Nope, Chase HQ isn't crap. In fact, it's one of the best driving games I've ever seen and it'd be a perfectly sound thing to spend your money on. Ho hum. It's getting really boring writing good reviews of every Ocean game that comes out, but, well, the truth's the truth I suppose. And, it has to be said, Chase HQ is an absolute corker of a game.
How shall we play this? I know, you can be Algernon (the passenger) and I'll be, um, 'Mr Driver' (as in the famous Chase HQ phrase, "Let's go, Mr Driver!"). Okay? In other words, I get to do all the good bits (like driving at three squillion miles an hour through the middle of a city at rush hour, taking 'short cuts' up unfinished roads and ramming into the back of other cars) and you can do all the crap bits (like sitting in the passenger seat, sticking the light on top of the car and, um, that's it). Seems fair?. Great! Then buckle up and let's vrooooom!
Actually, hang on, I'd better give you a quick outline of the plot first! In fact, it's more than likely you already know it, but, for the few latecomers, it involves rushing around a big American city Miami Vice-style in a turbo-charged Porsche 928, bagging as may perps as you can along the way. You do this by ramming your car into the back of theirs until they're forced to stop, catching up and hitting them by nifty driving, and the judicious use of a limited number of turbo boosts to out-accelerate them whenever it counts. Unfortunately, this town seems to breed an affluent sort of criminal (they all drive mega-speedy exoticars and every second commuter has a Countach if the car sprites are to believed!) so they take a fair amount of catching!
Yes indeed, a pretty simple but perfectly serviceable plot, very playable in the first place but made close to perfect by faultless execution. I suppose the first question you always ask in a racing game is "Does it give a good impression of speed?", and the answer here is an emphatic "Yes, it does". The rolling road is very fast and smooth, the cars are all nicely drawn and animated, and there are clever programming tricks all over the place. Take the smooth way the road splits in two, allowing you to take either path, then compare it with the bodge job in OutRun in which they split the road by placing a row of potted plants down the centre lane(!), and you'll see what I mean.
This isn't the only neat touch though, oh dear me no. There's a very nice tunnel sequence, which doesn't slow the action down one jot, some lovely neat dips and rises which bounce your car up off the road, and little additional touches, like the flashing light appearing on the roof of the car as you approach your perp, which really add finesse to the game.
In fact, as far as presentation goes this has to be not only one of the best driving sims but one of the best coin-op conversions I've seen. Just about everything of any importance from the arcade machine has been kept in, from the animated logo to the neat little pictures of Nancy from Chase HQ and your good selves appearing along the top panel. Couple this with the constant stream of messages displayed at the top of the screen (saying where the next car will be or simply telling you to buck your ideas up) and you'll find there's a lot going on that can only really be appreciated if you're watching someone else play the game. Of course, as driver you'll be far too busy trying to stay on the road (so amazingly enough Algernon doesn't really get such a crap job after all).
Programming skills and care of presentation aside, one other thing gives it the edge over most other arcade driving games - there's simply much more to do. Instead of just racing against the clock you've got an actual purpose in mind (catching the criminals) which adds tremendously to the proceedings.
And finally, there's the sound. I hardly ever remember to mention sound (on most Speccy games it's hardly worth it) but in Chase HQ you can hardly miss it. It's great! There's some very good digitised speech (like "Geddee up!" and "Let's go, Mr Driver!"), nice police siren noises, and lovely touches like the note changing when you go into the tunnel sequences on 128K. And even on 48K there's a good tune!
I could carp I suppose. You don't seem to get the nice spin you do in the arcade game, the controls are a bit hard to use with pinpoint accuracy (in fact, it's harder than the coin-op, but then so is driving a real car) and it takes an age to load, but none of those are really faults.
All in all, the game's an out-'n'-out winner. As playable as Operation Thunderbolt is, as fun as Power Drift can be and as impressive as Hard Drivin' turned out to be, we're looking at Number One here. No question. It's a bloomin' miracle!
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