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The WTO (World Treaty Organization) has taken over most of the world's major cities. Your government has left behind valuable secrets, nuclear components, as well as chemical and biological weapons. In the hands of the enemy, this would mean ultimate destruction. Armed with your virtual reality cyberbyke, you must steal back these most prized of government possessions - before it's too late.

  • 8 player network support.
  • The ability to customize your own bike.
  • 15 different weapons available including, chain guns, lasers, missiles, mortars, scatter guns and grenades.
  • Custom level construction in a fast 3D environment.
  • VR headset compatible.
~ from the back of the box

Charlton Brooker was so excited when a big parcel popped through his letterbox: "Coo, it's for me! I hope it's not a pile of doggy doo again ... " 

This was the introduction to Charlie Brooker's review for CyberBykes: Shadow Racer VR written for PC Zone way back in the October 1995 issue. Yes, it's that Charlie Brooker of Black Mirror and Newswipe fame. He was a dependably acerbic voice for that magazine and quickly became something of a minor celebrity because of it. For those in the know anyway. Recently, I've been going through old issues on the Internet Archive and found this beauty, so naturally I had to seek out the game too. Now that I've played it, I thought I'd pick apart his words. For funsies.

He begins by addressing his aunt...
Dear Aunty Mary,

Thank you very much for the copy of CyberBykes you gave me for my birthday. It was very very kind of you. I like motorbikes a lot, and I like Virtual Reality even more, so you can imagine how excited I was when I opened the box and put it on the computer. A 3D motorcycle combat game! And a multi-player mode, too! What a good idea!
The hype! If the current resurgence of VR got you excited, imagine what it was like in the mid-90s. Developed by Artificial Software and published by GameTek, CyberBykes was one of the few commercial games compatible with the Victormaxx Cybermaxx VR headset. I doubt PC Zone or Brooker himself forked out the £800 to try it out themselves, but as it will become clear, it will be important to Charlie's overall opinion regardless. He then goes on to ask his aunt some very passive-aggressive questions, since she was the one that bought it for him and all...
Question 1: I think this game might have broken something in my PC. Most of my other games look really nice and have lots and lots of detail in them and are great. CyberBykes looks funny. Are you really sure it's meant for the PC? It reminded me of the old games my brother used to play on his Atari ST when it had just come out. Do you think it has broken something forever? Perhaps all my games will look like this from now on. How much does it cost to fix the pictures on a PC?
This is a dig at the game's texture-less polygons. Sure, there were a lot of old Amiga games with this style - RoboCop 3 or Cybercon III come to mind - but I must come to their defence. I rather like them. Unlike those earlier attempts at 3D, CyberBykes is smooth and crisp. In this respect, it also holds up to a lot of its contemporaries. Screamer may look great, but its framerate just can't compete. It also supports resolutions up to 1280x1024 which was almost unheard of in 1995. The geometrical simplicity of the visual design, its bright contrasting colours and the focus on framerate and resolution over detailed textures are all in service on one thing; virtual reality. Any dips on those technical aspects would require multiple sick bags at hand just in case.

The other big game to tout consumer-grade VR at this time was Locus (also on this site), but that one is missing a key feature - stereoscopic 3D. If PCs at the time couldn't render one fully-textured image with a constantly smooth 60 FPS frame rate, how could it handle two? CyberBykes, for all its faults, has that. With its pick-up-and-play nature, I suspect it could've wowed many a first-time player for five minutes at least.

These floating icons will repair your bike, replenish ammo and upgrade weapons (left).
CyberBykes version of the Arc de Triomphe in the Paris stage (right)
Question 2: Can bikes fly in real life like they do in CyberBykes? Every time I try to go at more than about two miles an hour, the smallest bump on the road launches me into the air like a rocket. In fact. I find it hard to stay on the ground for more than a few moments at a time. It wouldn't be so much of a problem, but it's hard to brake and turn the bike as well, and there's no reverse, so I find it really hard to actually go where I want to. Is not being able to go where you want to the point of this game? Please find out and let me know.
Well, Charlie, I can answer that question, and I'll do so by quoting that one guy that everyone knows who loves Dark Souls a little too much; "you gotta get gud". I too find this floaty jump annoying, particularly in stages with a lot of low-level hills like Pride Rock. From what I can figure, it's there for a reason. The game is about destroying stuff; other bykes, gun turrets, trees - and some of the targets are mounted on top of buildings or flying through the air. Helicopters will use laser scopes to snipe at you from above before speeding away leaving you a little oblivious as to what's happened. A well aimed jump will land them right in your firing line to take them down. Extremely hard to pull off, but oh-so satisfying when you do.

While your basic weapon can aim directly in front or behind you, it won't aim upwards. The only way to get them while your wheels are on the ground is by using guided missiles. They are collected in the form of power-ups which replenish stock to the max when driven over. They never disappear so remember to note down their location so you can fill up again. Unlike enemy bikes and mission objectives, they won't show up on the in-game map.
Question 3: What exactly is going on in the game anyway? Everything goes very jerkily whenever anything big appears, and then I get shot and I don't know why. And I'm sure the guns on my bike don't work properly because it's very hard to shoot things, too. Dad had a go and said that it was the worst thing he'd ever played, but l know that a lovely aunty like you wouldn't buy me anything bad.
Looks like your PC wasn't up to snuff Charlie boy. With the use of DOSBox, emulating a more than capable machine is easy. The game runs smoothly at its highest resolution regardless of the chaos on the screen. Part of that chaos would be those turret guns and helicopter snipers but seeing as you are likely the only target, it can be all too easy to get shot at from all sides.

Editing the Atlantis stage. That floating red cube is where you can place all
sorts of stuff (left). You can also view your work in full by opening the map (right).
Question 4: My brother said we could try to squeeze some fun out of it on a network. Could you buy me four Pentiums for Christmas so I can play it?
Don't ask for much, do you? If you can't play it regularly, I doubt adding other players would help matters. Online play remains untested as ever (and I doubt it'll work anyway) but I suspect the game was designed with this in mind. There are six locations to begin with, with many more to unlock. They're mostly futuristic interpretations of real-world locations such as Warwick and its famed castle, Paris and its arcs and towers or Pride Rock and its rocks. Each of them are large and open, with the odd self-enclosed playground to navigate around. I found searching for these areas quite enjoyable, if only to see how they've been designed and presented. Oftentimes, I ignored the task of shooting things to jump around structures like I was Tony Hawk at a skate park. Great fun.
Question 5: How are you supposed to use the course designing bit? Do you need a degree in spatial planning? I'm in the bottom class for maths, and we haven't started computer studies yet. Do you think Dr Stephen Hawking would know how to use it?
Yes, you heard right. CyberBykes has its very own level editor. It is a very complex tool, with four pages worth of controls and hotkeys described in the manual. I didn't play with it too much, but it kinda reminded me a little of Planet Coaster's early creation tools during its early access phase. You are a disembodied floating camera moving a wireframe cube around the 3D space. Choose your shape and place it wherever that cube resides. It's far clunkier than Frontier's theme park sim and borders on annoying, but it can't be anything less than a welcome feature that they didn't have to put in there.
Well, that's about all my questions. If you could answer them as quickly as possible I'd be very very grateful, 'cos until I work out the answers I can't play the game 'cos it's horrid at the moment.

Once again, I'd like to say thank you very much for getting me CyberBykes for my birthday. You malicious, spiteful, dunderheaded, old cow.

Yours Sincerely,
He gave CyberBykes a scathing 10%.

It's fair to say that I enjoyed CyberBykes a little more than Mr. Brooker. I found his gripes about gameplay more valid than anything else  - I was particularly fond of the Tron-style graphics - but any hint of a compliment would have left us with a far less entertaining and caustic review. And that's what Charlie Brooker is all about.

Yours Sincerely,

To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses the DOSBox-X build of DOSBox to bring the game to modern systems. Manual included. Read the ChamberNotes.txt for more detailed information. Tested on Windows 10.

File Size: 93.6 Mb.  Install Size: 176 Mb.  Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ


CyberBykes: Shadow Racer VR is © Artificial Software, LLC
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me

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  1. It's been interesting reading the run-ins with British games mags that CRPG Addict (another great retro PC games blog like yours) has had over the years. He is often aghast at the lack of professionalism. Among other things that upset him:

    * unfair or arbitrary criticisms; factual inaccuracies
    * strange framing or writing conceits for reviews
    * excessively indulgent use of review space given to the writer's life instead of the game
    * reviewers not putting in the time to get good at, far into, or to grips with the game before dismssing it
    * a general sense of irreverance and lack of respect towards the media and audience.

    It's interesting, because these things are what most people (myself included) who were around for the 'golden age' of UK games mags loved about it! I can only imagine that in the USA, the contemporary games magazine culture was very different. But reading this review I'm reminded that he might have had a point. As much as readers would have eaten up an excoriation like this from Brooker, I can't help but feel sorry for the developers.

    Clearly they must have worked very hard to break new ground, adopting brand new hardware and having to solve a whole collection of equally new design challenges. And then the reviewer makes precisely zero concessions to any of this, holding the game to the same standards as competitors who had faced none of these difficulties, and even going out of his way to complain about extra features like multiplayer (without trying it) and a level editor.

    Maybe his impressions were honestly negative, but the performative show of cruelty in traducing the game must have been sickening to read for anyone whose livelihood was staked on the game's performance.

    1. There were also a wide variety of dedicated magazines over here compared to the US, and given the smaller install base, each had to offer something different to stand out. PC Zone was competing against PC Gamer, PC Format and Ultimate PC not to mention the multi-format likes of Edge and CVG or the more technology focussed Wired. My interpretation at the time was that PC Gamer was the big-budget one, PC Format the techie one, PC Zone the funny one and Ultimate PC the cheap and wrong one (even at £2 per issue including a demo CD, their overly positive reviews were obviously bought - 9/10 for Men in Black? please). I always though Edge and Wired were the more serious ones.

      That's just those I remember that covered PC. Look at how many gaming magazines we had overall according to the wiki; 86 (UK) vs 40 (US) by my count.


  2. how does this guy not know how to aim shots? you have freelook...