Talking of challenges... how was Andrew Braybrook going to follow up his latest mega-hit? It must have been tempting to go with another straight shooter, but that wasn't the Braybrook way. Instead, he went with a racing game... with a twist.
Free, you say? Loves a bargain, me.
The game was called Alleykat, and was again set way into the future. This time, though, there were no Dreadnoughts in sight. Alleykat is set squarely on terra firma... well, maybe not terra firma, as this game sees you playing the role of a pilot in an intergalactic racing league.
The league takes place over the course of a year, with each month hosting a number of events. You're able to enter just one of these events per month, and your ability to do so depends on how much cash you've got. When you start out you're skint, as you've spunked all your cash on your racer... luckily the first race of the season is free to enter.
Yeah, just drop me off here mate, I'll be alright.
If you scroll down the calendar, you'll notice that you can peruse each event ahead of time. This is handy, because it means you can pick and choose your career. And you'll want to, because you'll develop your own style and favourite types of races and tracks, and you'll also learn which tracks to avoid...
Different events might range from Time Trial to Demolition to Dodge'em, with more besides. Each title states the obvious, so from that you can work out what you fancy getting up to, and choose accordingly. That's not to say you'll necessarily have an easy time of it from cherry-picking your favourites, though...
Beware the Cater-Killer...
Each type of race has an objective, as specified by its race type. So, obviously, in a Demolition race you'll score more highly for destroying all the scenery; in a Time Trial you'll score more highly for finishing quickly, etc. You can add to your score though, by destroying the hostile craft that patrol the racetracks. They're really thrown in as a distraction from your main objective, though, because unless you're racing on a Demolition track, you're not going to want to break off from what you're concentrating on. And you especially won't want to do that on a Dodg'em course... very dangerous.
Finishing the race will earn you prize money, which is essential to the continuation of your career. As I mentioned earlier, you'll need funds to enter the later, more prestigious events. If you fail to complete a race, you'll get nowt. You can just about afford this early on, but later races cost more to enter, so if you crash, your season is pretty much finished. It does look amazing when you crash though. Small consolation. It might be worth keeping an eye on the track as you race... small amounts of credits are strewn around, waiting to be picked up... another distraction, but it can be worth the effort.
Save the rainforest! No, wait... destroy the rainforest!
This all sounds pretty great... so what's wrong with it? Sadly, the racing itself is flawed. In many of the races, you can simply move to the right, blast everything in your path for an entire lap, and then hightail it outta there at top speed for the rest of the race. This doesn't necessarily serve you for the best in a Demolition race, but it'll get you to the end intact, winning you the money you need to progress. There's not enough of a feeling of threat or danger. The Dodg'ems are more difficult and you'll need a good deal of skill to get through them, but you can just, erm, dodg'em if you want and choose easier races.
I have to say, though... for all Alleykat is a little less-well regarded than earlier Braybrook games, I really enjoyed re-acquainting myself with it. It's not as good a game as the three that came before it, of that there is no doubt. The flaws in this one are a bit bigger and slightly more damaging, but there's still some good fun to be had. The variety of choice as you play through the game and the high score potential combine to keep things relatively fresh, even if you have a session lasting a couple of hours.
Here I go, way too faa-a-aaast, don't slow down I'm gonna craa-a-aaash. Oh... I did.
I actually think that Alleykat was a game ahead of its time. It's a really good idea that was hampered by the limitations of technology. Being a vertical scroller is the obvious orientation for a racer, but with the tracks being so cluttered you're forced to play the game "wrong". As I write this, I'm envisioning a 3D, into-the-screen racer. It could even have the same graphic style, albeit fancied-up with today's technology, but you'd have a better chance of playing it properly on all stages, and it could be really good fun. As it was, Alleykat was a pretty decent game, although many would say it marked the beginning of a slippery slope...