The MoeGamer Awards are a series of “alternative” awards I’ve devised in collaboration with the community to celebrate the sorts of things that never get celebrated in end-of-year roundups! Find out more here — and feel free to leave a suggestion on that post if you have any good ideas!
I love a good “vanishing point” racer, as is doubtless evidenced by our podcast episode on this very subject. But have any in particular caught my attention this year?
For the uninitiated, a vanishing point racer is an arcade-style driving game that, rather than unfolding in true 3D, makes use of graphical trickery involving converging lines to simulate driving “into” the screen. As a result, in a vanishing point racer, you tend to move from side to side rather than actually turning, and the emphasis is on skilfully avoiding obstacles rather than handling your car in a realistic manner.
For this award, I’m deliberately celebrating a less obvious choice, despite having covered the excellent Switch version of OutRun earlier this year. Not that OutRun doesn’t deserve love, mind you — but because everyone already knows OutRun is good. With that in mind…
And the winner is…
This was honestly a bit of a surprise for me, as I remembered quite violently disliking this Atari ST racing game back when I originally played it. Its droning engine noise, its long races, its lack of arcade bells and whistles… it all just felt a bit boring to me. Why, after all, would I play that when I could play the (absolutely atrocious) Atari ST version of Turbo OutRun, living in perpetual denial that 5fps was an acceptable speed for a racing game to move at?
Coming back to it in 2019, though, I found a lot to like. That droning engine noise sounds great through a subwoofer. The lack of bells and whistles allows you to focus on the important stuff — the racing. And it genuinely does some things I haven’t seen many other racing games do either before or since.
Fast Lane, for the uninitiated, is a first-person simulation of Group C racing, which is an oft-overlooked side of motorsports, presumably due to its emphasis on long-distance endurance races. Fast Lane doesn’t shy away from depicting this aspect of the sport, either; your average race will go on for a good 20-30 minutes at the very least, and it presents an interesting challenge in this regard. Not only do you need to deal with your car gradually falling to bits as you bump into things, you also have to pay attention to both your fuel level and the amount of wear on your tyres — and on top of all that you have to deal with your own concentration span, too.
This isn’t to say the game is boring — on the contrary, I’m celebrating it today because I found the experience of recording the video above remarkably immersive and enjoyable — but rather, much like anyone doing a repetitive and sometimes mindless activity like driving for a long time, you’ll find your mind wandering as time goes on. And that’s when you’ll start making mistakes.
Mistakes in Fast Lane can be costly. It can take a good few laps to claw back a single position sometimes, and a mistimed bump can make all that work for naught. On top of that, you’re going to need to pit in at some point during your race, too, so timing this effectively — and then quickly issuing orders during the real-time pitstop sequence — is crucial to maintaining your position. Or alternatively, you could always risk it and see if you can make it over the finish line with balding tyres and a fuel tank running on empty!
Fast Lane has its faults, the most glaring of which is the fact it doesn’t have any means of saving your game in the middle of its lengthy championship mode — which means you need to play the whole thing through in one sitting. Which will probably take literally all day. Which, in some regards, is entirely appropriate for a game based around Group C endurance racing… but which isn’t very practical, especially for the modern gamer, whose attention span can be described as “deficient” at best. Oddly enough, few publications at the time of the game’s original release mentioned this, but it was an era where someone “beating” a game tended to be the exception rather than the rule.
I celebrate Fast Lane not because it’s the best racing game you’ll ever play, but because it’s simply a game I really enjoyed returning to this year. Over the course of the Atari A to Z series in general I have really found new appreciation for a lot of games I bounced off in my childhood. Now, I can recognise that I simply wasn’t quite old enough to appreciate them first time around, even if I could get a certain amount of straightforward, childish joy from the fact Fast Lane’s first-person perspective let the pre-teen me pretend I was actually sitting in a racing car and driving it, even if that experience did come with a bright yellow jumpsuit attached.
Plus the whole package is put together with a certain amount of rather charming, forthright honesty. The fact the manual provides a bit of “behind the scenes” information about where the concept for the game came from, how long it took to develop (less than a year!) and how small a team it took to make a game like this in 1989 is quite eye-opening as well as an interesting contrast with the games industry of today.
I am, frankly, fairly unlikely to actually go and spend a whole day playing through a complete championship season in Fast Lane, but I like the fact that I have the option. I’m glad I revisited this game — and I’m happy to celebrate it and give it some love today.
Note: Before you say anything, I know all about Horizon Chase Turbo; I just haven’t covered it yet, having only just grabbed a copy of the physical release! Watch out for some detailed thoughts on that in the new year.
The MoeGamer Compendium, Volume 1 is now available! Grab a copy today for a beautiful physical edition of the Cover Game features originally published in 2016.
Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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