After the devastating nuclear war of 2001 (trust me to miss it, I probably slept in) and subsequent nuclear winter, civilisation as we knew it has been decimated and the people remaining are either reduced to hand-to-mouth survival or in rare cases living in bunkers. The owner of The Last V8 is one such bunker dweller, a scientist living in the Sci Base, who has spent the years underground upgrading his classic car to significantly increase the engine output, strap in some serious modern communications gear and shield the passenger compartment from radiation, making it the perfect vehicle for the ravaged world above.
Some time in 2008, The Last V8 rolls out of the Sci Base, makes its way through the under city and rides the elevator to the surface, heading out to make contact with any survivors there may be. But as the driver weaves through country lanes and looks for life signs, an urgent report comes over the radio warning of a delayed strike. Getting back to the under city before detonation and then through to the Sci Base itself without taking on a fatal dose of radiation wouldn't be possible with an ordinary car... but The Last V8 isn't ordinary.
V8 - RETURN TO BASE IMMEDIATELY!
The first of the two levels is set in a rural area that would be quite pleasant if there wasn't a beefed up red V8 hammering along the country lanes or the impending doom of a delayed nuclear strike hanging over it, whilst the second is deep below the ground in the under city. The original C64 game was programmed by David Darling (who later founded Codemasters with his brother Richard) with graphics by Jim Wilson and music by Rob Hubbard and, although having a play area that looks like it's being viewed from within a pillar box, the cosmetics are good for a budget release of it's age.
Contemporary reviews weren't exactly glowing though, with issue 9 of Zzap! 64 giving it a mere 37% overall and reviewer Gary Penn noting that he felt it "unfortunate that the actual game is so poor as both graphics and sound are of a very high quality". That difficulty was, presumably, cranked up to eleven to paper over the lack of levels, which appears to be down to memory issues; with sampled speech introducing each stage, there wasn't much room in memory for the maps! When the Commodore 128 specific version was released, it added a third level before the existing two that was set, rather incongruously and without explanation, on a cratered moon - players of Darling's early Codemasters release Red Max on either the C64 or Atari 8-bit should find that level remarkably familiar.
The Atari 8-bit and Amstrad CPC versions of The Last V8 on the other hand are pared down cosmetically from the C64 original and, despite the cover artwork for both declaring them to have voice synthesis, neither says a word. Also on the sound front, there's a rendition of the main tune but the two jingles for when the car is destroyed or the Sci Base successfully reached are both absent and, since the latter was essentially the only real reward offered for completing the entire game, that's a major omission!
On the graphics front, both conversions take the mixed resolutions of the C64 original and convert them to a single mode, the Atari 8-bit version using 2:1 ratio pixels whilst the CPC developers plumped for 1:1, with both managing less colour in the play area than the breadbin and, whilst the Atari's scrolling is a bit more coarse due to hardware restrictions, the Amstrad version is remarkably slow and choppy to the point where it feels as though the computer is having problems - any sensation of speed that the C64 and Atari generate has been totally lost in translation. But despite this, the CPC version received the best critical response back in 1986 with issue 9 of Zzap's sister publication Amtix dishing out 60%, an almost bemusing 74% being awarded by Amstrad Action issue 8 and modern review site CPC Game Reviews has given it 7/10 whilst commenting that "it is a good game, although it's very challenging for the nerves". Visitors to Atari Mania however gave the Atari 8-bit version something of a kicking, dishing out a less than complementary 4.4/10.
CAUTION - AVOID RADIOACTIVE ZONES
Looking at the four versions, the Commodore 128 version takes the chequered flag simply for offering more actual game than the others, although it's still geared right up to "eeek" on the difficulty front - after that, the C64 version pulls in as a reasonably close second place and the Atari 8-bit roars home a second later to take third, both being reasonably playable as long as gamers are willing to put some time and indeed effort into learning the route to safety and occasionally fighting the control system. The poor Amstrad CPC suffers from an engine fire on the starting grid for slow movement and painfully unresponsive controls.
Editor's note: the rather ropey split between the play area and status bar on the C64 version of Last V8 has been repaired and the game modified to install a new control system; this crack is available from the C64 Scene Database.