Reviewed by John Sweeney


Issue 30

Nov/Dec 87

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THIS is the 21st CENTURY ... THIS IS WAR!

John Sweeney takes a look at a new genre of computer software - the futuristic wargame. Autoduel and Roadwar 2000 are leading examples of the genre and John has delved deep into both

This is the 21st Century where the right of way goes to the biggest guns. The roads are controlled by warring gangs. No travel is safe. To survive a journey between towns you need a heavily armoured car bristling with weapons. Your country is depending on you. You will need to learn how to survive in this harsh new world, indeed not only survive, but amass enough worldly goods to ensure you can create a powerful enough force to fulfill your many missions. You will need to learn about the towns and cities of this future time, how to get what you need without making too many enemies, how to follow the clues which will take you to your final mission; how to handle the detailed road fights when you are attacked by a gang of enemy vehicles, probably outnumbered and outgunned. If you have learnt your skills well you can still triumph.

So, which game am I talking about? Roadwar 2000 or Autoduel? Well, both, actually. This is a prime example of how two different groups of people can take the same theme and create two entirely different games. Both are excellent games and will appeal to a very wide audience. Both are sophisticated war games with a basic requirement of learning how to survive and grow, while searching the cities for clues so that you can complete your final quest. All the details and game play are, however, very different in the two games and one over-riding difference is in how detailed combat takes place. In Autoduel fighting is done either voluntarily in the city arenas or forcibly while travelling between cities. You have a single car which you control with a joystick, shooting with the fire button and switching weapons with the space bar.

The fights are, basically, sophisticated arcade games. Roadwar 2000 does not use a joystick at all. The most detailed fights, which can take place in a variety of terrains, involve numerous cars on each side and are controlled by single key commands to accelerate, brake, turn and move each car during the movement phase and single key commands to choose a target and fire in the firing phase.

If you are hopeless with a joystick and can never successfully develop the motor (no pun intended!) skills necessary to win arcade games you should avoid Autoduel. If you don't have the patience to read and understand some fairly sophisticated movement, firing and boarding rules and comprehensive (21 per vehicle!) vehicle statistics, or the patience to spend well over five minutes ( and quite possibly half an hour!) on a single fight, then you should avoid Roadwar 2000. Otherwise, you may well enjoy both – read on and try to decide which one to buy first!

Where did it all start? Which came first – Mad Max or Judge Dredd? Whichever it was, the idea of a future controlled by warring road gangs seems to have gained significant popularity in gaming circles. Apart from the computer variations you can also buy board games such as Thunderroads ( MB Games), Battlecars ( Games Workshop) and Car Wars ( Steve Jackson Games). Autoduel is actually based directly on Car Wars, so let's look at that first.

"Drive offensively – The life you save may be your own".

You start by creating a new character and allocating 50 points between Driving, Marksmanship and Mechanical skills. Shortly thereafter you will be presented with a bird's eye view of your character walking round New York. Ctrl-D will show you your current statistics: $2000, low skills, no armour, and no clone to take over if you get killed. In order to win you will have to improve all of these areas. You should ignore the rather complex section in the middle of the excellent instruction manual for the moment. This covers all the details of how to design your own car, how to arm it, and how to use the varied weaponry but you can't afford it yet! If you are the gambling type you could hop on a bus to Atlantic City and try your hand at Black Jack or Poker, otherwise you should head for the Arena, pausing only long enough to buy some body armour at the Truck Stop. Provided you haven't wasted too much time you should find that it is Amateur Night – the only night you can get in without your own car. They will lend you a Killer Kart – a fairly low grade machine with little armour and only one weapon, a front-mounted machine gun. Fortunately your opponents only get Killer Karts too!

So far, apart from using the joystick to move around the streets of New York (which seems to have shrunk a bit by the year 2030 – it only takes up one screen!) you will have been using the keyboard to select items from numbered lists in the establishments you have visited. Now the fun starts – you are into an arcade game driving your Killer Kart around a vast scrolling arena searching and destroying the other amateurs. The borders of the screen are a mass of control panels indicating your weapons, your battery charge, your speed and the remaining hit points on the front, back, left, right, and underside armour of the car, each wheel, your power plant and YOU! You also have a small radar screen to help you find the enemy. As you drive around the arena, avoiding the fences and obstacles you will eventually come face to face with the enemy – blast and dodge and may the better man win! Unfortunately there are five of them and only one of you – not very fair really. You have limited ammo, the status of which you can check with a Ctrl-C (which will tell you all about the car design as well, but don't worry about that yet – survival is all you should care about at this stage!).


Getting started at Autoduel is not easy – you are unlikely to emerge as an Amateur Night Champion on the first few tries, but once you get the hang of it you will earn yourself $1500 and some prestige. Prestige and your various skills will normally increase whenever you succeed at anything. This is important as you need prestige to get some of the important jobs, driving skills to get better control of your car, mechanical skills to enable better salvaging of wrecks (both for spare ammo and to make money), and marksmanship to improve your shooting – it is worth noting that the computer is obviously 'throwing lots of dice' to decide whether or not you hit since sometimes a shot will miss on the screen but still have devastating effect, and vice versa – these 'dice throws' are heavily biased by your marksmanship.

Amateur Nights come round fairly frequently so you should soon be able to amass enough money to go and build your own car, fortunately there is an Assembly Line in New York, so you don't have far to go. (Your prestige will probably have reached six by now, so you can forget about Amateur Nights unless you run low on cash.) Now you need to read about car design. You have to choose from seven body types, then decide on the quality of the chassis, the suspension, the power plant, the tyres, the weaponry and the armour! Fortunately the foreman understands the principles of car design even if you don't and will keep constant track of the space, weight and cost of your new car.

You first need to decide what you want the car for – the game allows plenty of scope in what you do next. There are sixteen cities scattered across the Northeast of the USA which you can visit. Nine of them have arenas for you to fight in, eight have branches of the AADA (the American Autoduel Association) which will offer you courier jobs which can be extremely lucrative (up to $15000!) if you get the goods to the right destination in one piece and on time, and there are also the roads between the cities, which need clearing of outlaws. On the fold-out map you get with the game the roads are shown as nice straight white lines – don't be fooled by these. All 'roads' are arcade-time again and are actually tangled mazes of roads, some dead ends, some overgrown with forests or littered with boulders – taking a wrong turning can add 400 miles to your journey and if your power supply wasn't fully charged that probably means you won't make it. These roads are NOT safe for pedestrians! (Actually, if you do run out of gas you can cheat a little – just Q(uit and save) and restart –you will find yourself back in the previous city!.) The roads are also the natural habitat of the deadly road gangs. These guys aren't limited to Killer Karts with machine guns – here you will meet limousines armed with lasers, rocket launchers, minedroppers and anything else that money can buy!


The arenas likewise offer a lot more than just amateur nights, there are Divisions 5, 10, 15 and 20 for cars of total value up to $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 and $20,000 respectively, plus unlimited nights and, every three months, the City Championships.

So, before you build your car you must decide – are your initial plans to be a vigilante, an arena champion, or a courier, and if you are a courier are you going to be a rabbit or a turtle? – do you want armour or weapons or speed? Even when you have a vast fortune you will find the game is designed cleverly enough to prevent you building the perfect car – either too much armour will reduce your acceleration, or you won't have space for all the weapons you want. You always have to balance your desires against what is practical. And when you start out your main limitation will be your bank balance! Also, beware of building a car which is midway between two divisions. If you spend $6,000 on a car they won't let you into Division 5 and you will find yourself outclassed in Division 10. The only change you can make to a car after it is built is to add weapons (money, space and weight permitting!). Once you are rich you can of course have lots of cars, the garages will look after the spare ones for you (for a small fee) and you can keep different ones for different purposes or sell them for scrap.

One of the best aspects of the game is the range of weaponry, both offensive and defensive: Machine Guns, Flamethrowers, Rocket Launchers, Recoiless Rifles, Anti-Tank Guns, Lasers, Minedroppers, Spikedroppers, Smokescreen, Paint Sprays, Oil Jets and Heavy Rockets. Each has its own characteristics and uses. You can have up to ten weapons, mounted on the front, sides or back of your car – I especially liked the flamethrower, even if the long blast of flame misses the enemy car, the resulting cloud hangs about on the screen and may blind him! The Arena fights and road fights with gangs of cars are excellent arcade games once you have a nice variety of weaponry to throw at the enemy!

So what's it all about? Keep your ears open for rumours and secret information at the Truck Stops and Bars and you should eventually learn of some special courier jobs which are well worth taking. There are also rumours of a Mr. Big who runs the Eastern sea-board outlaws - maybe your final quest will have something to do with him!


My only slight criticism with the game play is that, once you have fully mapped the roads, got a good enough car, and learnt how to use it to get past the road gangs, then some of the , drives between cities, which can still take five or ten minutes 'become a tiny bit tedious as you watch mile after mile of similar looking road scroll slowly past, but by the time you get to that stage you should have nearly completed your quest, so hopefully you won't have too many such journeys.

Two points on the documentation. First, for Ctrl-A read Ctrl-R and secondly, the detailed notes on Saving characters don't fully explain how to retrieve a saved character if he has died - the Q command to quit and save to the B-side only allows you to resume once. If your character dies you will not be able to reload him again. Obviously you can copy your B-side, but that takes a long time. The simplest way is to Quit (which saves your character to the B-side), restart, select Activate Old Driver, reply Yes you do want to save your current driver, wait while it loads him into memory, insert a formatted disk when prompted, wait while it saves him to it. Now when it asks for the disk with the new driver to be inserted just press enter to use the character you have just saved. The big difference now is that the version of him on the formatted disk is NOT destroyed by loading. If he now dies you can re-Activate him from that formatted disk as many times as you like.

The XL/XE version is in black and white; the ST version is in colour and also allows you to use the F-keys instead of trying to reach ridiculous combinations like Ctrl-L with one hand! The only other difference between the two versions that I could spot is that the ST allows you to use a mouse, but since they didn't complete the job you will need to reach for the keyboard occasionally to speed up messages with the space bar and to reply to questions with Y or N. Whether you can fight duels with a mouse is another matter, I found the joystick much easier, but I am sure it is possible to develop the appropriate skills to succeed with a mouse-driven car!

Autoduel comes from Lord British and Chuckles who brought us the superb Ultima series - and while you shouldn't expect the depth of the Ultima games - you should expect many very entertaining hours of Autodueling.

Origin Systems Inc. (Microprose) Disk
Price £24.95 (ST)
£19.95 (XL/XE)

NEXT ISSUE ... an in depth look at Road war 2000, same theme but a totally different game.