Blimey! Three reviews in and we’ve finally stumbled upon a GX4000 exclusive…and pretty much the most important exclusive at that! Developed by Ocean specifically for Amstrad, Burnin’ Rubber was the title that every GX4000 and CPC+ owner found sunggly packed into their new console’s polystyrene container. How exciting!
But hold on a second… just what is Burnin’ Rubber? (always without the g, I might add. Take THAT, squares)
As the name might suggest, Burnin’ Rubber is a racing game. Made firmly in the sprite-scaling, chase-camming mold of Outrun, Burnin’ Rubber is a game that also pays homage to the epic 24-hours endurance race held in Le Mans. Driving something that looks suspiciously like a Le Mans prototype, your task is to complete a quick qualifying lap before finishing four complete laps around a huge 4 sector race track without running down a standard arcade-style timer. Simple.
Interestingly, the guys behind Burnin’ Rubber also produced Ocean’s official WEC Le Mans game for the CPC. The two are clearly completely different titles, however. After all, Le Mans was a game that tasked the player to finish a single qualifying lap before completing four laps around a huge four sec…oh.
Yes in reality its impossible to cover Burnin’ Rubber’ without also looking at the large four-wheeled elephant in the room. That’s not a bad thing, mind: the differences between Le Mans and Burnin’ Rubber do at least highlight some of the potential (and shortcomings) of Amstrad’s upgraded box of tricks.
Indeed, the overall presentation shows that the GX did have something over a standard CPC: just firing up the game, for example, reveals a title screen with a beautifully animated B and R that do a fantastic job of highlighting that some rubber will most probably be burnt:
That’s not all, however. Along with a shiny red player car, Burnin’ Rubber also presents you with opponents that come with multiple paint jobs – Something sorely lacking in the blue-green tinted world of Le Mans.
Indeed, the world of Burnin’ Rubber actually feels a bit more colourful and detailed in general. Just look at the the screenshot above – while the road in Le Mans is forced to continue the bright/dark banding of the off-road area, Burnin’ Rubber’s track has proper lanes marked out. Hurrah!
But that isn’t even the coup de grace either. Survive for a couple of sectors and you’ll be amazed as the palette of the scenery switches to that of a glorious sun set – an aspect of real endurance racing that was sorely missing from the licensed title. Wahey! Take THAT aged CPC.
It would appear that these presentational flourishes didn’t arrive without cost though. When it comes to the racing itself, the experience is marred by a bizarre sluggishness that seems to have permeated every facet of the game.
You see, though (predictably for an 8-bit sprite-scaler) the animation and overall sense of speed isn’t really comparable with that created by a dedicated arcade machine, rather worryingly it also feels slightly slower than the CPC-based original. Oops.
On top of that, the actual handling itself is affected: Not only does the car feel heavy and labored in your attempts to steer it, but the steering animation itself doesn’t seem to kick in until a few frames after your car has started sliding sideways. Oops x 2.
Fortunately, from a gameplay perspective this isn’t enough to send you careering off the road (which is a shame, because the car-flipping crash animation is actually pretty great,) but it is enough to make the whole experience feel just a little…off. I wouldn’t go so far to say the game is broken, but there’s something not quite right about a twitchy high-performance racer handling more like a knackered MOT-failing Transit Van.
It’s a shame too, as it’s clear the underlying game engine is pretty solid. Though clearly going for an arcade-type feel, simply gunning it into the corners will inevitably end with you cart-wheeling through the air – so you have to drive smartly. If you can get past the sensation of speed, you’ll find that Burnin’ Rubber successfully walks the tight rope suspended between traditional pick up and play mechanics at one end, and unforgiving microcomputer-style brutality at the other.
All in all then, Burnin’ Rubber is pretty much a standard console launch title. Though flashy in parts, the garish Amstrad billboards and re-worked car sprites do little to hide the fact that it was quite clearly an existing game design that was quickly spruced up and and rushed to market for the console’s launch. Consequently, though theoretically an exclusive, its rushed nature makes Burnin’ Rubber difficult to use as a test-case for drawing firm conclusions about the GX4000’s capabilities as a games machine.
Still, there were definitely far worse titles to clone than WEC Le Mans, so despite the slight reduction in pace it’s still a nice little arcade racer at heart. If you’re in the market for a GX4000 console today, Burnin Rubber’ is definitely a reasonable (and inevitable!) way to start your collection. It’s just a shame the finished product lacked that bit of extra oompf needed to carry it into the ‘all-time classic’ bracket.