Back in 1983, car games were somewhat limited in what they could do by the hardware available, and yet the amount of inspired creativity that came from programmers being able to start their own business with a home computer led to a mass of games and companies which are still referenced today.
One famed company of the era was Ultimate Play The Game, which has not only involved into the existing Rare company, but was also briefly revived in 2006 for an Xbox Live Arcade remake of Jetpac. But back in the early 1980s, Chris and Tim Stamper released a car game which went way beyond the capabilities of the 16k ZX Spectrum for which is was developed. And that game was Tranz Am.
Seemingly inspired in equal measure by PacMan and 1979 apocalyptic car film Mad Max, Tranz Am was nominally set in the barren wasteland America had become by the year 3472. Presumably due to a miniscule population, fossil fuels aren’t a pollution issue, as the world is ruled by cars and trophies, particularly the ‘8 Great Cups of Ultimate’, which are hidden throughout the land and protected by the ‘Deadly Black Turbos’. You need to collect the cups and avoid the Deadly Black Turbos in your own ‘Super Blown Red Racer’. And not overheat the engine or run out of petrol in the process.
OK, so the plot is a simple justification for an overhead driving game across a pretty barren yellow background (or black at night), being chased by the occasional black car as you use a simple mini-map to try and find the cups and petrol stations. But when you look at most of the great car films (Vanishing Point and Two Lane Blacktop for example), there really wasn’t much in the way of a detail plot or characterisation. Even the likes of Mad Max and Bullitt didn’t really manage to make the bits in between car chases and action scenes work particularly well.
But what all those films, and Tranz Am did, was to provide something aspirational, where you could easily imagine yourself in your own back story. And Tranz Am certainly shares a lot with Vanishing Point in giving you time and space in a barren desert landscape with only the drone of a V8 for company.
But why remake Tranz Am?
All nice enough, but why bother remaking Tranz Am? Firstly look at the screenshot below and check out the features rather than the now somewhat primitive graphics.
You’ve got a clock, a mileometer, a minimap showing your enemies, and guages, and you’re pretty much able to free roam throughout the whole environment pursuing your objectives in whatever order you like. As a concept it’s not too disimilar to GTA in the desert.
Now imagine opening up the space to be a more persistent-type MMO world, with changing objectives, and the opportunity to improve your car. I’m hesitant to suggest including weapons, as anything involving cars fitted with machine guns generally turns out to be a pretty rubbish game (Basically, guns are good for people as you can turn and fire, or for planes because you and swoop around and fire – the only time they work on land-based vehicles is generally on a fixed track in games ranging from Mario Kart to Wipeout), but maybe there’s some way to make them work for once. Certainly the theme of exploration could go beyond that offered by Test Drive Unlimited 2 (which is one of the best aspects of TDU2).
And whilst exploring the open areas may see you playing in relative isolation, petrol stations would provide natural areas for players to congregate, or even to ambush each other. OK, so given previous car warfare games and the risk of creating an MMO-style framework, there’s certainly a chance of a potential disaster, but a remake of Tranz Am could be worth the risk.
(Incidentally, it turns out someone did produce an independant re-imagining of the game, but we haven’t downloaded it yet to try it ourselves and it looks like a straighter update than a true revision would need!)
Other racing games that should be revived: