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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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Jacked off.

Let's not fanny around with a smart-arse introduction to Jacked; let's just deal with the pain like grown-ups. From the makers of Moorhuhn Invasion, Schnappi and Catch the Sperm 2, Jacked would like to be a cross between Burnout and crusty old Megadrive favourite Road Rash. Players scream around tracks on nitro-guzzling motorbikes swinging a collection of bludgeoning instruments at rival racers. It's a simple enough concept but it's rendered pointless by awful design decisions, ropey controls, mediocre presentation and a complete lack of... well, just a complete lack, if you get our meaning.

When a game relies on quick-witted reactions, the controls need to be tightly implemented. Jacked fudges it instantly by using every button on the pad and both analogue sticks, so that riding up on a foe, cracking him over the head with a spanner and jumping on his bike becomes a finger-crippling accident with luck playing a bigger role than skill. Shoulder buttons are used to accelerate and brake, the right stick is for swinging bats at enemies, another button lets the player jump onto a rival's bike mid-race, circle kicks off a nitro boost, square is for throwing grenades (grenades!) and triangle gives orders to the rest of your biking crew. All this while you're trying to pick up icons, steer a course, avoid traffic and come first in a race.

Jack squat

To recover from a beating, you have to... accelerate?

Racing up on an opponent happens very quickly so there's only a very short window of opportunity to smash him in the face and nick his ride. Overshoot your target, by doing something as impractical as accelerating, and you'll have to brake and blindly guess where he's gone to try and boof him in the jaw. There's a rear-view camera but the controls don't work when you're facing the right way, so who would want to control the game backwards?

And the awful design decisions continue. Gang Battle races are a warped take on Capture the Flag, as you fight it out with rival bikers to keep control of a marker. Enemies hurl grenades which you have to avoid by braking. Jacked must be the first racing game where you actually gain a nitro boost by stopping. You can't catch the marker because you're too busy braking and when you do get hold of it, it gets stolen the instant you brake. I'm screaming inside just thinking about it.

Jacking it in

Courses have been designed with all the inspiration of a trip around Nuneaton. 'New York' actually looks like Bolton. 'Virginia' looks like 'New York', which is to say it looks like Bolton as well. Oregon looks like Bolton with sand. All tracks are short, looped courses, peppered with jumps and shuffling traffic. Ramps aren't built into the environment; they're just whopping great triangular objects plonked in the middle of the road flashing an obnoxious colour. There are no shortcuts and no on-screen map to warn of impending chicanes, there aren't enough straight sections to aid speed boosting or vehicle jacking, and if you hit a brick wall and explode the game restarts you facing the wall you just exploded into. Pulling wheelies gives a speed boost too, but courses are so snakey that racing fast just results in bouncing off various walls.

Ramps are conveniently placed so you jump into a corner.

Graphically the game looks like I made it. What little traffic there is resembles Lego models trundling around a drainage gutter. You'll be able to recognise the road, but what I assume to be buildings are actually just chunky blocks. At one point you race under what looks like a big garden shed. A helicopter cruising above the city looks like a shoe. And then there's the aural experience, which you can probably guess by now, is no better. The guitar soundtrack either chugs along like an old bronchitis sufferer or squeals like a trapped pig. Engine noises are akin to someone blowing raspberries down a crackly phone line and when your racer speaks it's with the immortal line, "Snuurrrff glurrn nuurrn!"

Jacked is one of those terrible mid-price games where every half-baked idea is hampered by shoddy execution, and one that would have only been average at best even if all the elements worked properly. After playing it you'll be faintly depressed that precious hours of your life were wasted on it, so do yourself a favour and avoid it at all costs.

Sure, thirty pence from every sale of every copy goes to The Everyman Campaign, but if you're feeling charitable you'd get more entertainment from donating the money you'd have spent on this poor attempt at a knockabout racer. Seriously, even Acclaim's dreadful Speed Kings is better, but that's like saying a headache is better than a migraine. Next!

2 / 10