Posted by Eric M. Klein on October 26, 2007
|Year of Release:
||Mono (PC Speaker)
|| Street Rod
So I’ve finally decided to dedicate some of my thoughts on video and computer games to virtual paper, as it were. There’s only one problem: I don’t play many (any?) modern games! However, as I always say, when life gives you lemons, return them to the dealership for your money back. So, without further ado, welcome to the first installment of (insert fanfare here) Eric’s Way Too Late Reviews!
As our first installment, I thought I’d review a PC game from way the hell back in 1989. Now, I know what you’re thinking. 1989! That’s the year Zsa Zsa Gabor was arrested for slapping a police officer! Yes, and it was also back when computer games had to be a little on the “imaginative” side. There were no 3D graphics, no (or very little) stereo sound, and multiplayer meant that you and a friend had to crowd around the same keyboard and use some incredibly weird key combinations to compete with each other. Given these limitations, it’s amazing anyone would try to make a game for these things, but amazingly enough, some people were insane enough to do so, and some of the games turned out to be quite good in unexpected ways. Such is the case with Street Rod.
First and foremost Street Rod is a racing game. It’s the summer of 1963, and you’ve scrimped and saved all of the money from your job from the previous school year to buy your first jalopy and start racing it against the guys down at the local drive-in burger joint. You race against various opponents 1-on-1 in one of 2 race type: drag or street. Drag race is a short straight sprint to the city limits. Your opponents will try to push you off the road, but that’s about the extent of the difficulty. Street race, however, is a longer race to the county line, full of twists, turns, lane closures, streets that narrow and widen depending on where you are in the race. Not only will your opponents try to push you around, the course itself is difficult to get through. As a reward for the effort of a street race the stakes are higher.
Each race mode has a wagering menu, where you set the stakes for the race. Lose enough races and run out of cash, and you’re done for the summer and the game is over. Also, if you crash you have one of 2 outcomes: low speed crashes damage your car which requires repair (read “cash”), high speed crashes total the car and you get a pittance back for the scrap.
Now, all of this adds up to a fairly standard 1980’s style racing game, but this is where Street Rod innovates. Not only can you buy and sell cars, you can also modify and tune your car. There’s a complete section of the newspaper (which is the purchasing interface) devoted to auto parts, which range from new engines to transmissions, manifolds and carburetors to tires. Just like real life, parts on your car actually wear down as you race, necessitating the replacement of those parts, and judicious parts purchasing can turn your run-of-the-mill jalopy into a mean machine. What I really love about the car modification interface is that it actually requires you to tighten bolts, which is just a great little touch. It makes you feel like you’re working on YOUR car, not just a random car in a game. You can also make 2 cosmetic changes to your car, namely a new paint job and chopping the roof. In another nod to reality, your car can run out of gas, and you have to run down to the filling station to top ooff the tank.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Street Rod is not without its faults. Like many other games from the 80’s, it is incredibly easy to “die”, especially in the early stages of the game, where you don’t have enough money to buy your way out of a nasty collision. Also, the street race difficulty borders on criminally insane. However, these flaws are almost entirely a product of the era when the game was written, either due to prevailing game design wisdom of the time, or the limitations of the PC as a gaming platform.
Overall, Street Rod is a blast to play. I played it when I was a kid around the time that it came out, and I’ve recently picked it up again as an adult. To play Street Rod on a modern PC, you need to use a program to emulate the PCs from 1989. The one I use is called DOSBox, and it is available for Windows, MacOS X (Universal binary, so it should run on both the PowerPC and Intel based Macs), and a whole host of open-source operating systems such as Linux. Using DOSBox is not for the command-line squeamish, however there is quite a bit of help available online. See the vitals box for links to the game and to DOSBox.