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Indy 500
Reviewed by Chad Polenz

Usually, racing games are some of the most fun video games to play. They have such a wide appeal because everyone dreams of driving fast. The problem with Indy 500 is that it's a complete and total misnomer. Wouldn't a game about one of the biggest auto races involve cars actually racing?! This is a game so primitive, even for Atari standards, that it's pointless.

It's fairly easy to tell from the title that Indy 500 is a car racing game. The cart contains eight different games, six of which can be played as either one or two players and two of which are for two players only.

The first few games are basic races where all you have to do is guide your car around the track. There are no power-ups, no pit stops to be taken, no points to be earned and no possible way to crash your car (only to hold it up). There are also games where you drive around a fairly open area trying to run over a target that will disappear and re-appear as soon as you touch it. Finally, the last few games take place on the same two tracks as the regular games, only they are covered in ice so your car will slide around.

The two-player-only games are variations of "tag," which are played exactly as it sounds.

It's doesn't make sense that a racing game could be so mind-numbingly boring, but after playing Indy 500 for a few minutes you'll realize why. There's absolutely no challenge, strategy or FUN to be found anywhere in this game. To give the game at least a little benefit of doubt, I must mention that I played it only in the one-player mode for all the applicable games. However, I can't imagine playing it with another person would make it any less dull. That would just be two people bored to death instead of one.

As I initially stated, shouldn't a racing game involve RACING!? What's the point of driving around a track all by myself? In the one-player mode you try to see how many laps you can complete in one minute, but in two player mode it's actually a race to see who can compete 25 laps first. Making the gameplay so remotely "competitive" doesn't change the fact that all you do is drive around in circles. Shouldn't there be other cars to race against? This is the Indy 500 after all - so where are the other 38 opponents? Ok, I know it's totally unfair to expect the Atari 2600 to be able to process 40 cars on the screen at once, but would it be too much to ask for at least four?

Driving around these tracks is either ridiculously easy or nearly impossible. The easy stages induce boredom because there's no challenge, no appeal or anything of merit whatsoever. Playing the easy races in one-player mode is perhaps one of the most arbitrary things I've ever done in my life. As for the difficult stages, they're just as equally boring because you cannot get your car into a grove without some serious practice, and with a game as lame as this why would you want to?

Indy 500 for the Atari VCS was the first and only game to utilize the driving controller (plus a clone of the game known as "Race"), which is essentially the same as the paddle controller, but allowed for 360 degrees of movement.

It's a shame a novelty controller was wasted on a game like this and an even bigger shame that the play control doesn't do it justice. Trying to steer you car is probably the biggest challenge to the game (in fact, it's the only challenge). The controls are entirely too sensitive where even the slightest movement will jerk your car sharply and suddenly. This wouldn't be such a problem if you could control your speed, but you can't do that either!

Any kind of auto racing game needs to have a way to vary your speed, or at the very least, a braking option. Unfortunately, Indy 500 contains neither of these elements, so once you push that button your car is milliseconds away from redlining. The only thing you can do to control your velocity is to let up on the button and allow the car to coast. But even this strategy is futile because your momentum runs out so quickly. It's like trying to slide a refrigerator across gravel.

The basic look of the screens, from the style of the cars, to the layout of the tracks, to the colors themselves, are all clearly taken from Combat, the initial pack-in cartridge for the 2600. Since both are Atari games, it's possible the same designers created them or maybe it was some kind of time or money-saving method. Either way, the graphics are pretty bland and blocky. The color palette isn't any better as it involves bright, ugly colors. Regardless, this isn't the kind of game that is dependant upon graphics to affect its gameplay.

Since Indy 500 looks a lot like Combat, it's no surprise it sounds like that game, too. The problem is, the sounds that are supposed to be of the engines idling and revving sound more like chainsaws than racing cars - which is such a crude, aggravating sound. Hearing the constant "pok!" crashing sound isn't very pleasant either (in Combat, it was quite funny). To add insult to injury, you must endure a painful high-pitched "beep!" during the "Crash 'n Score" games. Ugh!

There's very little reason to play Indy 500 once, let alone twice. Again, giving the game the benefit of the doubt, it MIGHT be a little more fun playing with a friend, but even then you might need some serious alcohol to help you out.

I can't remember a game that was so obviously unappealing to me so quickly. Some games are fun or at least playable the first time around and then get old fast, but Indy 500 is never fun to play. It's like riding on one of those coin-operated horses or rockets outside a supermarket.

Whee. That was fun.