MegaBiff! It’s MegaRace

It's Colin Mochary, right?

It’s always fun to see what relics will appear on Good Old Games next. Plundering the PC gaming archives, they pull out a Duke Nukem 3D or a Stonekeep, and suddenly you’re back in the mid 90s, the blocky graphics and absence of physics are immediately forgotten, and you’re having a damned great time. And then there’s MegaRace. It’s fascinating to see it appearing – one of the most famously terrible games of all time, given new life. But is it really as bad as everyone remembers?

Good grief, it’s so much worse.

Cartoon cut-outs on a pre-rendered racetrack.

MegaRace represented an astonishing step forward for game CGI. It was breathtaking. Not only where there 3D cities through which the camera would sweep, but the full motion video from your host, one Lance Boyle, was a league ahead of the barely recognisable video actors from the previous year’s 7th Guest. It first appeared in 1994, the same year as the even-more-legendary Rise of the Robots, and it achieved the same phenomenon: utterly astonishing graphics, but less game than an empty bucket.

It’s perhaps most famous for the frenetic camp gurning of race host, Lance Boyle. Played by videogame regular, Christian Erickson, the squawking character achieves previously uncharted levels of irritating. As he squirms and waggles his way through the nonsense script, you find yourself increasingly recognising the charisma and appeal of people like Dale Winton and Terry Christian. But by far the most entertaining aspect of Boyle’s introduction is his desperation to assure you that it’s all just pretend.

Painfully influenced by Arnie’s The Running Man, the story is set in a dystopianish future where criminal gangs take part in deadly races. You are the Enforcer, taking part in a virtual reality TV show where your job is to kill all the other players from their evil speed gangs. So you’re not fighting criminal gangs. But they employ criminal gangs. They sometimes even ship them in from other areas for the race. But it’s virtual reality. But… Huh? Anyway, ignoring all that, you’re tasked with shooting at, crashing into, or, er, driving past them to death. Get a big enough lead against one of the other cars and it will explode. Presumably in shame. But oh good grief, whatever you do, don’t think for a moment that the death is real!!!

Oh God he's everywhere!

Perhaps the ratings board had warned developers Cryo that any implications of genuine violence would see them get a higher rating than they wanted, or maybe there was an overruling manifesto at the company that their games must be “family friendly”, because Boyle’s frantic monologue goes to extraordinary lengths to reassure the player that it’s all make believe.

“Here’s the deal: our chosen candidate – and everybody with a death-wish is free to apply, including men and women of either sex – our candidate, who we call, ‘The Enforcer’, gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to terminate a whole lotta slimeballs, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it, you see what I mean?! Because it all happening right here on VWBT – where the cops move over and the Enforcer takes over!”

Ooh, that does sound awfully violent, doesn’t it? But wait.

“Wait ’til you hear this! Every time you kill a Pack Leader – and when I say ‘kill’, I’m talking virtuality, not reality, okay? In MegaRace, nobody actually dies. It just looks and feels like it (and that makes you feel a whole lot better about yourself, now doesn’t it?!) – every time you kill a leader, you not only score big time, you also win some major bonus prizes. His personal music CD and his customized car are both yours!”

Edit him out! Edit him OUT!

So assured that you’re not actually killing anyone… Oh just wait a second, look I’m sorry but I can’t let this go. It’s a game, right? No one at any point thought that MegRace, no matter how revolutionary the graphics were at the time, was a live video feed of a real life car crashing race in which you remotely controlled the Enforcer’s car. So of COURSE the death was pretend! Why in the name of crikey did they feel the need to hammer this point so damned hard? Right, I’ll move on, I promise.

Because for all MegaRace’s dramatic presentation, the game’s terribleness was spectacular. The most important thing to know was that at no point do you really race a car. In fact, amazingly, the track is an unstoppable pre-rendered FMV playing in the background. Your vehicle is projected onto it, only capable of sliding from side to side. Occasionally the FMV slows down or speeds up to create the illusion of changing speed, but it’s hilariously clear it’s an illusion.

It’s brilliantly dreadful in every imaginable way. One aspect shouted at you by Boyle at the start is the Thrillometer. This is a gauge on your dashboard that informs you how thrilling your race is for the TV show’s viewing audience. You mustn’t let it drop into the grey you’re told. If it drops in the grey, the audience gets bored, ratings go down. Except it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever. It doesn’t affect the race, your progress, your score – nothing. Never mind that it would be utterly impossible to perform any act in the game that could ever be considered as thrilling by even the most sedentary slug-human hybrid.

Wait, is this a video game or a film of a REAL RACE?!

It’s not fair to mock it for how poor it looks now. But it’s interesting to note how bonkers our brains were back then, when we’d stare open-mouthed at the extraordinary depiction of a city. We could see regular cities, right? And they weren’t made of jagged blocks, right? Just checking. So you know when you stare in amazement at Far Cry 2’s incredible vistas? We’re not going to believe we thought that was ever possible in a few years time.

It’s worth buying to experience. I swear it. The complete absence of any sensation of being a car, the dreadful collision detection, the absolute lack of any notion of real driving, and of course the finger-chewingly awful Lance Boyle. (I wish no disrespect to Christian Erickson – I’m quite certain none of this is his fault.) MegaRace is unquestionably one of the most dreadful games ever made, and deserves to be heralded for this. It’s a novelty piece, a mutant foetus in a museum of medical oddities. Also, you get the slightly less dreadful MegaRace 2 in the deal!

67 Comments

  1. kyrieee says:

    “It’s fascinating to see it appearing – one of the most famously terrible games of all time” ??

    I loved this game as a kid :S I didn’t know it was supposed to be bad. Knew what it was as soon as I saw the picture

  2. Nimdok says:

    I guess I’m the only one who noticed that the whole “Kill ’em all, but it’s not real!” thing was an in-universe plot, kinda like how, again reffing Running Man, the ‘winner’ gets to go to an all-expenses paid resort and gets their criminal record cleared. Only they really just get shot. Same thing: It’s all fun and games, folks, nobody’s really dying!

  3. simonkaye says:

    This was actually the first videogame I ever played. Ever. After this I stole my dad’s old Beeb micro from the garage and started coding my own from a little book.

    But megarace! MEGARACE! We were all so utterly stunned by the movies and the quality of the graphics. As a family we clustered around the glowing screen and took it in turns to… well, to repeatedly click the mouse whenever we saw another car.

    Happier, more innocent days.

  4. sigma83 says:

    I had a hell of a time with MegaRace and its sequel as a kid. Sue me, I had low standards.

    Also, Theme Park, Transport Tycoon, Lucasarts adventures, Dungeon Keeper, SimCity 2000, and BioForge. Those are the games that defined my childhood.

  5. DK says:

    I recommend DeathRally if you want a game with similar “story” (but taking itself a whole lot less serious) but far, far better gameplay.

  6. maykael says:

    I’ve always wondered if a phenomenon of the type “so bad it’s good” (Plan 9, Manos, teen poetry) is possible in gaming or if the user agency stops it. Would I have fun playing this game laughing at the stupid gameplay or would I only be frustrated..?

  7. Yugge says:

    DK: Or Carmageddon for that matter.

  8. rkcr says:

    I remember being blown away by how amazing the tracks looked on the demo for this game. How embarrassing…

  9. Schaulustiger says:

    Rock, Paper, Shotgun: No. 1 in making you even enthused about games that are absolutely not worth playing.

    Great article!

  10. jackflash says:

    @sigma83 : word. And X-Com, X-Wing and Warcraft 2.

  11. Jordan says:

    MegaRace came included with the CD-ROM and Sound card expansion we got for our 486 IBM PS/2 in ’94 or ’95, I imagine. I remember MegaRace being AWESOME! Now, I was just a kid and all, but I can’t say I have any bad memories about mega race. I don’t recall thinking it was a bad game, in fact, I remember being pretty amazed at the graphics. I don’t think MegaRace was a “so bad it’s good” game, as I genuinely remember it being a good game.

  12. DK says:

    @Yugge, absolutely. However, Carmageddon is somewhat hard to get to work nowadays (I hope GOG picks that up) while Death Rally only requires one patch (to make it realize you have enough space on your drive).

  13. wvanh says:

    Another vote for the “loved it as a kid” category. Though, reading the article, I’m not sure I’d want to try it again. Some things are better left as memories.

  14. WarFalci says:

    Honestly, I love Megarace. It is one of those rare games that makes me fond of my youth. Here in Brasil it was even better: Lance was amazingly dubbed into Chico Flecha, for that so much more fun experience.

    I never had the game, but a few friends had and I had a blast playing it with them. At a certain point I bought Megarace 2 in a magazine, but after a couple of play throughs I sold it (with the magazine) to a friend without any regret.

    Recently the internet made it possible for me to revive those moments with a brasilian copy of the game. But the offer at GoG is interesting enough so that I may buy it eventually.

    You know, it’s not really about being good or bad, but about making its way into my heart. Megarace did it. Just like Time Commando and lot of other games from that simpler era of my life.

    Long live the Enforcer!

  15. PaulMorel says:

    I also loved this game as a kid. It wasn’t on my mind until I saw it in the headline, but now I remember playing the ^$%@ out of it when I was … 13 or 14. Maybe it was because I had enough free time to master crappy gameplay mechanics.

  16. roBurky says:

    I also liked this game as a kid. Don’t be so mean to my childhood, John.

  17. Maniac11919 says:

    link to video.google.com

    Watching a few of these videos reveals the true horror of Lance Boyle. If they suggested that he was in the cars I was spontaneously exploding I would have been infinitely more enticed to beat the game… He may be the biggest tool to have ever lived…

    Games have come a long way in FMV acting, especially if you take a look at RA3, as cheesey as it was. At least the characters weren’t annoying, and they were genuinely ridiculous and hilarious.

  18. angryhenrik says:

    Haha – megarace, I’ve hunted for this game for years! Got it bundled with a packard bell pc. Rubbish? Probably, I remember having fun playing it though.

  19. Pavel says:

    Back in 96 I loved Megarace 2….
    The graphics were amazing on my 14″ CRT screen back then..

    When I tried to play it yesterday thanks to gog on my 24″ LCD, it was not as amazing as back then, graphically that is : ).But other than that, it still rocks ! : )).

  20. ZIGS says:

    Never heard of Megarace but it reminded me of POD, which is the awesomest shit ever. gog NEEDS to get POD

  21. Kiowa says:

    “Men and women of either sex” eh?

  22. hydra9 says:

    I was a child and I absolutely loved it back then, even though I realized its gameplay was a bit dodgy. MegaRace 2 was an improvement in almost every way – It still wasn’t a ‘proper’ racing game, but it was a lot closer to being one. MegaRace 3 was pure shit.

    MegaRace’s soundtrack (by the amazing Stephane Picq) deserves a mention. Some of the best Adlib/Soundblaster music you will find. I downloaded it a while ago, and it gets regular rotation on my MP3 player. Factoryland!

  23. Chaz says:

    Yeah I remember this one. It was much like Microcosm which came out the previous year on the CD32. All flash and no substance. Man I still can’t believe I spent 300 quid on a CD32. What a pile of shit that turned out to be.

    FMV, I remember that was the big wow back then though. Much like the first time I played a game that had speech in it, like the intro for Another World on the Amiga, what a showstopper that was. The only thing I remember that was close to being like FMV before then was that H.R. Geiger inspired game Dark Seed, and that wasn’t particularly good either. Had a cool box though.

  24. Martin K says:

    Like so many others here, as a child I played the ever-loving shit out of this game.

    Judging by the number of people that did, I’m surprised Cryo ever went broke. Possibly it was all those awful Myst-styled point and clickers that did it. That and The Devil Inside.

  25. I am beginning to understand this comment system says:

    “It’s worth buying to experience. I swear it.”

    Looks at GOG ad on the sidebar…

  26. Premium User Badge

    John Walker says:

    Nope – nothing to do with the ad. If it helps I suggest not buying, say, Painkiller. But this – this is something of novelty interest.

  27. I am beginning to understand this comment system says:

    “If it helps I suggest not buying, say, Painkiller.”

    You’re mad!

  28. Pantsman says:

    Painkiller:

    Fight some monsters in an arena. Spend ten minutes looking for the door to the next arena. Fight some more monsters there. Repeat ad nauseum.

  29. malkav11 says:

    Yes.

    But every arena is some entirely new and bizarre place, full of new and bizarre monsters, and with full ragdoll deaths, a stake gun, and of course the chaingun/rocket launcher gun.

  30. redrain85 says:

    I loved this game, too! It was actually the two followups that sucked. :(

  31. Lukasz says:

    @I am beginning to understand this comment system

    I might be over analyzing this but it may mean that in the future there is distinction between true gender and physical one. aka your sex is female but you really are male.

    Megarace WAS awesome. My first game my parents bought me. We were so astonished at the cutscenes, graphics and since i didn’t have anything to compare to, I loved and still have very fond memories of it.
    Oh. And I also thought that death is very real and what Mr. Lance says is a lie.

    Great article btw.

  32. Premium User Badge

    John Walker says:

    Everyone who says this game was great, I COMMAND you to buy it, play it, and then come back here grovelling on your knees.

  33. drewski says:

    If you cared that much, Walker, you’d buy it for us!

  34. Gotem says:

    i guess I’m strange, but as a kid I hated this game after a few races because of the car control, or lack of.
    Now if we talk about wing commander privateer, that game stole my childhood

  35. me says:

    yes, it was a great game, i played it a lot and enjoyed it, what? you people have your standards very high up your …

  36. BooleanBob says:

    Yet another here who thought this game was incredible, coerced and bamboozled as I was by the wide-eyed innocence of childhood.

    As a kid I also played and enjoyed the Skunny games, which are surely a far greater stain on the face of software. And also, I note, still commercially available.

    Reading back over this post it occurs to me that I also thought Teletext’s Bamboozle! was great, and that was just a rubbish multiple-choice quiz our telly remote didn’t have the right buttons for.

  37. MultiVaC says:

    Mega Race, bad? It can’t be! If Mega Race is bad, then my entire childhood is nothing but a lie.

  38. bhlaab says:

    You know what would have been a good idea? Put a camera on the front of a car, drive around a track, then put the video in-game as a photorealistic course that you play through rad racer style (as in always facing forward, with fake inertia pushing you around to simulate turns)

    Yep, I coulda made a pretty penny back in ninny-four had I not been in kindergarden

  39. motherpuncher says:

    The intro to this game is astoundingly ridiculous. I remember playing this game when I was probably 6 or 7, shit this article has brought back some long last memories. I liked the part of the opening scene where the ship is flying into the city, very blade runner like, in the setting and music. Thank you RPS.

  40. wvanh says:

    How many people here actually bought it and gave it another try?

    Some games, for me, sit solely in the realm of good memories. In the past I’ve tried playing some of them again and more often than not found those good memories spoiled (to varying degrees) by my experiences comparing these games to modern games. I’ve reached a point where I’d simply rather not do that anymore. The satisfaction of indulging my curiosity doesn’t come close to the satisfaction of nostalgia, so why ruin a perfectly good old game by, you know, playing it?

  41. simonkaye says:

    Do you remember how, during install and setup, it would do a momentary check and then report back something like “whoa, you’ve got a fast system! Great for graphics!”?

    That always made me feel warm and tingly inside.

  42. Gap Gen says:

    I’m going to go out and kill someone to steal their personal music CD now. Thanks, videogames!

  43. ZeeKat says:

    Back then, trading good controls and gameplay for awesome graphics didn’t look like a bad deal. I loved Cyberia, even if it was just large heap of pre-rendered movies (but ran like a dream even on 386!). I remember Megarace only from press reviews, which were quite positive if I remember it good.

  44. Comrade_Ranger says:

    i still have my original cd and actually installed it on my retro comp last week. i still love this game and this it is brilliant. the mechanics may be simple but so what? thats what the game is. steering around blowing stuff up. and what is wrong with that?

  45. Fenchurch says:

    Ooh, to think I begged my parents to buy me this game for Xmas one day! But we were caught short by having a low speed CD drive in our 486, and it needed something faster!

    Thank goodness, heh. x-)

  46. Sander Bos says:

    Thanks for the tip, bought it immediately. Never played MegaRace 1, don’t think I will start now (also I could not complete the first course on 2 attempt, even though I passed plenty of cars).

    But behold the glory that is still MegaRace 2, the only megarace game I played before. I am pleasantly surprised (astonished) by how good it still looks, the cars really appear to be part of the FMV background (including shadows).

    The host was always meant to be annoying, it was not that we were listening in awe to every word he was saying back in the day (especially since they did exactly the same routine every time).

    And I have always thought this use of FMV was inspired, 2.5D racing *is* that you essentially move around in a very controlled environment (between 2 rails), why not make it look pertie.

  47. N says:

    Zig, POD was friggin’ amazing, played it on a crappy pentium, one of the best sci fi racers out there.

  48. Rei Onryou says:

    Even though I knew MegaRace 2 was bad, I still played through the whole thing as a teen. It was long and meh. So glad I never tried MegaRace 1, based on comments here.

    Also, Lance Boyle is damn annoying!

  49. Sander Bos says:

    @bhlaab
    I was looking what other games in 1994 looked like, and ran across this: link to youtube.com Never played it, but it looks like someone thought of your idea (in 1994).

  50. MacBeth says:

    Weirdly I recognised Lance Boyle straight away but I don’t have any recollection of actually playing the game.