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Spirit of Speed 1937

Ah, Spirit of Speed 1937. A dream come true for lovers of pre-WWII motor-racing, with legendary machines available to race on the wonderful circuits of that era. Take to the Brooklands bankings in a 24-litre Napier, hustle a Bugatti 35B around the streets of Pau, fly along the AVUS-autobahn, or caress the curves of Monza in an Alfa Romeo P3.

 
 
Spirit of Speed 1937. A fiasco of a racing-game, an insult to the historical machinery and legendary racers. A bug-ridden, PC-damaging attempt to jump on the bandwagon of popularity caused by Grand Prix Legends.

 

Thus are the two views that are generally accepted in regard to Spirit of Speed 1937, the latter more usually so. Time is a great healer, though, and with more than a decade having passed since its release, the game is arguably more deserving of attention now than it was when it was first released. 

Heading towards the Members' Bridge at Brooklands

Let us take a look at the positives. Where else can you race around Brooklands? Tripoli? Pau, for that matter, despite the track still being active. SoS1937 was (and is) unique, in the sense that it was a commercial release was dedicated to that specific era. The graphics were average for its time, and certainly nobody could complain they did not know what kind of product they were buying – the title, the box-art and the blurb on the back made it perfectly clear.

 

AVUS - why add fictional curves to ruin it?So what went wrong? Well, looking at it coldly, with no appreciation of what the game was intended to be, it was a terrible racing game. Reviews were overwhelmingly negative, pointing out its appalling frame-rate, pathetic loading times, laughable handling and insulting way of “re-imagining” circuits like AVUS (the lengthy straights have a few kinks added, presumably to make it more “interesting”). The AI drivers lacked basic driving ability – if a faster car comes up behind you, and you are on the racing line, it will “bump” you down the straight, until one or both of you crashes out. But don’t worry, there was no damage modelling, so going from 180mph to zero in a short space of time was perfectly harmless to car and occupant.

 

The game is often criticised for the atrocious brakes the cars had, which made early braking the main part of successful racing. But to be fair to the designers, racing cars of the time were like that – very heavy, poor brakes, and very limited grip. The fact remains though that success in a race depends principally on selecting the fastest car, with selecting a slower one virtually wiping out one’s chances of success on the track.

 The banking at Monza - not sure about those columns

Matters were not helped by the demands of the game on hardware. For a piece of software with the

graphics it had – that is to say acceptable for its time, but no more – a high-end PC was required to get it to run at all, let alone with a good enough frame-rate to operate the cars with any degree of precision. The software also had an uncanny ability to cause a PC to misbehave long after it was uninstalled – from personal experience, it took me six months to undo all the damage, and though that may be an indictment against my computer skills, it remains a fact that no other piece of software I have used in the past 15 years has done anything like as much long-term harm. (When I dug this game out of the box in my cupboard where old games go to die, I found a note I had written to my future-self after my experiences with the game in 2000: “Do not use this game. It messed up your PC and was rubbish anyway.” Opening the CD case, another message: “Can’t you read??? DO NOT USE SPIRIT OF SPEED!!!!!” If I remember correctly, the disc only narrowly-escaped being snapped in half, on the basis that it should be preserved as evidence of the worst piece of software ever published.

 

But back to the present. I’m older and wiser now, and I have had more enjoyment out of SoS1937 in the past few months than I could have dreamt of when I cast it aside previously. My laptop can install and run it without breaking sweat, and the game can be enjoyed as it was intended to be Pau - almost as I remember itplayed – smoothly. The game does have its positives. The tracklist boasts the likes of AVUS, Brooklands, Donington, Montana, Montlhéry, Monza, Pau, Roosevelt and Tripoli. And although the desecration of the straights of AVUS is unacceptable, the flag-decorated columns lining the outside of the Monza bankings are comical more than anything else. For every inaccuracy there is something to counter it, the very presence of Brooklands (which has a reasonable degree of faithfulness to the reality) outweighs the fanciful streets of Tripoli. Credit has to be given to the designers for making the tracks feel as if they are in different places around the globe – the deserts of Tripoli, to the tree-lined avenues of Montlhéry, to the labyrinthine streets of Pau, to the English countryside at Donington.

 

Smoke obscures the start of a race at BrooklandsIt is true that the cars still handle abominably,

and there is nothing in them that will give you a sense of the difference in the handling characteristics and other quirks of individual machines. The cockpit view is tolerable, and at least there is a different cockpit model for each vehicle, but it adds little to the atmosphere. Tyre-smoke becomes a major problem in this view, with the whole screen sometimes obscured, most usually at the start.

 

 
So, in 2012, can Spirit of Speed 1937 be recommended? Yes and no. As a racing game it still fails on every level, and will be of no interest to anyone with little appreciation or excitement for the era it covers. To someone who wants a realistic simulation of the cars of that period, again it cannot be recommended. But, if you can find a very cheap copy, are obsessed with 1930s racing and want to race around Brooklands, and if set your hopes low enough, it may just be worth taking a chance.
 
Just.

 

Spirit of Speed 1937 cover

 

Spirit of Speed 1937

 

Developer: Broadsword Interactive

Publisher: Microprose (PC) and Acclaim Entertainment (Dreamcast)

Released: 9th June 2000 (Europe)

Reviewed: 15th April 2012