From 1990 through 1992, Gremlin Graphics released a trio of racing games featuring the Lotus brand. On the surface, the games could be viewed as rehashes of the popular Outrun series, featuring Lotus instead of Ferrari. Although graphics and game style were similar to Outrun, there was much more depth to this game series, especially the final installment.
That final game was called Lotus III: The Ultimate Challenge if bought for use with an Amiga system, since it was the third installment of the series. But, if purchased for the Sega Genesis, it was titled Lotus II: RECS, or simply Lotus II depending on which country the game was marketed. This was due to the first game of the series never being available for the Genesis console, thus making the third game actually the second game. Muddying things further, when the third game was eventually ported over to MS-DOS later, it was once again renamed as Lotus: The Ultimate Challenge.
A Bit Familiar
With so three games churned out in such a short period of time, it should come as no surprise that Lotus II: RECS did not differ greatly from the original Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge. It continued to featured a stationary car with scrolling scenery. Players could choose to play against computer opponents in championship mode, do time trial challenges, or play against fellow humans with two-player split screen.
The game included a banging intro song and overall decent soundtrack. Songs could even be selected from a virtual Lotus in-car stereo before each race (another ode to Outrun). Less impressive, the game play sound effects were terrible, even for early-1990s standards. It’s hard to even describe what the supposed engine noise resembled.
The game allowed for manual or automatic transmissions and a variety of difficulty levels. Vehicle handling was decent for an arcade racer as the vehicles responded to player’s inputs accurately and negotiating tighter corners had to be planned, including using the brakes (a rarity for racers of the day).
Choice of Lotus, Lotus or Lotus
Lotus II: RECS featured a choice of three vehicles, naturally all Lotus’. Included since the series’ initial release was an Esprit, specifically the Turbo SE for this game. It included a typo on the horsepower and torque, with both numbers listed about 100 too high. This was correct for the PC DOS version (Lotus: The Ultimate Challenge) when the car was rebranded as the Esprit S4.
The other two choices included the Elan (M100) SE and the Lotus M200 concept car. For those unfamiliar with the latter, it was a speedster concept car based on the Elan M100, highlighted by the removal of the windscreen and installation of two individual pods created for driver and passenger.
RECS to the RESCue
This game could have easily been a forgettable, has-been racer if it were not for one feature: RECS. An acronym for Racing Environment Construction Set, this feature allowed players develop their own custom tracks for either single player or split screen action. Unlike the detailed course creator featured in Stunts, RECS involved a variety of sliders that players set to then auto-generate tracks based on their preferences. A similar system was used in Gran Turismo 5.
Players selected whether they wanted a checkpoint race or a lapped course. They could set the number of hills and steepness, the number of curves and sharpness, as well as the overall length and difficulty of the track. Other customizable functions included the scenario for the track (my favourite was Saturn) as well as the number of obstacles and scatter one could crash into during the race.
It was a simplistic track creator, but for a console, it was unique and addicting. I do not remember playing much of the regular game but do distinctly recall playing the RECS mode for hours with friends, trying to create the most ridiculous tracks possible. It was the saving grace for an otherwise generic arcade racing game.