Combining elements from different genres is – arguably – the basis for many modern indie gaming titles, especially ones with a social message or a complex narrative that consistently accompanies the gameplay. Going back to the early eighties, there was no overall definitions of genres, except for broad strokes such as “arcade” or “adventure”. Somehow, Tunnelvision fits into that discussion. But how?
Innovation heavily relied on the game designer’s tastes and knowledge of the market, with many unique games being created and quickly forgotten because they could never reach a big public. Pushing the envelope had to be carefully balanced with the risk of picking the wrong elements or using too many things on machines that weren’t technologically capable of handling complex gameplay. Since playtesting was also pretty much nonexistent, a good designer had to know the nuts and bolts of his title to figure out what was gonna work. Tunnelvision is, at its core, futuristic 1-vs-1 racing, with some very interesting gameplay choices which make for one very unique overall package.
Fill my eyes with that Tunnelvision
Developed by Graham Blighe in 1987, who will later go on to work exclusively on sports titles, Tunnelvision brings to fruition a Commodore 64 technical feature not to be scoffed at: fluid horizontal split screen gameplay. He was so proud of his accomplishment, that the game always shows two separate screens, even in single player which for this kind of frenzied gameplay, makes sense. The objective, instead of merely completing the race in first place, is to score the required number of points (from 1 to 5), by grabbing the ball (orb) and crossing the finish line.
The way Tunnelvision plays is a lot closer to Mario Kart, rather than classic futuristic racing titles like Wipeout or PoD. Firing at the opponent is the main way to steal the ball back, which transform the races in frantic battles in trying to turn around and find the quickest way to the goal without running into enemy fire. Naturally, the craft with the orb will run a bit slower than the other, a classic “symptom” of careful game design. Otherwise, races would have become much more unfair and boring.
Out Run, Wipeout and Road Rash all crashed into one
But that’s not all, as Tunnelvision features almost too many brilliant design choices to count. The orb, when on the track, slowly moves around on its own and has to be collected to be carried to the goal. The craft is equipped with a tractor beam that automatically makes the orb roll closer when in sights. There is a quite handy on-screen map which indicates to the player(s) where both crafts are, along with the orb, while also indicating when it is on target.
The strictly racing part, while it may not sound interesting, is actually pretty well done with fluid controls and a solid sense of speed. It probably comes as no surprise that all tracks are variations on tunnels, so there are no snowy mountains or sunny beaches a là Out Run or Buggy Boy. Still, they do mix well with the constant battling with the other contestant and feature plenty of difficult twists and turns. Not only there’s a selection of five tunnels, which is an acceptable number by 1987 standards for what was a budget title, but Tunnelvision also comes with a track editor, along with loading and saving to disk options!
Binghe went all out for sure, the overall gameplay features of the game almost seem to come straight out of a PC from 2005, it doesn’t really feel like a budget title from 1987 in any way whatsoever.
Get ready to hear "Bad luck!" a lot
The interface, along with the map, shows two indicators: Fuel and Shields. The first constantly trickles down during the race, while shields are reduced when touching the tunnel’s walls, being shot at or running into the opponent. In the tunnels, there are also enemy robots floating around which are going to damage one’s craft if touched. Once the shield is gone, the vehicle explodes and the game is over. Indeed, one could also win by damaging the opponent and forcing it to run into walls, adding another layer of gameplay which almost makes it feel like a futuristic Road Rash.
Graphically, there is not much on the screen, which was an obvious choice since fluidity seemed to be Binghe’s first concern. While split screen racing wasn’t a novel feature by that time (Pit Stop II already featured it in 1984), it is well designed and features a pretty convincing 3D effect. Easily appreciated is the “interference” effect when the car touches the tunnel’s walls. One thing missing, which would have been pretty easy to make, it’s a bit of customization colors for the crafts: they always remain yellow and light blue. Sound is efficient, the effects during racing are well done, the robotic speeches were also a surprising addition. The title music is Bach; indeed, again, guess the German composer was a perfect match for the SID sound chip.
Zzap! harshily reviewed Tunnelvision with a 48% describing the experience of playing it as “a definite feeling of pointlessness”. Frankly, for two pounds back in 1987, there were way more pointless titles that one could buy, the reviewer doesn’t even bother to mention the track editor nor most of the other features.
Tunnelvision is a nothing short of a masterpiece for a budget title from 1987. Chock full of modern features, fun to play in short bursts and with a unique concept that would work perfectly as a current mobile game to play against the CPU or friends. Almost hard to believe this bad boy’s more than thirty years old, because it sure plays like a teenager.
Definitely recommended if one wishes racing games were way more loaded with features than they would ever need.