Playing The Last V8 (C64)

The end of the world has already happened and what remains of humanity ekes out an existence in fallout shelters, biding their time by monitoring the environment and, in one particular case, tearing apart a car and modifying it for this new, radiation-soaked world. The day finally comes when this supercharged and heavily shielded vehicle rumbles out into the post nuclear wilderness to explore and perhaps track down survivors, only to be surprised by an alarm going off on the dashboard signalling that a delayed nuclear strike is on its way. For any other car the journey back to the Undercity and on to the safety of the Sci-Base would be impossible… but this is The Last V8.

David Darling‘s Mad Max-inspired, post-apocalyptic driving game is divided into two parts, the first is a manic race through twisting countryside back to the relative safety of the underground city before the incoming nuke hits – the car’s shields are good but won’t withstand a full-on nuclear blast – requiring the V8 to be driven as close to the edge as possible despite hairpin bends in the road and fatal to the touch surrounding foliage. Once underground the pace settles down a little as the player manoeuvres through the tight, maze-like passageways to the Sci-Base’s entrance, avoiding collisions and trying not to dwell too long in the invisible but deadly radioactive zones which are a result of that recent detonation.

The Last V8 has always divided opinion in part because the difficulty is deliberately and frustratingly high, presumably to draw things out since a seasoned player can complete the entire thing in under three minutes. Meeting that challenge starts with learning how to properly control the V8, practicing until able to clear the first level consistently or at least knowing where the short cuts are – I’ve included the most common one as a bonus in the video after the main playthrough is done, along with the rarer second option that I tended to use personally – and then working out the path through the Undercity which had the least radioactive zones. Making the levels punishingly hard in this way is a cheap design choice, especially since there would have been more space for maps if the two low quality but reasonably long chunks of sampled speech hadn’t been included.

Despite the unforgiving difficulty I’ve always been fond of The Last V8 personally, absolutely loving the in-game soundtrack whilst playing it extensively on both the C64 and Atari 8-bit back in the day – the Amstrad CPC version is a bit of a car crash, if you’ll excuse the “pun” – and managing to complete the entire game on countless occasions despite claims of it being declared “impossible” online. I think there was actually a time in the late 1990s where the only map of the Undercity was one I made in ASCII and posted to Comp.Sys.CBM on USENet, although I sadly can’t find it now. This game does stir a few other childhood memories of living through the cold war with that imminent threat of nuclear death hanging over all of our heads that the game’s scenario is based around, although I’m not sure those are strictly speaking good memories…

2 thoughts on “Playing The Last V8 (C64)

  1. Ok, thought I’d better give V8 another go.

    Not really played it since it was released all those year ago. In fact, I didn’t actually buy it, a friend did and we spent the better part of a day trying to get somewhere, but failed dismally because it was (still is) so bloody hard! So I’ve had a play for a few hours.

    A few gripes…
    * the letter box display in the top (what seems like) tenth of the screen
    * the giant, useless logo at the bottom
    * the bad screen glitch just below the scrolling section
    * having to sit through the speech after every restart
    * confusing controls – left to throttle, right to brake, up/down to turn, etc.

    A few positives…
    * storming music!
    * half decent graphics
    * er, um….

    Nope, sorry, no love for this game what-so-ever. I kind of give Mastertronic releases a softer ride because they were great for those of us on a budget, but with this game, the poor game design really puts me off.

  2. I’ve always suspected the play area was originally bigger until the music went in, then was reduced to allow for it and the logo then added to pad the screen out…

    The controls are simpler than they seem; pushing the joystick in the direction you want to go will make the V8 head that way, it just has to adjust from whatever it’s currently doing first. You can use that to tweak what the car is doing rather than just going in eight directions as well, that’s the bit which takes some practise.

    And yeah, I know it’s not everybody’s cup of tea but I doubt most of the games I’m prodding at for these posts are… they’re just games I like (or sometimes dislike) and want to ramble on about really. =-)

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