The Game Room

You may call me a heretic, but I have to admit that the Mac isn't my only gaming machine. It's true: I've also got a few console games attached to my TV-because many of my favorite games just haven't had good Mac equivalents. This has been particularly true of driving games, but the situation is changing. We'll take a look at what's available in the racing genre for the Mac.

Fasten Your Seat Belts

If movies like Bullitt or The French Connection are your thing, then you should definitely check out Driver, a recent release from MacSoft. In the game, you are an undercover cop sent to bust up crime rings by becoming the person who drives the getaway car. You must fend off other cops, other crooks, loads of slow pedestrians, and city traffic.

A frustrating game to learn, Driver is a blast once you get the hang of it. You'll power around San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York in muscle cars, doing bad things that'll get you in trouble unless you outrun the cops and robbers. Driver's coolest feature is its Film Director mode: your inner cineast can block out shots and control the "cameras" when you replay your high-speed chases.

The game does have rough spots. It crashed my Mac once, and its installer left me with a generic application icon and a messy folder filled with configuration files.

Driver is a single-player game, but it offers many game types and enough challenge to keep things interesting. Some cities, for example, can't be visited until you've completed your missions elsewhere.

My Other Car Is a Boat

When I was a kid, I loved to play in the bathtub with plastic hydroplanes and jet boats. I suspect that the folks at French Touch Software had similar experiences, because playing WaterRace, their debut Mac game effort, is a lot like that.

You choose from a variety of characters, pick a boat, and race through your choice of exotic locations. Your goal is to win the WaterRace, an international speedboat championship. Some of the characters are comic to the point of silliness, with names such as MC Tiger and Rusty McCow.

French Touch Software developed WaterRace as a Mac application from the start. Many of the tools used to create the game are included on the WaterRace CD-ROM-a rare and generous gesture. You can use these tools to create your own courses, boats, and other elements.

WaterRace is enormous fun to play, but it can be unstable-I had to manually tweak some of the configuration settings to get them to stick. It does, however, have a great soundtrack, a decent physics model (boats slip and slide just as you would expect them to), and enough variety in boat handling and course layout to pose challenges along the way. It also supports network play, so you can round up an Internet game if the mood strikes you.

Let the Good Times Roll

Speaking of alternative modes of transportation, you might want to check out Encore Software's Kawasaki ATV PowerSports and Kawasaki Jet Ski Watercraft. ATV PowerSports offers four different playing styles, a track editor, and other trappings that, on the surface, seem pretty cool. But although riding through sand dunes and other environments on handlebarred four-wheel contraptions is fun,

ATV PowerSports just doesn't do it for me. The game's physics model is far too simplistic (getting any serious air or even knocking yourself about is pretty much impossible), the computer players are either too powerful or painfully stupid, and the sound effects become irritating.

Kawasaki Jet Ski Watercraft is more fun to play. Though it's very similar to the ATV game, it has more courses, more game modes, and some differentiation in performance and handling among the various vehicles. (However, there's no multiplayer networking support in either Kawasaki game.)

Kicking Up Some Mud

If your tastes run more to mud and grit than to sand and surf, 4×4 Evo, from Gathering of Developers, is worth checking out (see Reviews elsewhere in this issue). It puts you behind the wheel of a light truck or sport-utility vehicle (from a real automaker) and lets you barrel through one of more than a dozen courses-from high desert to a military air base to a junkyard. Nothing comes close to 4×4 Evo's graphics or simulations when it comes to virtual driving.

Prehistoric Racing

Pangea Software scored big earlier this year when Apple chose to include

Cro-Mag Rally on both the iMac and the G4 Cube. If you haven't bought a new system this year and are looking for a cart-style racing game, look no further. Cro-Mag Rally is a good, well-rounded game. You take control of cave people as you navigate a series of racing circuits through different ages of civilization. It features a variety of cars with unique handling and performance, and power-ups, which temporarily grant you special abilities or weapons.

You can play Cro-Mag Rally over a LAN but not over the Internet. My favorite feature is split-screen multiplayer support. You and a friend can sit down at the same Mac, with two game controllers, and Cro-Mag Rally actually divides the screen between the two of you. It turns your Mac into a game console.

Crossing the Finish Line

If I had to choose only one of these to complete my Mac game collection, I'd have to go with Cro-Mag Rally. Pangea does an awesome job on the fit and finish, and the game is stupefyingly fun to play.

Each of these games brings something to the Mac driving-game experience, though: 4×4 Evo is realistic, while Driver's Film Director mode makes replays almost more fun than the action itself. And WaterRace is great if boats are your thing. You may also want to take Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer for a spin (3.5 mice; Reviews , May 2000). For pure escapism, it rules.

Our choices in the driving-game arena are growing and improving, and hopefully we'll be able to keep on truckin' for years to come.

Freewheelin' PETER COHEN, senior editor at MacCentral, has been pulled over one too many times and now pursues his racing impulses from behind the wheel of his Mac.

Wanna Drag? With WaterRace, from French Touch Software, you can challenge your buddies over the Internet.
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