After Hours

Give me the wheel when racing Grand Prix Legends

NASCAR sims are boring. All you do is drive around in circles, always turning left. This week's reviewer says there's more to life, and he's found it in Grand Prix Legends' vintage race cars and historical tracks.

When I read the e-mail I couldn’t believe it: Seeking volunteers to review a PC-sim driving game. Instantly, visions of wasting idle office time screaming around a racetrack filled my head. What a break from the day-to-day network administration and technical support duties here at TechRepublic!
TechRepublic is celebrating the return of NASCAR in the new millennium by publishing reviews of auto-racing simulations every Saturday, culminating with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20. Did you miss Brian Schaffner’s review of Sierra Sports’ NASCAR Racing 3? No sweat. You can catch it here .
I jumped at the chance and received for my effort one of the latest racing games from Sierra Sports. I was pleasantly surprised to find Grand Prix Legends is a vintage race simulation straight from the 1960s. No boring NASCAR simulation just going around in circles, bunched up by restricter plates and restrictive rules and always turning left.

No. I was immediately immersed in the heydays of Lotus, Ferrari, and American Eagles. These were times of true rivalry among manufacturers, when driver safety and fair play weren't necessarily a priority. Speed, often more than the latest technology could support safely, was the name of the game.

So, excited, I put the CD in my home PC. It’s a PII 233 MHz system with only 2 MB of video memory and no 3D engine. Although the box doesn’t qualify as a gaming machine, I still wasn’t disappointed.

The game installed in a jiffy. The graphics were great, but it was the sound of my car’s growling Ferrari motor that impressed me the most.

Grand Prix Legends gives you the chance to pilot vintage Ferrraris, Lotus-Fords, and more. Screenshot courtesy of Papyrus.

Unfortunately, it was the most exciting experience I managed. However, this is no fault of the game—just my “old” PC and the lack of a steering wheel or joystick. I found out right away that using a keyboard to control a 400+ horsepower race car is similar to, well, trying to drive a 400+ horsepower race car with a keyboard. I never reached the speed needed to achieve wheel drift as shown in the demo or get airborne over the dips.

But I did see enough to know I needed a joystick or, better yet, a steering wheel. Since I had neither, I can only say that the game itself appeared to be very well written. Changing car features or “tuning” them for performance was easy and fun. Why? Because these old cars were the ones I grew up watching Jackie Stewart driving on ABC.

Remember, kids, this is back when racing meant something was going to blow up before the end of the race. In those days, fuel tank technology wasn’t what we see today, and walking away was a rarity. I’m glad that we have safer cars for today’s real drivers, but a driving simulation is altogether different.

In a game, an explosion or two is a “good thing.” And trust me when I say I experienced many good things trying to negotiate off-camber corners at 167 mph with my keyboard controls.

If you’re interested in historically accurate gaming—and racing on a number of authentic racetracks painstakingly recreated to resemble their 1960s namesakes—then I suggest you pop for a joystick or wheel, at a minimum. Head to the 14-mile Nurburgring track first, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

In fact, this game deserves a wheel and foot pedals. Once so equipped, this would be the first game I’d want. In fact, I’m waiting for my Logitech Wingman Wheel with gas and brake pedals now. While I’m way too cheap to ever spend $60 on a game controller, this simulation is so intriguing, and my desire for revenge so great, that I’ve spent the money. When my wheel arrives, I look forward to many hours of wasting idle office time screaming around a racetrack.
Papyrus recommends the following: Windows 95/98, 166 MHz Pentium, 32 MB Ram, Windows-compatible video card with 2 MB memory, and a 2X CD-ROM. The game sells for approximately $45.

John Day provides network administration and technical support services at TechRepublic when he’s not dodging exploding subwoofers.

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