Take the chase from The French Connection, the stunts from a Bond movie and a little speed from Formula One, and what have you got? Some real Hard Drivin'. Domark's epic car racing conversion is here at last, and it's a game for losers - lunch-losers! You'll be shaken, rattled and rolled on a journey where all that matters is the speed on your clock.
Two tracks challenge you. Not ordinary tracks, but tortuous, twisting strips of tarmac leading you on a charge that defies both physics and logic. One's a speed track full of hidden surprises, the other's a stunt course that relies on brutality not subtlety to intimidate drivers.
The aim of the game is to get around either track within a set time limit, the prize for success being a show-down with the computer's own motor - the Phantom Photon. Win, and you become the ghostly champion. Fail, and your joystick will never speak to you again. This doesn't mean you see the 'Photon' alone during the game. Littering the track in the best M25 tradition are other drivers, who love to go head to head and bumper to bumper if you happen to be in the wrong place at the right time.
The world of Hard Drivin' is seen through grey vector graphics' eyes. A monochrome Freescape-style world with one big plus - speed! Mph is no mere number set on a dial, but accurately reflected by the pace at which incidents turn into disasters.
The choice of a single-colour base is at first off-putting but proves to be a wise decision. Your eyes quickly adjust and soon even the slightest change in road direction can be seen and not felt by way of a tail-slide.
On each track, bends have peculiar quirks that will wring every ounce of drivin' ability out of you. The speed track is simply (?) a matter of ever more vicious bends that have to be taken at ever higher speeds. The stunt course, though, is where real drivers head time and time again. After a near-vertical drop as a warm-up, you have to leap a vast gap to line yourself up for the loop the loop, an obstacle that subsequently leads to banked sections and even more nightmares.
It's not the course that's important, but the hard drivin' itself. Initially there are two options: manual and automatic gearchange. The former is faster once you get the hang of staying alive while changing into the fourth. For most mortals, though, the first few forays onto the track will need to rely on your CPC looking after the transmission.
Steering ain't simple either. Rather than go for an unrealistic but easy quantum-scyle control - where one move to the left-right puts you onto full lock - Domark has given its supercar real-life handling problems. As you find out the first time you charge into a 40mph corner with the speedo showing three figures! Self-centering steering, the one non-realistic feature allowed to creep into the game, adds prodigiously to the gameplay.
With careful use, even potentially terminal oversteer can be corrected and made to pay dividends.
What fun is there in charging around a track in pursuit of some mythical opponent, though? The answer is... Crashing! Whenever you spin out, get T-boned or just go ape on a ramp, then you're treated to a graphical display of the resulting carnage. An instant replay facility kicks in and your car's demise is seen from a side-on view. It's almost worth trashing the tin box just to see the sparks fly!
Initially the game takes some getting used to and there will be many crashes on the road to challenging the elusive 'Photon'. But as with flight sims the actual difficulty makes for the challenge that drives you on to greater glory - and maybe even completing the course! The gearchange options add more difficulty for masochistic drivers with a death-wish. But Hard Drivin' is a game that is built around developing skill and understanding of how the car itself behaves, skid wise and speed wise.
Vastly different to the other racing games that are clogging software shelves it is unfair to compare Hard Drivin' to them. The game is designed for serious accident and control freaks, not just speed merchants and boy racers.
Its one major drawback, though, is the limited number of tracks. In the arcade original you went hell-for-leather on the speed track to earn another credit and then went to the stunt track for some dangerous hi-speed hi-jinks. On the home computer version, this incentive to tackle the simpler speed course is lost, leaving only the stunt track for some recreational mayhem.
Crazy, dangerous fun is the only way to describe Hard Drivin'. As a game it turns you and the genre of car games upside down. The obvious technical problems of coding a 3D race game have been overcome to produce an intimidating and enthralling test for the more mature speed nutters among us. Yet those who invest time and effort in learning the subtleties of the game will soon be able to complete both courses relatively quickly (in both senses) and find there is little else to do except get faster and faster.
Despite this, there will always be a space for Hard Drivin' in any gamester's software library, because how many other games let you play chicken with trucks and then watch the fun on replay?
We've seen a multitude of driving sims recently, but Hard Drivin' really stands out from the crowd with its amazing 3D graphics. A difficult game - keeping the car on the road is a challenge in itself, let alone doing the loops. Can be frustrating, but great fun all the same.
Good all-round visibility.
P. Vector grafs at top speed.
N. It's one big grey area.
P. Intro tune.
N. Standard revs noise.
Grab Factor 63%
P. It's fun crashing...
N. ...which is just as well
Staying Power 82%
P. A car you *must* learn to drive.
N. Only two tracks.
P. Realistic racing of the highest calibre.
You'd think that programming Hard Drivin' was a big enough challenge for anybody in one year, but not for Binary Design's Mike Day. Not content with coding the complex 3D routines, he also found time to make an attempt for the Guinness Book of Records. Last year he took time out to cycle from Lands End to John O' Groats in just 11 days, 12 hours and 14 minutes, on a unicycle. This beats the previous world record [and British Rail - Ed] by nearly five days. Quite why he wanted to do this is a bit of a mystery, but if he continues to put games like Hard Drivin' together, who's complaining?