Preview - our first look at (hopefully) early code from RatBag's 4x4 stadium racing game
The Downward Spiral
The starting video didn't run properly on my 850MHz Athlon with 256Mb of memory and GeForce 2, even though the whole video was being played directly from my (fast) hard disk, which isn't a good start. The Rat Bag Games logo animation kicked off with a couple of fester look-alikes spray-painting a wall, and it jerked and wailed all over the place, badly out of sync. The introductory animation for the actual game did likewise, but after hammering the spacebar it went away. I have no idea what format the video was using, but I'd recommend to the developers that they reconsidered it. The interface is very dark, but I had no real trouble finding my way into the options menus to do some configuring. I had told the game to Autodetect which resolution and video card I had, and had no doubt that it would have done so. The Video menu had the resolution set at 320x240, which should really have been a sign I suppose, so I bumped this up to 1024x768 and clicked on a few of the video options. The controls were simple, just the arrow keys, Shift for half-steering wheel lock and space to change the camera view. Z and X allegedly handle changing gears but I couldn't get them to do that. Although the eventual public release of the game will feature a full-fledged career mode, it was disabled in the version shown to us, and only Quick Race was offered. Three tracks were available and about 10 vehicles in three classes; Superlites, Super Modified and Sports Pick Up Trucks. I went for the default stadium of Bracken Bowl and a nice Sports Pick Up.
Chug. Chug. Chug.
For some reason, the game, while not looking particularly troublesome, was slowing my finely tuned system to a halt. Horrified, I exited with all haste and set the resolution to 640x480. With the default video options selected and at 640x480, the system could just about keep up, but as I was flown in toward the starting grid I became aware of two rather unsettling facts. The car next to me had square wheels, and the whole game looked as though it was being played in software. Which of course, it was. I restarted the game after a fresh reboot and this time instead of sensibly opting for "Autodetect" on the game's launcher, I chose "Direct3D". Other options included Glide, Banshee and Software. As I have no 3dfx cards here (and the company no longer sells video cards) I was rather appalled to find myself shoe-horned into the lowest common denominator. The game's opening movies screeched away and I dived into the video option menus again, set the resolution and ticked all over the options. Compare the two screenshots below. One is 640x480 software, and one is (supposedly) 640x480 Direct3D. Both were captured on the starting grid. Oh, the one on the left is software, and the right is Direct3D, in case you can't tell.
So I think it's safe to assume that the game is running in Software, then, regardless of what I tell it to do? Good, I'm glad we're settled on that point. Is it visually appealing? Not yet. Graphically it's impossible to tell how the final game will look, as we have no way of forcing the game take advantage of our graphics card. At the time of writing I have no idea if the game will feature support for OpenGL either. Hopefully more details will emerge soon, but in the meantime we invite you to take a look at the screenshots supplied to us by Take 2 a while back, which can be viewed here. As you can see, the game should look remarkably smart, although the models are a bit too sharp for the blurry textures that adorn them.
My formula for the perfect racing game asks that it be easily approachable, visually appealing and that it reward technique above all else. At the moment though, Leadfoot rewards the player's ability to nudge the reverse key when cornering. Aside from that, winning races is a finely strung tightrope. As long as you start in front you can maintain your lead, but if you drop back, even one or two places, you have no real chance. Starting on the front and controlling the hideous over steer you can win a race, but get caught in the scenery or shunted by another car and you have a lot of work on your hands. The only thing we can say is that the game is still only partially developed, so we won't pass final judgement on it until we have a proper review sample. In other words, we will reassess Leadfoot when we have something that can hopefully do it a little more justice.
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