The first proper driving simulation on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum which pushed the quality of driving games up a significant notch. The driving simulation era was born.
Perhaps inspired by the arcade game 'Pole Position' by Namco, Chequered Flag (or Flag as it would later become known) was released in 1983 by Psion Software, who had previously been famous for releasing games such as Flight Simulation and various titles for the Sinclair ZX 81.
This game (and Flight Simulation) established them as a formidable developer of accurate simulation games that were based more on reality than arcade style action.
This game had been highly anticipated during the run up to it's release, as there had been no accurate driving simulations on the ZX Spectrum up until this point. A driving game that really launched the genre of driving simulation, Flag had the polish and the vroom to make it a reasonable seller.
It was awarded a good score of 71% in the hallowed pages of the popular Spectrum magazine, Crash.
The aim of the game is pretty simple: Pick your car (there were three to choose from), pick your circuit (there were ten to choose from), pick the number of laps you want to complete, and get yourself onto the starting grid.
The ten tracks were based on real life formula one tracks (such as the UK's Brands Hatch, the circuit at Monaco and so on) adding a sense of realism to the game from the off. The three cars had differing degrees of speed and handling, giving the player a broader range of challenges.
There was the crappily named 'McFaster Special' which had an automatic gearbox, low revs and was easy to handle. The mid-range car was the equally badly titled 'Psion Pegasus', and the most difficult car to master was the uber-powerful Feretti Turbo. At least it had a decent name. Anyway, onto the 'racing'.
Racing in a traditional sense was not in this game as there were no other cars to race against. The challenge was to beat the clock.
Sitting in the cockpit of your car was (at the time) quite exciting. You could see the rev counter, speedometer, fuel gauge, temp gauge and of course, the steering wheel. Looking over the nose of your car you could see your front tyres. The traffic lights would turn from red to green and you would be off.
Your jaw would drop as you accellerated forward and came towards the first corner on the track. As you turned (you could even turn gently or sharply) the steering wheel of your car would actually turn too. Amazing!
Hurtling forward, you would speed your car over the tarmac, up and down hills (nicely represented by the horizon lowering and raising), and throw it around sharp bends. To make your drive more difficult, hazards such as broken glass, rocks (rocks on a race track?), water spills and oil slicks would be strewn around the circuit - and were obviously best avoided.
Running over these items could burst a tyre, damage the underbelly of the car causing fuel leaks and so on. In keeping with realism, your cars performance would be hindered by damage, and you would have to make a pit stop to get the damage repaired.
The game was over when you either completed your lap(s) or your car was too damaged to go any further. Crashing off the side of the track would instantly bring your race to an end. It was now up to you to race again and beat your lap time.
To be fair this game was never a must have title, but it was unique when it was released as there was nothing else close to it in terms of realism. The 3D effect was convincing, and when you got your car up to full speed the roadside items did whizz by giving the player a nice sense of speed. The fact that you had to watch your engine revs and tyres sat well with formula 1 enthusiasts. The real drawback of the game that prevented it from being a true classic game was the fact that there were no other cars to race against. Otherwise it represented a solid (and realistic for the time) driving experience.
The test of time: Well we here in the land of Spectrum Games reckon that this game has stood the test of time pretty well. It still has a degree of playability and the different cars and tracks provide a stern challenge. By todays standards it is a simple driving game, but this title really paved the way for further driving simulators such as the legendary Formula 1 Grand Prix by Geoff Crammond, and games such as Jaguar XJ220. Little touches like your your final report on completing your race such as 'car in excellent condition - give your mechanics the day off' highlighted the effort to capture realism that had been put into the game. Psion have a nice classic game here.
So - catch the Formula 1 on a Sunday, stick on a bit of Radar Love, grab your leather driving gloves and give this one a go. You'll 'lap' it up.
This classic driving game for the ZX Spectrum is definately worth another look after all these years.
We recommend getting hold of the real hardware - but if not then download a Spectrum emulator and download Chequered Flag for the ZX Spectrum. Alternatively you could try and play it online.
GENRE: Driving Simulation / Arcade Game
RELEASE DATE: 1983
RELEASED BY: Psion Software
PRICE: £6.95 - UK
The Speccy itself shows us how it's done in the classic game:
Arcade Games, Classic Games and ZX Spectrum Games