Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Last V8 (Mastertronic, 1985)

Designed and programmed by David Darling for the Commodore 64, with graphics by James "Jim" Wilson, music by Rob Hubbard and voice samples by Covox, Inc. Released in 1985 through Mastertronic's MAD label.

Conversions for the Atari 8-bits and Amstrad CPC made most likely by the same team - no conclusive documentation found so far. Released in 1986 through Mastertronic's MAD label.

Enhanced version designed and developed for the Commodore 128 by the original team, and released by Mastertronic in 1986.



Since I finished this month's planned entries in such a good time, I decided to do another quick one. I chose to do a comparison of one of the most notoriously difficult games ever released by Mastertronic (or more specifically, their sub-label MAD) because it's one of the rare games that were also released for the Commodore 128 to be played from the machine's native state.

The Last V8 never got particularly good reviews, mostly due to its unintuitive controls and ridiculous difficulty level, but I think it's a bit underrated. Still, its current scores are a bit questionable: at Lemon64, the score is 5.1 from 86 votes; at Atarimania, 29 voters have given their version an even more pathetic 4.0; but interestingly, the review at CPC Game Reviews is rated 7 out of 10, and at CPC-Softs, the score is 13.50 out of 20.00. Finally, the C128 version has 2 votes at MobyGames, and their combined score is 4.5. Each to their own, I guess. For a shorter comparison of the Last V8, the Format War website has a nice and compact article, but I should point out that I haven't read it through, so I have no idea if there are too much similarities between these two articles. Let's see.



You just have to love games and movies, where the seemingly distant future has already gone past us. The most recent example of this sort of thing is probably still in Back To The Future, Part II, and the next future date is already looming close by: the end of the world date from Ghostbusters II. The Last V8 belongs to this list of visual entertainment items. In the game, the year is 2008, and it is 7 years since the Global War - the nuclear winter is beginning to pass. One might wonder, did they somehow foresee the happenings of 9/11 on a grander scale, or how did they come up with this plotline. Anyway, Earth's surface has been turned into a radioactive battleground with few survivors. You are a scientist working on a secret government military project, deep within a nuclear bunker, for which you utilise your special V8 super-car with radiation shielding, a turbo-charge and whatnot. In the original version, the game starts with you being somewhere on the surface, with an imminent threat of a nuclear explosion, so you have to return to the safety of your bunker, which is deep within the intercity, before your radiation shield decays. The C128 version gives you an additional level and a clearer mission.

I remember having heard a comment from one of my friends well over 20 years ago, that he didn't like games like Rally Speedway or Super Sprint, because he couldn't understand the controls - steering left and right, that is - as if it would be so much more logical to push the joystick into the direction you wanted the car to go. Well, the Last V8 might have been right up his alley, although I'm fairly certain that his opinion would have quickly changed after having experienced this. Sure, the Rally X method works well in its context, but the problem is, The Last V8 also features unusually realistic physics, at least when it comes to steering your car in different speeds, as well as completely un-raceable roads due to their windyness.

To be fair, the Last V8 is an unforgivably difficult game. You only get one chance to get through the entire game, and once you even scratch anything surrounding the roads, you're dead. Combine that with the awkward controls, and you've got yourself something to avoid. But somehow, the Last V8 manages to draw you in every now and then regardless of it. There is some kind of magic in all it has to offer, that makes you want to practice and see if you can complete the game, while frustration is imminent. I cannot with good conscience recommend this to anyone, but if you do, there is a good chance you might get hooked. And you will hate the game for it.



We might as well check out the tape loading times for the three possible versions, since this will not be a particularly long comparison otherwise. I have no idea, whether or not a tape version for the Commodore 128 exists, but I'm guessing not, since one of the said machine's ideas was to use the disk drive as the default storage media system, and in any case, I haven't been able to find anything more than two different disk image files for it.

AMSTRAD CPC: 15 minutes 31 seconds
ATARI 8-BIT: 12 minutes 37 seconds
COMMODORE 64: 7 minutes 7 seconds

If a game's worth could ever be measured by its balance of worth in content to that in loading time, the Last V8 could well be one of the most worthless games of all time. Clocking in at over 7 minutes at the very least, and going well past its double at worst, you would suppose there is something of actual value in the game. Well, it can be argued, but it's still an enormous waste of time, regardless of which version you're about to play. Happily, through emulation, loading times are now practically non-existant.

Loading screens, left to right: Commodore 128, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC. No loading screen for the Atari.

Now, if the loading screens are anything to judge the game by, you might be surprised. Apart from the palette differences between AMSTRAD and COMMODORE, and the additional disk loading screen for the C128 version, there isn't too much to talk about here. Let us take the commentary to where it is absolutely necessary.



In case you have never played The Last V8, I can only recommend you to do so, if only to find out, how not to make a driving game. Even though there are only two levels in the basic version, it offers such an unfair challenge, that if you're planning on ever completing the game, you might as well dig up a map of the second level from the internet. Once you've learned your way through, though, it's relatively easy to remember. But anyway, let's start comparing.

The controls are as seemingly easy as they can get - you just move the joystick or the designated keyboard controls up, down, left and right to move the car. The more you push to a certain direction, the faster the car moves, and therefore, it takes longer to decelerate enough to turn the car into the required direction by pushing into the opposite direction. The C64 and C128 versions only accept a joystick in port 2 as their controller, and the ATARI version takes a joystick in port 1, but the AMSTRAD version shown an exception to the rule, and only accepts A, Z, N and M from the keyboard, which can already be quite diverting. (Although, if you're using an AZERTY-based keyboard, the keys are Q, W, N and M.)

As if the unfortunate keyboard controls weren't enough, the V8 in the AMSTRAD version doesn't respond to your controls nearly as well as in any of the other versions, and the car also has less angles it can turn to. Also, while both the COMMODORE and ATARI versions move fast and smooth, the AMSTRAD version is relatively slow and slightly less smooth in its scrolling, and probably for this reason, the CPC V8 only has 200 KPH as the maximum velocity, instead of the usual 400 KPH.

That said, the AMSTRAD's slower speed also gives you more time to get through the levels to balance things out. The ATARI version plays slightly quicker than the C64 version, and it also gives you slightly less time to get to the end of level 1, but the V8 responds to your control slightly better on the ATARI than on the COMMODORE versions, so the new time limit is understandable, even if it makes it feel more hard-core. By no means should you think that slight tweaks in the controls makes any easier.

Because the game's sound effects and music affect the immediacy of the gameplay, I have to mention them here already. See, there are some advantages for not having sampled speech bits and as much music - both the COMMODORE versions feel unnecessarily long, like a demo of sorts, due to the amount of music and speech samples, and take away from the immediacy of the game. In the AMSTRAD and ATARI versions, you just press the fire button to start, and the game starts without much of ceremony. The ATARI version takes a bit of time to show you a flashing text at the bottom of the screen before you're set off, but that only takes a couple of seconds, as opposed to the five or six seconds it takes for the C64 or C128 to get their messages spoken through. Also, when you die, the COMMODORE versions play some music, necessitating a wait of a few seconds before pressing the fire button has any effect, while the ATARI and AMSTRAD versions just have the car explode and then you can push the button to start again rather quickly.

Simply for having more to play, the C128 version beats the others. In essence, it plays exactly the same as the original, but it just has more to do, making it more interesting in the long run. The 128k version starts off on the surface of Mars, where you need to drive around and collect 15 fuel rods and occasionally turn off force fields by driving over certain triggers, and then go to the centre of the launch pad and travel back to Earth. Once on the surface, you will see a familiar-looking area from the first level on other versions, but you start off from nearer to the end of the level. The rest of it is very much the same as ever.

That's all I can really say about the playability, since there is nothing else to worry about in the game than the bad controls, the restricted areas to move in, and the time limit. The AMSTRAD version is nicely immediate to play, but frustratingly slow to play. If you use an emulator, turn the emulation speed up to about 220%, and it's pretty good already, but the unresponsive controls still make it uncomfortable. The ATARI version is a bit too fast, when you're going full speed, which you need to do on a few occasions, so you really need to have superb reflexes or just huge amounts of practice, which even on the original is more than enough for anyone. The C64 version has the most balanced gameplay of the regular threesome, but the C128 version plays the same and has more to offer.




It the previous section felt quicker than usual, the rest of this comparison should be even quicker to get through. See, apart from the loading screen, which you already saw earlier, there is no title screen, no options, no "Get Ready" or "Game Over" screens or anything of that sort in any version of the game. Just the basic layout of something like 40% of the screen inhabited by the action screen at the top, the lower 40% from that dedicated for all sorts of indicators and meters, and then the lowest 20% dedicated to the constantly shown replacement for a title screen.

Screenshots from the regular level 1. Top row: Commodore 64. Middle row: Amstrad CPC. Bottom row: Atari 8-bit.
First, let's look at the 20% slab of a title tag and the indicators area above it. The little title slab shows us the game logo, as it is shown in the game - and it's completely different from the ones in the loading screen and the cover art. Consitently inconsistent. Next to the logo, you see the V8 heading to the right, with some white smoke coming from its exhaust pipe, obscuring the view from the trees and other roadside objects. The ATARI version doesn't have any sort of background graphics, only the title logo and the car, and a solid light blue background. In fact, it doesn't even mention the creator, which is a bit odd, since his name is shown in all the other versions. Come to think of it, "Jim" Wilson's tag from the middle section is missing from the ATARI version as well, which would explain the other in-game graphics, which I will get to soon enough. Naturally, there are some colour differences in all three versions, but apart from that, the only other thing I can think of mentioning is the text bits that appear under the title picture in the ATARI version at the beginning and the end of both levels.

In the middle section of the screen, we can see some kind of a dashboard of the V8, although I cannot say what shape is the car supposed to be from the inside. Naturally, being a British-developed game, the wheel is on the right side, along with the speed and rev meters above it. To the immediate left of the wheel, there are the indicators for time (applicable only in level 1), fuel (always in use), turbo (also in constant use) and shield (applicable only in level 2 and the C128 version's level 1). Again, only the ATARI has any drastically differing colouring here, which offer less critical information. Finally, the leftmost item is the monitor, which gives you information on your current mission and if you are in some sort of danger - low fuel, radioactivity or a nuclear missile about to drop. Here, the COMMODORE versions really have the best overall look, with monochrome hi-res text and graphics on the monitor, blinking in different colours when necessary. The other two have wide pixels used within the monitor, so the shown information doesn't look as clear.

Apart from the C128 version, the first level takes place outside, where you must navigate through an increasingly difficult and winding road. Since the road is nothing but dark grey or black, with some occasional lane markings, we shall focus on the roads' surroundings. Already from the beginning, we can see a clear difference between the ATARI version and the other two, when it comes to the amount of detail and variety of roadside graphics. Later on, we can see that the shadowing for bigger structures isn't properly drawn in the ATARI version. Most woefully of all, the ATARI's V8 car sprite doesn't look very sharp compared to the other two. But what the ATARI version lacks in screen resolution and detail, the AMSTRAD version makes up for it in lack of colour and scrolling speed. To me, the biggest nuisance is that the car in the AMSTRAD version is blue in the action screen, instead of red, as it is supposed to be - it's even shown as red in the title slab. 

Screenshots from level 2. Top row: Commodore 64. Middle row: Amstrad CPC. Bottom row: Atari 8-bit.

Level 2 takes place within a dystopian city under the ground. I cannot honestly tell, whether any of this looks even remotely like what such a place would really look like, so I'm just going to accept all versions of it - none of them are particularly pleasing to look at. All the same problems that were bugging the previous level, can be applied here as well. The COMMODORE versions have the most colour and detail, the AMSTRAD version has the least colour and bad scrolling, and the ATARI version has the least detail and blockier graphics. Also, the AMSTRAD version is the only one that doesn't have any blinking lights in the surrounding buildings.

By the way, I noticed that in the AMSTRAD version, right between the computer monitor and the shield indicator, some guy named Ed has tagged himself. Any idea who he is and what he did for the Amstrad conversion?

Screenshots from level 1 of the Commodore 128 version.

Here's a few screenshots from the COMMODORE 128 version's exclusive level, which takes place on the surface of Mars. The semi-openly roamable area is quite vast and quite brown, but there are plenty of buildings you need to avoid crashing into, as well as craters and other abnormalities in the surface you should avoid as much as possible. The only structure you can drive into is the blue launch pad, which you must enter after having picked up all 15 fuel rods. The yellow blinking round things are the fuel rods. There are also blue round flashing things that you need to drive over in order to temporarily lower the yellow flashing force fields that you can also crash into.

Explosions. Top left: C64/C128, regular crash. Top middle: C64/C128, nuclear missile.
Top right: Amstrad CPC, nuclear missile. Bottom row: Atari 8-bit, regular crash and nuclear missile.

There are two sorts of explosions in the original version: the basic car-crash explosion and the nuclear explosion. In the two COMMODORE versions, the basic car crash initiates a long sequence with plenty of fire-like yellow material bursting from the wreck, and the nuclear explosion transforms the action screen into a complete mess. The AMSTRAD version of the car crash looks a bit colourless - flames aren't supposed to be grey, are they? At least the nuclear explosion makes the surrounding area flash in different colours for a while, as the car sprite simultaneously performs the regular crash sequence. In the ATARI version, both explosions look the same - all the black areas of the screen flash pink for a while.

And that's all there really is to say about the game's graphics, unfortunately. At least, all I can think of saying. I would have liked to like the AMSTRAD version more than I do, but the slow scrolling and lack of colour make it even less pleasing than I was expecting. The ATARI version suffers from blocky graphics and lack of detail, but at least it has very good scrolling, and enough of colour. Still, there's no beating the COMMODORE in this game.




Although Rob Hubbard has been credited for having written the music for both C64 and AMSTRAD versions, there is no conclusive evidence for the latter, as the game's cover leaflet only mentions Richard Darling as the author - only a mention of Hubbard at CPC-Softs. Indeed, I am more inclined to believe that Richard Darling made the bleepy conversion of the title tune for the AMSTRAD version, but who knows. For the ATARI version, there are no known credits at all on the game's Atarimania page, so it would be logical that Richard Darling would have also programmed the music for that one as well. So anyway, you might have gathered from my manner of speaking about the ATARI and AMSTRAD soundtracks, that there's really no contest here: the original SID soundtrack features a proper Rob Hubbard soundtrack, with brilliantly alternating channels to make it feel like there's at least four channels in use - percussions, bass melody and at least two different alternating instruments performing the chord-substituting melody lines and the main melody. The other two versions have nothing but bleepiness on top of similar bleepiness to make up for the lack of usable waveforms and filters, but the question is, which of those two is less worse? Well, at least the AMSTRAD version has SOME character to the bleep it uses, but more than that, there is also a noise that attempts to sound like a snare drum or something, which beats the ATARI version by an inch. Oh yeah, I almost forgot - there are two more tunes in the COMMODORE versions, too.

The other paragraph for this section is dedicated to the sound effects, of which there are none in the ATARI version. Once again, the AMSTRAD version beats the ATARI by an inch or two - it features two different explosion sounds for a regular crash and a nuclear explosion, as well as an annoying warning beep that turns on when the nuclear missile is dangerously close, and goes on for ages, until you either get to your destination, or the missile explodes. The same warning signal beeps when you pass a source of radioactivity. The COMMODORE versions feature all these sound effects, but the explosions are more dramatic and explosive, and both the warning signals are more rhythmic and more warning signal-like. I probably wouldn't even need to mention the speech samples at the beginning of each level, but since the C128 version has different samples in slightly better quality than the ones in the C64 version, they deserve a mention. Besides, of course there's more of them on the C128. As you might have guessed, the AMSTRAD and ATARI versions have no speech samples.




It will probably come as no surprise to any of you, that the two Commodore versions are far above the other two, and this mainly because of the graphics and sounds. The Last V8 is admittedly a horrible game to play, which requires perseverance and patience of a saint, and offers no real reward for your efforts, apart from the feeling of "meh" you get when you actually get to the end of the game. Anyway, here are the unsurprising mathematical results:

1. COMMODORE 128: Playability 4, Graphics 4, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 12
2. COMMODORE 64: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 9
3. ATARI 8-BIT: Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 5
4. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 4

As I said earlier, I cannot honestly recommend this game to anyone, at least in its official form, although the C128 version is worth having in your collection, if you own a C128. There is, however, a modified version for the C64 available at CSDb, released by a group called "Beers, Steers & Queers", which is a bit peculiar... but then it's not any less peculiar that this Redline/Whiteline version of The Last V8 is the group's only release to date. Anyway, this version features an alternative control method, closer to how pretty much every other overhead racing game works. Some of the characteristic gameplay mechanics have been altered radically on the side, so it might take some adjustment to get into the new Last V8, but it's definitely worth checking out. It still doesn't make it a particularly good game, though.

That's it for this month, hope that makes up for the lack of entries in the previous months. Next month, you're in for some more games featured in the August teaser picture, and perhaps I'll tackle another request - let's see. Thanks for reading, see you later!


  1. I remember trying to play the game on my ATARI 800 XL. Due to its unintuitive controls I never really managed to drive the car a longer distance. I quickly lost my patience and never played it again.

  2. I actually really like this game. I got it for Christmas from a friend at school. Me and a neighbour played it quite a bit and I remember us playing it at his house at about midnight on New Years Eve/Day and finishing it (C64 version).

    It has one of my favourite loading screens ever, and one of my favourite SID tunes.

    I re-bought it a few years ago on tape :-)