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Al Unser, JR. from Mindscape is one of the first games that has been developed for Windows 95, but I'm sad to say, it doesn't show what the new operating system is supposed to deliver at all. Even on a Pentium, the gameplay is a joke compared to what upcoming racing games from companies like Virgin and Gremlin will feature before this Christmas.
One of the first elements I'd like to mention is that Al Unser, JR. is not a driving simulation like IndyCar or Formula Grand Prix, and anyone who would try to compare this game to those I just mentioned would be a fool or too old to know what arcade centers are all about. Therefore as an arcade racing game, it is pointless to talk about the car's dynamics, track realism, or any other thing that brings a simulation close to reality. Instead you must take into consideration the fun you have when you play with the game. With this kind of game, the gameplay is the main thing you can judge with other elements such as the soundtrack and the graphics.
Regarding fun and excitement, I didn't have any with Al Unser, JR. I tried very hard not to compare it with wonderful games like Need for Speed for the 3DO system and Daytona USA for the Sega Saturn, but it was difficult not to forget the game's title contained "Arcade racing"! I also kept in my mind that the PC didn't have the same power than the new 32-bit consoles, especially when it comes to graphics, but nothing, really nothing, appealed to me in Al Unser, JR., except maybe the soundtrack.
Al Unser, JR. offers three different modes: a championship with 15 tracks, a practice mode and a timed mode. If you want to follow an entire season's championship, choose the first mode to compete with competitors on each of the 15 tracks included in the game. The practice mode, as you can easily guess, is there to familiarize yourself with the circuit of your choice. Finally, the timed mode is a kind of competition where you race against the clock. There are checkpoints on the circuit that you must pass before the timer reaches zero. For both modes, practice and timed, you have a selection of 10 car color schemes.
There are three levels of difficulty with each time, a maximum speed for the car ranging from 200 mph at beginner to 224 mph at level hard. Graphics details can be altered to match your machine performances as usual but even with the lowest quality, the excitement is not at the rendez-vous. The sound options allow you to play with or without sounds during the game, which include sound effects, music and speech. The musical score is not very original, but I'm afraid it is the only thing that might entertain you in Al Unser, JR. In the menu option, you can also choose between manual or automatic transmission, the language, and calibrate the joystick.
Despite nice menus and SVGA graphics, Al Unser JR. didn't manage to give the smallest spark of amusement. The same company that designed the very good "Savage Warriors" failed this time to bring the same kind of fun present in their combat games. We just hope that Al Unser JR was only a step in the wrong direction and that Mindscape Bordeaux will retain the lesson.
486 DX-33 MHz or higher,
Min 4Mb memory,
MS-DOS 5.0 or later,
Hard drive required,
Double speed CD-ROM drive or faster,
SVGA video graphic card,
Microsoft mouse and 100% compatibles.
Creative Labs Sound Blaster, Pro, 16 and AWE32; Adlib Gold; Gravis UltraSound;
MediaVision Pro Audio Spectrum supported.
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