Ah, one of the classics of my youth.
Take the wheel of your high powered cruiser as you assume the role of a special forces police officer, chasing down bad guys and bringing them to justice.
Coming amid a veritable flood of ‘into the screen’ racers, this shares lineage with the likes of Outrun, Roadblasters, Super Hang On and many others, capturing that ‘80s vibe of Smokey and the Bandit or Cannonball Run.
Chase HQ would see three direct arcade sequels and would be converted to all the usual home formats.
Well to start with, a round of applause to the box art of the home versions, complete with ‘tache imbued hero, a sadly oft-missing ingredient of the modern day protagonist.
Diving into the game itself, the immediate obvious point of comparison is Outrun and whilst that game has also aged, it retains a certain classic charm, the scenery and iconic car carrying some gravitas. This looks altogether more cartoony, despite being a more aggressive game.
Your car is naturally a different beast from the sports flavoured Outrun, the nature of the game requiring an all together tougher animal. But it has the effect of looking a little like a giant black pebble with no discernible character. Scenery meanwhile is suitably varied across each level, including tunnels, off road sections and the like, but it lacks sharpness, the car itself drifting rather listlessly across the track.
On-screen clutter is kept to a minimum, the speedometer, gear stick and the like giving you information you need without getting in the way whilst your stock of turbo boosts sits prominently at the bottom of the screen. Periodically you will need to take a fork in the road, a giant arrow popping up on screen to guide you. Simple enough but effective.
To some extent these are harsh criticisms, the game is nearly 30 (gulp) years old for goodness sake. Yet it is a slight disappointment all the same.
The game is split across five levels with the aim of each to pursue a specific criminal and take him down.
After receiving instructions from Nancy at HQ, set off down the road in hot pursuit. Traffic comes flying at you thick and fast whilst various obstacles litter the side of the road, from tress to bushes to rocks. Whilst the first level is broadly clear, later levels introduce on track obstacles with cones and other barriers blocking your way. A hit from either traffic or an obstacle will slow you down, take a meaty thwack and you will grind to a halt.
Each level is effectively split into two parts, both played out in a race against the clock. To start with, you need to get in the vicinity of the speeding villain but with just a 60 second timer, any bumps or stoppages along the way are a real nuisance. Once you get within spitting distance, the second part of the challenge requires you to bring the crook to a halt by repeatedly ramming his car until the damage meter fills up, after which you drag him from the car to dispense the strong arm of the law.
Your car is fairly nimble but to help you along the way, you also have the benefit of three turbos, a short lived speed boost that can help you recover some crucial seconds. But in terms if additions, that’s it. No weapons, no pick ups, just you and your armoured cop car.
With just five levels and a short timer, you don’t need to be a mathematician to work out that this is a limited gameplay experience. A skilled player could feasibly blaze through the entire thing in about ten minutes.
But as I so often tell Mrs Gently, it is not how long the experience lasts but what it’s like that counts and fortunately the experience still stacks up.
In some respects it shouldn’t really work. The chase section as you try to catch the criminal is fairly limited, tracks offering little variety, handling adequate at best and the barrage of obstacles and traffic to slow you down a constant frustration.
Similarly the actual takedown section, where you ram the villain to a standstill, offers no tangible variety other than the enemy car itself. With no weapons, each pursuit is much like the last.
And yet for all that it’s tremendously exciting. There is a tangible sense of speed, especially when you activate a turbo boost and the car is thrown all over the place. The short timer, whilst limiting the length of the overall experience, adds a real sense of drama, your pulse racing as the clock ticks down one agonising second at a time as you contemplate whether to use that last turbo now or risk it with the hope of saving it for the final show down. When you do catch the crook, the takedown is satisfying, the bashed up car gradually building up damage but continuing to pull away as you swing desperately from one side to the next, forlornly trying to make that last contact before the clock hits zero, finally taking him down with just seconds to spare.
A good soundtrack will never make a game of course but, as is the case here, it can certainly enhance one.
After Nancy delivers the details of the next pursuit over the radio, you hit the tarmac in a screech of squealing tyres.
Your partner regularly offers encouragement throughout, letting you know when the target is close or on the verge of being taken down whilst collisions and damage are accompanied by suitable bangs and scrapes.
There are some moments of intrigue though. As you get close to the target, your partner’s encouraging noises take a somewhat darker turn as he starts shouting out, ‘More, push it more,’ or ‘Oh yeah,’ or even ‘PLEASE!,’ to the point that you wonder whether he has given up on the chase and found something all together more salubrious to pass the journey.
Lightening fast and tough as nails. At it’s core it is simple and repetitive, offering little in the way of longevitiy.
But for all that, it is tremendous fun and I can’t wait to take it for another spin.
Let’s go Mr Driver.