By Andrew Liszewski
It’s pretty obvious that Lemans was one of the first games available for the Commodore 64, and not just because it came on an actual cartridge. (At least my copy did.) The graphics and sound effects were incredibly basic, and while the gameplay wasn’t terrible, I don’t think it was enough to make up for the aforementioned shortcomings. But what made the game playable for me, even enjoyable, was the fact that it used the Commodore 64’s paddle controllers. (I’m pretty sure Commodore sold an official set of these, correct me if I’m wrong.) Instead of swinging a joystick left and right or using the keyboard to steer, the paddle controller provided a surprising amount of accurate control as you careened around the twisty tracks and tried to dodge the other racers on the circuit. Now I know Lemans wasn’t the first game to use a paddle controller, since it came well after Pong, but it was a new and novel concept to me and let’s face it, it doesn’t take much to impress a kid.
In the game you were pretty much racing against the clock and the scoreboard, since it gave you 60 seconds to reach a score of 20,000 points. Points were of course accumulated by driving as fast as you could go and by passing your computer opponents, and if you managed to reach 20,000 you were given 60 more seconds to reach 40,000 and so forth. I think you can see the pattern. But the longer you drove, the more hazards you’d have to deal with like iced roads which reduced your ability to steer, and the dangerous (and confusingly random) ‘night driving’ where you could only see other cars on the road once they entered the beam cast by your own headlights.
I think the most frustrating part of the game though was that your car would ‘explode’ (with an effect that looked like someone had covered it in gray goo) by just grazing another vehicle. It was nothing like GTA where your vehicle can survive a lot of damage before it goes up in flames. No, once a single atom from your car collided with a single atom from your opponent’s car you would be forced to go into the pits for repairs which of course cost you valuable speed and time on the clock. It was frustrating for sure, but that’s the way it was and we liked it!