System Requirements: 486/66, Windows 95/98/NT, 8 MB RAM, 8 MB on HD, PCI or VESA Local Bus Video, Direct X, 14.4 kbps modem
Price: Free demo, one-time fee of $16 to register
In video games, two years is forever. Back in 1996, Nintendo was just about to unleash Super Mario 64 onto the world, PlayStation software still came in clunky black boxes, and Lara Croft would soon make her debut in Tomb Raider. Ancient times, right? Yet, somehow, an obscure two-year-old online game called HoverRace still manages to pack in cyber-Andrettis day after day for surprisingly fast racing action-even if those players are stuck with slow modems.
Created by Montreal-based GrokkSoft, HoverRace has earned its cult following for two simple reasons: Great gameplay and no lag. Players can strap into hovercrafts that look just like the bumper boats at amusement parks. They handle like them, too, with a turbine engine in the rear and an innertube padding the craft on all sides-but unlike the local carnival, these rides pack missiles and mines you can unleash on your opponents.
HoverRacers speed through tracks filled with concrete, water, and other obstacles, snagging speed boosts and extra fuel as they go. The tracks are surrounded on all sides by high walls; in many cases, you'll want to strategically bounce off them to ace a tight turn. It's the kind of simple, straightforward racing fun that made Rock & Roll Racing and F-Zero hits.
Unlike those two SNES titles, though, HoverRace has DirectXÐ
powered polygonal graphics (running at 640x480) and eight-player competition over the Internet-without any lag trouble at all. The game was designed from the ground up to deal with the Internet slowdown back in '96, when 14.4 modems were
the standard; now that 56K is the norm, the game looks and plays even better. Mind you, you'll be able to tell the difference between HoverRace and, say, Wipeout XL, but the game's basic keyboard controls and simple textures hold
up well nearly three years later.
The Cult Community
Word spread slowly, and HoverRace fans became both game enhancers and game evangelists. Fan Web sites have cropped up to review homegrown tracks, host tournaments, and archive best times (www.
a Web ring for all the other fan sites). The players have also
invented their own games, including combat-oriented games of War that value projectile hits over lap times. For a while, a form of HoverHockey was popular, too.
HoverRace doesn't feature the glitz and glamour of many retail online games, but it also doesn't share their price tags or hardware require-
ments. The download and demo gameplay are both free, while registering the game for a measly $16
enables players to create their own raceways, as well as access to extra cars and ofÞcial ranking in the standings. If you're frustrated by slow online play, the humble HoverRace is almost guaranteed to float your boat.