Friday, 25 February 2011

Early Driving Games #1

Super HQ a.k.a. Chase HQ 2 (1992)
By: Taito  Genre: Driving  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis  First Day Score: 189,090
Also Available For: Nothing

As I believe I've mentioned before, I have long held the belief that flashy graphics are not the most important aspect of a game and are not required to make a game good. There is, however, one exception. Driving games. I really do have trouble trying to think of more than a handful of really enjoyable driving games on any pre-32 bit systems, not including arcade games of course but even they, whilst more capable than home systems, were not infallible with regards to this technically-demanding genre. I have therefore made it another of my Red Parsley missions to find the best driving games released for systems pre-dating the 32-bit power-houses which made them so much more realistic. For the first game of this series, inspired by my recently-started Arcade Racing Games feature, I've chosen this variation for the Mega Drive which I encountered whilst looking into the original Chase HQ. Most of the actual conversions of Chase HQ were top-notch too, which already leaves Super HQ with a mountain to climb, so how does it fare?

Let's face it - everyone's going to pick the F40...
The first and most confusing thing about this game is why Taito changed it to start with. The game on which it is based was hardly a reviled one and if the 8-bit micros could manage a top-notch version, I'm pretty sure the Mega Drive could've coped too. Oh well, for better or worse, the game has been changed and the first such difference you'll notice is the absence of the iconic black Porsche 928 Turbo. Instead, you got to choose between three vehicles - a Ferrari F40 (fast but weak), a 4x4 truck (average speed and strength), or a big-rig truck (slow but powerful). After you've chosen, the game is basically more or less the same as the original - you get sixty seconds to catch up with the bad guy and, if successful, you'll get another sixty seconds to smash their vehicle in!

Yep, my truck is actually on top of the bad guy's car...
They're not all driving sports cars either. Some of them have vans with a bazooka-wielding guy sat in the back! As before there are five stages to battle through and you can choose your vehicle at the start of each. They are again filled with an ever-increasing number of civilian vehicles but are set over more diverse landscapes than Chase HQ's. Here, as well as the obligatory grassy and desert-like roadsides, there's also sections that take place at night, some nice snowy scenery (with pesky ice-patches on the road), and even sections over bridges with no guard rails. Veer too close to the side of the road here and you'll plummet to your doom! There are also the odd pieces of debris on the road here and there and some new features such as ramps and crossroads too. If your time starts to run low, you'll again have the benefit of three turbos per stage as well.

Bridge tussle - the loser plunges to an icy death...
So, the differences between Super HQ (known as Chase HQ 2 in the US) and the original Chase HQ are mainly superficial, but does that make it an inferior game? Well no, not because of the changes, but I'm pretty sure it's no better than the worst of the 'proper' conversions. Graphically it's very disappointing. I know this kind of game isn't really the MD's forte but it looks and moves more like a Master System game. It's quite fast, admittedly, and very colourful, but the scaling is pretty ugly, the scenery is rather sparse, and there's even some sprite flicker, remarkably! I don't think I've ever seen that in an MD game before so I'm not quite sure what's happened here. The music and sound effects are just as bad, unfortunately. Not a game to play with the volume turned up very high!

Eeek! Lightning! These bridge sections are tough...
The vehicles control well enough though and some parts of the game can be fairly enjoyable. Driving along, weaving in and out of all the civilian cars is as much fun as ever, although things do get very busy later on. Others aspects of the game, however, such as sharp corners where reducing speed has little effect, and especially the damn bridges which are easy to fall from (there's not even an animation for it either, your car just... disappears!), can be very annoying which rather ruins the whole thing. Taito have released some frickin' awesome games on the MegaDrive so I'm very surprised by this one. It's not a horrifying game by any means but I'm confident that the Mega Drive could've done this, or indeed Chase HQ, a lot better.

RKS Score: 5/10

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