Your Sinclair1st January 1990
Published in Your Sinclair #49
Hmmm! Hang on a mo, let me consult the YS book on how to start a driving game review. Ah yes, here it is.
"Vroom! Vroom! Watch me zoom!" Hmmm! In this case it's more like "Vroom! Vroom!" (unless you've got a 48K, 'cos there's no sound) "Watch me swerve all over the shop as if I've just consumed 15 pints of vodka!" Make no bones about it, this game is hard, but then, as Clare (the rather nice Domark lady) told me, "It's not called Soft Drivin' is it?!" Hem, hem, point taken!
Hard Drivin' has been one of the most eagerly awaited arcade conversions of this year. How on earth could Domark think it could squeeze such a massive driving sim into the humble Spec?! I had my doubts, but now it's arrived and, bearing in mind I'd braced myself for a disappointment, it's skill! In case you missed our Megapreview last month, the arcade Hard Drivin' is a racing game much more akin to a driving simulator than a normal arcade machine, and the first I've seen with a full complement of gears and a clutch pedal for starters! In it you get to drive a 'popular sports car' (Italian, red and with a name which begins with 'F' - Domark doesn't have the licence to use the name!) around a 'Speed Track' or 'Stunt Track'. The latter features high speed banking, an open drawbridge and a spectacular loop-the-loop! Oh, and there's a cow standing next to the barn which 'moos' should you run it over! Half way around each circuit is a checkpoint - make this and you'll get extra time. Make it to the end and, if you're quick enough, you'll get to race the 'Phantom Photon', a computer-controlled car which emulates the performance of he previous best lapper! (So if you had the previous best lap you'll get to race yourself!) Oh, and any time you crash you'll get to see a replay of yourself coming to grief from a spectator's viewpoint!
Suffice to say then that most of this has been ported down on to the Spec, which is no mean technical achievement! There are no pedals, of course, it's largely monochrome and there's no cow (boo boo!) but most of the other arcade features are here, F'rinstance, you've got the whole arcade course to zoom around, even the skid pan which isn't on the 16-bit versions! (So "Yah boo sucks!")
Alright alright, so you know all this - what you want to know is 'how does it play and is it fast?' The answer is that it plays remarkably well, and, considering just how much the computer has to cope with, it is fast! I mean, what we're dealing with here is a solid-filled 3D environment a la Freescape. Unlike most games in which a car will be represented by so many different sprites, in Hard Drivin' no matter what angle you look at something the computer will mathematically work out what area should be filled by the graphic and present you with the appropriate image. Okay, so I've compared the graphics to Freescape, but, whilst those games are very slow, this isn't the case here. There are times when the action will noticeably jerk and slow down, such as when you come around a corner and see the suspension bridge, but the overall impression is of it being pretty darn speedy! I assume the programmers, Binary Design, overcame some of the speed problem by having the computer update screens on a system of priorities. Background details, like half the bridge, appear in their own time! There are other glitches in the graphics too. The Spec basically can't cope with tying all the blocks of graphics together. This is most apparent in the loop where the graphic appears to break up. But you'll learn to live with it. Oh, and the replay feature is brilliant, especially if you can manage a 'head on' over the drawbridge!
In terms of control, the game is not unlike the arcade original in that it's very tricky. It's more akin to a flight sim in many respects (!) and did take me some time to master. Although much easier with a joystick, there is a key available to automatically centre the steering wheel which will assist beginners. My first attempts were really erratic (hence the intro!), but be patient, it's worth it! Suss this out and you get to have a go at the manual gearbox! Like the best flight sims it'll take some time to perfect your control, but stick at it. It might not have the instant playability of Slant Car Racer, and don't expect an OutRun or WEC Le Mans clone, but if you're into a thinking person's driving game you won't want to miss Hard Drivin'.
Difficult to master, technically accomplished arcade/driving sim with brilliant graphics. If you like flight sims you'll definitely get your money's worth!!