So you’re hanging out near the dawn of man, deep in the mists of time, and you’ve got that pesky fire thing pretty well figured out. Now that you’re warm, you’re wondering what to do with these four flat rounded stones you’ve got lying around, gathering dust in the corner of the cave. You could leverage ’em into some sort of labor-saving device, or you could maybe slap some dough on ’em and invent pizza, but why worry about the practical or the mundane? Wouldn’t you rather go cruisin’?
Cro-Mag Rally is the latest offering from Mac-only developer
Pangea Software. Long known for mixing addictive arcade action with family-friendly sensibilities, a new Pangea title is something many Mac gamers look forward to, and Cro-Mag Rally doesn’t disappoint. Pangea’s first racing title is a polished successor to Bugdom, and another first-place finish for Mac gaming.
Cro-Mag Rally is a “kart” racer, which means that somewhat oversized figures bomb around in racing karts that seem a little small in comparison, and that the action is centered on cartoony fun rather than pure racing mechanics. Our protagonists are Brog and Grag, male and female pre-historic types with aerodynamically sloped foreheads and thick skulls that can withstand a crash or two. On the vehicle side, you start with the Mammoth Mobile, Bone Buggy, Geode Cruiser, Logmobile, Turtle Tank and the punky Hot Rock, and more karts are ‘unlocked’ as you win races. Similarly, you’re initially restricted to racing in the Stone Age on the Desert, Jungle, and Glacier tracks until you’ve won your first Tournament.
There are three Ages, each with an accompanying tourney, giving you nine racing tracks in all. After triumphing in the Stone Age tournament, Brog (or Grag) gains access to the Bronze Age with the Great Wall, Crete, and Giza locations, before facing the ultimate challenges of the Iron Age tournament cup on Medieval, Viking Village, and Atlantis raceways. After playing more than my fair share of 3D games that take place in cold and brutally violent environments, it was an absolute joy to zoom around Cro-Mag Rally’s eye-popping levels. Bright colors bring out every bit of playful detail that’s poured into the unique tracks, providing plenty of eye-candy on your way to the checkered flag. The Glacier race features some of the best falling snow effects I’ve ever seen in a game, and the explosions created by the catapults and cannons in the Medieval race look so good you won’t mind being knocked off course. Green lightning bolts sparkle your way courtesy of the statues of Greek gods in Crete, whirlwinds on the Desert track give you the kind of pick-me-up you
want, and the Chinese dragons overlooking the Great Wall race are just cool. And good as the visuals are, they’re lifted even higher by funky soundtracks that weave themes specific to each race into every tune.
Thanks to the excellent level design, practicing for the tournaments to learn each environment’s ins and outs never becomes a chore; this is a particularly good thing given that beating Cro-Mag Rally on any respectable difficulty setting can be a dino-sized challenge. In Practice mode you just face the computer controlled karts, solid opponents that only occasionally get themselves stuck in odd corners, but which can be defeated with a little bit of practice and determination. Tournament mode makes things much more difficult, giving you the added task of collecting flint arrowheads while maintaining your lead. Some of the arrowheads are located in out of the way corners, resulting in a pretty significant handicap you need to overcome. Thankfully, should practice not quite make you perfect, a new “easiest” mode that was introduced with a recent patch should let even total novices unlock all of the game’s options fairly quickly.
Gameplay is manic, involving a lot of mad careening around corners and catching big air off of hills, ramps, and the occasional pyramid. The physics are sharp enough to provide a consistent challenge, but not uncompromising enough to become boring. Hit a body of water and feel your speed dwindle on impact, skid out on a patch of ice, and never, ever worry about flipping your vehicle over.
Along with the new levels, the karts that become available as you win are a big enough carrot to keep you racing, offering different (and superior) combinations of speed, acceleration, traction and suspension that give you a keener competitive edge. The wider range of vehicles is particularly welcome in multiplayer mode, allowing racers to select something better tuned to their driving style. Although the Trojan Horse and Obelisk have their uses, the Catapult kart is a nicely balanced upscale vehicle that’s arguably the best choice for multiplayer mayhem, even if the more daring driver might instead opt for the Chariot’s sacrifice of stability in favor of speed.
Cro-Mag Rally offers nice variety in multiplayer modes, as well. There’s the expected “race,” but Pangea has also included Stampede Tag, Keep-Away Tag, Survive, and Quest for Fire. Stampede and Keep-Away are opposite sides of the same coin; in one you want to stay “it” for two minutes, in the other you want to avoid being “it” at all costs. Survive is your basic “survival of the fittest” contest, with players doing their best to demolish the others. Quest for Fire provides the greatest depth, challenging players to gather all their torches and return them to home base, and also allowing them to scatter their opponents’ torches across the map.
A split-screen mode offers two-player mayhem on a single computer, which is fabulous for gamers who can’t accommodate six players on a local area network (latency issues make Internet play a non starter). Unfortunately there are no computer players present in any of the multiplayer modes, and two players aren’t really enough to make Stampede and Keep-Away fun. Survive works a bit better in split screen mode, as the eight arena maps are small enough to work when both combatants are trying to get at each other. Ultimately, two players will probably find the most satisfaction in the capture the flag-styled Quest for Fire or just plain racing, although the option for some computer opponents here would still be welcome.
Should you start feeling generous towards your fellow racers, you can always toss your opponent a bone — of the exploding variety. Bone Bombs are but one of the eight inventive offensive power-ups you can pick up along the way in either single or multiplayer games. You can also use the deadly exploding Homing Pigeon to seek out an enemy, or use the Freeze Bomb’s icy blast to freeze them in their tracks for a moment. A ninth power-up, Nitro, gives you quick burst of speed that’s implemented with a nifty zooming camera trick that does an excellent job of conveying “fast”. Some will be disappointed that you can only carry one power-up at a time, but it certainly keeps you scrambling for an edge. There’s two other pick-ups that beef up your vehicle’s capabilities in the short term, improving your suspension or traction, and lastly there’s a temporary invisibility pick-up that is only available in multiplayer modes.
Cro-Mag Rally’s blend of console gaming and unadulterated fun is under-represented on the Mac, so you owe it to yourself to at least check out the demo. Minimum requirements are reasonable, asking for a 233MHz Macintosh with 64MB of RAM, a Rage Pro 3D accelerator or better, OpenGL 1.1.2, QuickTime 4.1.2, Mac OS 8.6, and Game Sprockets 1.7.3. Stop spinning your wheels in bleak and deadly shoot-em ups for a moment, and indulge yourself with something brighter. Cro-Mag Rally: built for the (prehistoric) human race.