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…

Playing Carmageddon (Windows)

I haven’t done a “playing” post for quite a while, partly because I just haven’t been getting into games lately. But that changed when I bumped into a re-release of Carmageddon over on Good Old Games (there’s been a Steam release since this post was originally written). For those who haven’t played it, Carmageddon is a post-apocalyptic racer that was released in 1997 and is pretty much the closest a game has ever got to reproducing the feel of 1970s classic Death Race 2000 because at one point in development it was destined to be an official license.

In other words, although racing a set number of laps around each course will complete a stage as you’d expect, so will smacking seven shades out of the opponents to the point where they’re disabled or running over every pedestrian on the map, with the game actively rewarding the player for these actions with extra time and cash! There are also canisters dotted around the map which give a selection of power-ups; the more mundane ones provide extra time or credits but there are more powerful temporary bolt-on toys such as turbo chargers, free recovery vouchers for when the car ends up parked on its roof, tweaks to the in-game gravity or the mental Electro Bastard Ray which fires lightning bolts at pedestrians as the car passes.

Just about anything ramp-shaped can be used to send the car skywards and, although I’ve never been sure if it was by design or sheer luck, most of the time it’ll land on its wheels afterwards. The car sustains damage from impacts and these can make it difficult to control, but repairs can literally be done on the move so even the most ridiculous nose-first dive from the top of a building which smashes all the controls and decimates the bodywork can be driven away from given a few seconds and a wodge of in-game cash – truly hysterical amounts of fun can be had by doing something like collecting a hotrod power-up, aiming for a chevron-covered barrier and simply going for it, sending the car tumbling through the skies of the play area whilst the driver’s avatar is buffeted about on the Pratcam.

There was some fuss about Carmageddon on release due to the amount of violence and an unnecessary attempt to get it BBFC certification backfired so the UK release had to be tweaked with zombies and green blood, but whilst it uses what were at the time pretty realistic graphics, the violence is more like a cartoon than anything else. And although the 3D graphics have obviously dated like all 3D tends to over time, the gameplay still holds up today so I’ve already had my money’s worth from the GOG purchase with a couple of marathon sessions.

All of the screenshots have the female avatar Die Anna on the Pratcam because I’ve always selected her when playing; I have no idea why, but she does have a wonderfully sadistic laugh and says things like “I’m coming to get you” when certain power-ups are activated which I can’t help but find… erm, interesting? Yes, lets call it “interesting”.