Racing games are nothing new, but Pitstop from Epyx incorporates a realistic element of the sport that sets it apart from everything else on the track. In addition to zooming around the course as fast as possible, you must develop a solid plan for maneuvering your three-man pit crew when you're forced to pull in for fresh tires and refueling. The game is available on cartridge for Atari, Commodore 64, and Coleco Adam computers.
The action takes place on one of six speedways, all based on genuine tracks such as Le Mans and Monaco. You can race at any one, or opt for the "Mini-Circuit," in which the program picks three courses at random for you to complete, one after the other. Hardcore speed demons will prefer the "Grand Circuit"—it requires you to cover all six tracks in succession, a grueling marathon event. The number of laps per race can be set to three, six, or nine; skill levels include Rookie, Semi-Pro, and Pro. Up to four players can compete by taking turns.
The race kicks off as you push forward on the stick to accelerate. The perspective and graphics are similar to Enduro, but unfortunately not as detailed as Pole Position. While you accelerate, the gears shift automatically, accompanied by authentic sound effects. The screen scrolls vertically, with a green background and yellow cars. Your speed, elapsed time, and current lap are constantly displayed.
No more than two other cars are on the track simultaneously, but they are programmed to swerve into your path or travel side by side to prevent your passing them. The main thing to watch out for is bumping into other cars or the sides of the road. An accident won't cause a colorful explosion the way it does in Pole Position, but it will reduce your speed as in Baja Buggies.
Trouble With Tires
This is where Pitstop takes a detour from the familiar "race around the track" scenario of similar games. When you smash into another car or the railing alongside the road, the corresponding tire is damaged. Starting off a deep blue, the tires change to a different hue each time you have an accident. Sustain too much damage and the tire explodes, knocking you out of the race. You've got to keep an eye on the color of all four tires and be ready to pull into the pits when they turn a bright red (indicating that they'll burst on the next collision).
The pit area is located to the right of the finish line. An inset map on the left displays an overhead view of the course, with your car's current position and the finish line prominently marked. Turn into the off-ramp on the right as you pass the finish line, and the scene cuts to a three-quarter perspective of your car sitting in the pits. Now your vehicle is revealed as one of those low-slung, Indy 500-type racers, and is larger and much more detailed.
Action In The Pits
A member of your pit crew waits on each side of the car, standing by to change the tires. Another is behind you, gas hose in hand. If the horizontal fuel gauge says you're running low, it's best to get the gas pumping immediately. This is done by using the joystick to move a cursor over the man, then hitting the fire button. Now you can steer him into place, where he automatically starts refilling your tank.
Tires are changed by activating one of the other men and moving him to the tire you want removed. He'll latch onto it, and you can guide him to a stack of fresh tires. When he touches the stack, the tire he's holding turns a deep blue to indicate that he's got a new tire, which he can then attach to the car. But keep your eyes on the gas gauge, because if you don't remove the nozzle when the tank's topped off, the gas spills over and you have to fill it up again.
While all this is going on, a timer at the top right of the screen shows the seconds ticking away to remind you how much time you're losing in the pits. Another digital display at bottom left tells you how much overall time has elapsed since the race began. To underscore the urgency of getting out of the pits as quickly as possible, the rest of the cars keep racing past in the background, their engines buzzing as they gain distance on you. When you're ready to roll, position the cursor over the man in front of the car and he'll raise his flag to wave you back onto the track.
You can make it through three laps around most tracks without a stop for gas or tire changes, but the only fun involved in this is trying to beat your best time for the same course. Pitstop's more enjoyable in group play. When one driver completes the set number of laps, the next one takes a whirl around the track. After the race, each player's time is posted, along with his portion of the $94,000 prize money. If you're competing in a Mini- or Grand circuit, the overall winnings are displayed at the bottom. If two or more players tie, the one who started first wins, so flip a coin to determine who goes first.
In addition to the exciting competition and action, Pitstop requires strategy and split-second decision-making that are missing in other racing games. Should you try to finish the race in spite of a severely damaged tire, or pull into the pits and at least insure that you complete the race? Is there time to change all four tires? Situations like these put a real edge on the game play. Since veteran race car drivers agree that many professional races are won in the pits, not on the track, Pitstop has to be one of the most realistic and playable racing simulations available.
Epyx Computer Software
1043 Kiel Court
Sunnyvale, CA 94089
Atari, 64 versions, $39.95
Coleco Adam version, $53