Multiplayer gaming on the PC usually means that you probably don't live in the same town, heck, even the same country as your opponents. On PC ZONE, the closest we like to get is the few feet that separates our office desks (for LAN games such as Halo and UT 2004), or playing against you in our regular Fight Club escapades on the Internet. We're not animals, after all.
However, a strange thing happened the other day when a preview copy of Mashed plopped onto the doormat. Witness four PC gamers claustrophobically crowded around a single monitor like it was, I'm ashamed to say, a games console. Rather than hearing Dave's insults, Will's anguished death moans and Suzy's dirty laugh echoing from the other side of the room, they were all now deafeningly close to me, as we chaotically raced small computer-generated cars around the courses. There was laughter, tears and rage, but most of all, that precious and oft-forgotten thing you need for a great videogame - fun.
Wot No Lan?
Mashed is the game we revealed back in issue 139, an isometric 3D racer in the mould of 1990s classic Micro Machines - not surprising, considering the fact that developer Supersonic was behind Micro Machines 2 and numerous other top-down karting projects. In the single-player challenges, you race through 13 varied fantasy courses such as the icy industrial Polar Wharf, or the Chernobyl-like radioactive wastes of Nukov, each designed with infuriating zig-zags, jumps, twisty corners and hidden short-cuts.
You can compete against a maximum of three other computer or human opponents, but not online, hence the suffocating proximity of my magazine colleagues. There's over a dozen vehicles to choose from, each of which handles differently and provides a slightly different racing experience. Some, like the Ford Capri-like Thunderstrike have a turning circle of Pavarotti in a JCB, while others, such as the Banshee buggy (obviously 'borrowed' from Halo) have solid corner-hugging four-wheel grip.
The basic 'Mashed' mode gameplay involves frantically keeping your vehicle in first place or in touch with the lead car - fall behind or off the area of the screen that the camera's following and it results in a lost life and points for your enemies. The winner of the races is the person who gets to eight points first - or alternatively, takes the chequered flag with the most points.
To ramp up the intensity during races, each player has access to weapon power-ups that are dotted about the various tracks. These include an oil slick for sending cars spinning into the hoardings, a fast-firing machine gun, a rear-mounted flamethrower, a devastating mortar and a flash flare that temporarily sends the screen white for a second or two, blinding opponents. However, Mashed also has a unique weapon in its arsenal - the air strike. This unique attack can be used by players who've been knocked out of a round, to destroy and disrupt the remaining racers (see 'Death From Above', top right).
Although the Mashed mode is the main thrill, there are other multiplayer game modes to enjoy, available in both individual and team-based flavours. 'Hold the Flag' is just that, with one player having to keep a flag away from the opposition to gain points for his or her team, while 'The Fugitive' is cops and robbers where one player is a runaway criminal and the others have to apprehend them.
If you're a nobby-no-mates and want to play all the game modes in single-player, you have the computer-controlled competitors to provide the competition. Although it's nowhere near as satisfying as going head-to-head against humans, the AI still provides a decent challenge - even at this preview stage. Difficulty ranges from easy, when enemies will struggle to keep their cars on the roads, to difficult, when the little blighters will try and force you from the track and pepper your vehicle with machine-gun fire.