utmost precision. An accurate portrayal of F1 racing, perhaps, but not an experience which encourages many players to return.
Once at the main event the challenge increases even further, with a four lap race complete with track pitfalls (oil spills and water) along with competing drivers and a ticking clock.
It's a simulation down to the core: those dedicated will eventually reap success but most will be deterred by the difficulty. Its influence on the racing genre can't be disputed, as without Pole Position it is unlikely that many arcade racers we cherish today would even exist, but today it feels rather joyless and unfair. The vintage motor is still worth taking for a spin, but don't expect it to recapture that spark you remember.
Superceded by improved variations on the theme, this title won't be whizzing past the chequered flag.
6 / 10