Remembering classic games: Winning Run (1988) | Top Gear
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Remembering classic games: Winning Run (1988)

It might look like a child’s papercraft project these days, but in the Eighties this was as real as racing games got

Published: 20 Jan 2023

As a kid who was approximately a decade away from holding a driving licence, there was no greater thrill in the late Eighties and early Nineties than slipping into the bucket seat and gripping the steering wheel of an arcade racing machine. But in spite of the ostensibly authentic set-up, it’s fair to say that most arcade racing games were about as realistic as our chances of winning Strictly Come Dancing.

Way back in 1988, Winning Run by Namco was a rare exception to the rule. There was no mollycoddling with chase cameras where you have a commanding view of the track ahead, this game crammed you into the cockpit of an F1 car and forced you to get on with it.

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Technologically, the game was astonishing for the time. Four years before the similarly angular Virtua Racing, Winning Run constructed the entire world from block-shaded 3D polygons, lending the game an air of simulation legitimacy. Even if it does look a bit like a child’s papercraft project these days.

This was serious racing, so you’d have to qualify before you lined up on the grid, but once that was squared away you’d be in the thick of a 15-car pack, attempting to jostle your way to the front. There was only a single fictional circuit but that one track was certainly challenging enough to swallow plenty of pocket money.

If you were lucky enough, you’d get to play the game in one of the ‘deluxe’ cabinets, which featured hydraulic motion simulation and six separate speakers for surround sound. For gamers of the Eighties, raised on the the Commodore 64 and Atari ST, this was total sensory overload. The only way to feel more like Nigel Mansell was to pop on a pair of Union Jack undies before you hit the start button.

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