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Thames Racer
Platform : PC CDRom
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Reviewed by Viper

There are many quality games that are released every year. There are many more mediocre games released every year, games which are fun, and good to play perhaps, but, could be a lot better. Then there are the games that are just bad, and have no purpose for existance other than to raise money from the poor clueless souls who actually spend money on the things without doing their research. Unfortunately, Thames Racer falls into the latter category.

The premise is simple - speedboat racing around Europe's top water cities, such as Amsterdam and London, as the title implies. The execution is, however, poor. The whole feel of the game is just cheap and nasty, the GUI being keyboard operated and looking like a childs toy, with big colourful icons for everything. The characters, their appearences and descriptions are laughably stereotyped and pathetically poor, with names like "Joe Average" and "Shaft".

Once you get past the poor presentation, the gameplay itself is nothing to recommend either. Boating around the circuits is boring, and overtaking the computer opponents is a cinch. There are powerups seemingly scattered randomly all over the circuits, as if the course designer had nothing better to do. These powerups seem to serve no real purpose in the game other than to 'liven it up'. The powerups, combined with the childish GUI and stereotyped characters, combine to give the feel of a game from a few years ago. Actually Thames Racer reminds me of Slipstream 5000 - except that was fun in its day. It can be fun to line up a competing speedboat and fire a missile, leaving them in your wake - but it is pretty hard to do, seeing as the controls are, for some reason, stupidly overresponsive, one tap of the joystick sending you veering into the walls. The keyboard is actually easier to use than a joystick - my Sidewinder Precision Pro at least - but it is still overresponsive to your input. Besides, is this a space combat sim, or a speedboat racing game?

The circuit design is pretty poor too. They don't flow or play well. You can just be going in one direction and all of a sudden the directional arrow changes and the circuit has rotated 160 degrees. Struggling to find the right way through the circuit, the computer controlled racers who of course have the circuit programmed into them have all overtaken you. Making the player have to stop dead and rotate to go down another route is hardly the making of a good circuit. Half the time, you end up going the wrong way. Okay, so the circuits are based around Europes' famous water cities. I am, however, pretty sure that Amsterdam does not have three Turbo bonuses lying under a bridge. Yes, back to the powerups again. It might be forgivable if there was some skill in controlling the powerups, but no... they are just everywhere. It is quite normal to see three of the same powerup in a line next to each other waiting for someone to grab them. Quite often, it can be a good idea to get rid of your current powerup because there is a better one up ahead - this happens very frequently. It's not like theres a risk someone else will get to the powerup before you either... there are THREE of them!

The game structure reminds me of 4 year old games. There are three modes of play: "Sightseeing", where you can just boat around the tracks at your leisure, as the title implies, "Quick race", in which you choose a city and a circuit and race against five computer controlled opponents, and "Championship", in which you race around the four circuits of a particular city in sequence and get points depending on your position, in an attempt to unlock more boats and circuits. This was the standard fare from racing games of long ago. Davilex, we have moved on several years.

Also very noticeable by its absence is any form of multiplayer - splitscreen, LAN, or internet. Even Slipstream 5000 which I mentioned above, about 5 years old now, had multiplayer options. This lack of multiplayer just adds to the feeling of 'crap' you get whilst playing Thames Racer. The game has little worthwhile content, and it just doesn't feel 'quality'. I won't repeat myself any more. At least if there were multiplayer options you could have spring jumping contests, or see who could turbo boost the fastest.

There are also technical problems with the game - on my system at least. Thames Racers' graphics aren't up to much - it looks somehow old, from the days of early 3d accelerators, majorly overused lens flare effects and other 3dfx goodies plastered onto a sparse, bleak engine. Yet I get very poor framerates on my Pentium III 450 (clocked at 558), Geforce 2 GTS, 128Mb system, and the game tends to totally freeze every few seconds for about a second then continue "normally". Which, as you might imagine, makes normal play very hard, and certainly not desirable.

In conclusion, I really can't recommend this game to anyone. There is nothing good about it. Certainly, there are many, many better racing games out there. Unless you really must have a Speedboat Racing game (there are no alternatives that I am aware of), stay away, stay very far away.
  • The only speedboat racing game around

  • Reminds me of those 9.99 multimedia CDs from the spinning racks in Electronics Boutique
  • Everything else
  • Overall: