Original 1997 shrinkwrapped release
|Artist(s)||Clayton Bradish III|
|Mode(s)||Single-player, co-op, multiplayer|
(up to two or eight players via JagLink or CatBox)
AirCars is a shooter video game developed by MidNite Entertainment Group and originally published by ICD exclusively for the Atari Jaguar in North America on June 18, 1997. It was one of the last licensed releases for the system.
Assuming the role of a government pilot assigned to battle against the E.B.N.E.R.S. organization, who plans to dominate a post-apocalyptic world left by a nuclear holocaust, players take control of the titular hovercar-like vehicles in order to destroy their buildings and flying technology across multiple missions set on various locations. Originally announced in 1994 and completed in 1995, the game's release was held up due to a less-than-enthusiastic response from the press and the developer facing financial difficulties, receiving a limited release two years later as a result.
AirCars received mixed but mostly negative reception when it was reviewed by video game magazines prior to its planned 1995 release, with criticism geared towards the graphics, sound and gameplay, while some reviewers complemented its multiplayer capabilities with the CatBox accessory for LAN play but criticized the setup before playing. In 2010, a new version of the title was released as a limited run, similarly to the original release.
AirCars is a shooter video game with free-roaming elements that is primarily played in a first-person perspective, where the main objective is to destroy E.B.N.E.R.S. and all of the primary targets in the area, which are displayed before the start of each level at the mission briefing screen and exit the area by crossing a teleporting gate, with a boss on every seventh area across 32 levels. Though played in a first-person view, players can change between camera angles by pressing 7, 8 or 9 on the controller's keypad respectively to view their surroundings, and although they can explore the levels at their own pace, a red line is put into the edge of the areas to limit the player from further exploring outside of the main playfield. The game has three levels of difficulty that can be selected at the main menu while progress, high-score and other settings done by the player are saved automatically via the cartridge's EEPROM. The game also features unlimited lives.
At the beginning of the first mission, players start with the Auto Cannon and Auto Shotgun as main weapons on the left and right of their AirCar unit respectively, with smoke screens and mines as their two main subweapons that can be used by pressing either 4 or 6 on the keypad and new weapons are obtained by destroying enemies scattered on the playfield and attach them either to the left or right of the AirCar by pressing 1 or 3 on the keypad as well. Players can also strafe by holding the C button. There are also two types of power-ups scattered around the map that players can acquire: Immediate power-ups that, as the name implies, are used the moment when they are picked up and Savable power-ups, which are stored for later use. If the player's current AirCar unit is destroyed, they are immediately sent and placed into a new unit but with the exception of saved power-ups, they lose all of the weapons and power-ups that were previously obtained.
The map radar inside the player's AirCar unit displays the location of items, enemies, targets, primary targets, among other elements placed on the mission playfield and they keep track of how much the area is revealed, even when their previous unit is destroyed by enemies. Teleporters are also placed on the playfield, which warps the player from one location of the map into another depending on their color, except those colored in grey, which are the level exit gates and they are kept closed until every primary target on the area has been eliminated. The game features a cooperative mode where two players can play the campaign mode with the JagLink, but the deathmatch mode that supports up to 8 players across eight networked consoles however, must be played with the CatBox.
An organization named E.B.N.E.R.S. was established on the wake of an nuclear holocaust that occurred to the world, leaving it in a post-apocalyptic state, with the main goal of living in peace and nuclear scientific community members of the organization expressing desire that their work should no longer be used for destructive purposes, while also suggesting that society should be reformed to eradicate any kind of hostility but this was deemed as unrealistic and even laughed upon, with the organization later becoming known as a fringe organization of radical scientist trying to restructure society. The government placed their spies into the organization to follow their activities and later found out about their recent development of teleportation devices, force fields and the nuclear powered crafts named AirCars, but in the turn of events this also revealed the real intentions of the organization, who planned dominating the world by involving the usage of nuclear weapons by teleporting them with their technology onto every major capital city around the globe and annihilating them in order to submit the remaining humans under their rule. Reaching the conclusion that E.B.N.E.R.S. must be completely eliminated, the government sends one of their pilot to destroy the organization's complexes and key installations by using their own version of the AirCars. After destroying all the bases of the organization on Earth, the pilot is teleported into the organization's complex on Mars and when their base on the planet is destroyed, the pilot looks at the burining buildings of the deceased organization on the horizon alongside a woman, with the text "The End?" displayed.
AirCars was originally announced under the name Car Wars in Atari Explorer Online's January 1994 newsletter and was one of the first titles in development by MidNite Entertainment, who was one of the first third-party developers signed for the Jaguar by Atari Corporation at WCES 1994. The CatBox, a multimedia peripheral that allows for local area networking with other Jaguar systems, was formally announced a few months later as a joint project between Black Cat Design and ICD, Inc. It was originally listed for a vague 1994 release and was later featured in the Do The Math promotional recording sent by Atari Corp. to video game retail stores in an early but playable state on November 14 of the same year under its final name.
The game was later advertized in EGM2 for a December 1994 release and was previewed on their next issue in 1995, where it was touted to be one of the first games to support the CatBox. The game was also showcased during WCES 1995. AirCars was then previewed as 70 percent complete in Ultimate Future Games magazine. Although the game itself was not available on the show floor, the much-touted CatBox was instead demonstrated alongside BattleSphere at E3 1995 by Tom Harker, co-founder of ICD.[b] Prior to release, it received less than favorable reviews by magazines such as Electronic Gaming Monthly and VideoGames. In addition, MidNite was suffering from financial difficulties at the time. Therefore, despite the game being completed, it was deemed not viable to publish and was left unreleased. Before its cancellation, it was previously listed for a July 1995 release.
Two years after the game was completed, AirCars was licensed and published by ICD as a limited run of 300 estimated copies, where each one came shrinkwrapped on a standard Jaguar box insert along with a 20-page manual, with the last page containing a representation of the game's control overlay in black and white. Because of its extremely limited run, the original 1997 release by ICD is considered one of the rarest titles for the system.
On July 14, 2010, a prototype of the title in the ownership of video game collector Marco Pasquali, was released under the title AirCars '94. This version of the game is the same one that was featured on the Do The Math promotional video and a few copies were produced by community member Gaztee of AtariAge with permission from the owner of the prototype.
On September 28, 2010, an independent publisher named Beta Phase Games alongside B&C Computervisions, produced and released a limited run of 100 copies of an previously unreleased version of the game titled KA AirCars, which was sent to the ESRB for evaluation and was reviewed in 1995 by gaming magazines. This version has a number of differences with the original version such as day and night missions, a smaller dashboard, new explosion animations with debris that can damage the player at close range and new sound effects. Unlike the original ICD release, Beta Phase Games's release came packaged in a clamshell case. In 2016, another run of KA AirCars was released.
Next Generation reviewed the game, and stated that "Aircars is a good attempt in many ways, but it doesn't quite make the grade in a few vital categories, including, most notably, graphics – which are extremely simplistic and lacking in any particular variety."
AirCars was the only completed title by MidNite. The company had two more games in development for the Jaguar; Assault: Covert Ops, an arcade-style action strategy title for two players and Dungeon Depths, an 3D fantasy dungeon crawling RPG with support for up to eight players via CatBox. Both were announced in magazines, featuring promotional artwork and were originally scheduled for a Q2 1995 release, but ultimately they were never released. In 2018, promotional flyers of both Assault: Covert Ops and Dungeon Depths were published online by John Hardie of the National Videogame Museum and video game collector Scott Walters.
In 1996, one year before it was released by ICD, its trademark was abandoned.
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