One thought that I've definitely never had is that OutRun is good and all, but wouldn't it be better with the addition of some violence? Of course I've never thought that, I'm of the opinion that OutRun is holy and perfect and faultless. Someone at Taito did have this thought, however, and thus in 1988 the world was graced with their arcade wheeled-justice-em-up Chase H.Q.
Chase H.Q. is a shortened title, the game was originally called Every 80s Buddy Cop Movie's Chase Scene Ever Simulator. Souped-up cars take to the mean streets to bring down crime, one high-speed collision at a time. Countless civilian lives are endangered needlessly. The phrase quis custodiet ipsos custodes has rarely been more applicable to a videogame, although it did take me an appallingly short amount of time to forget I was supposed to be a cop when I played Sleeping Dogs.
The game's attract mode sums up what you're supposed to be doing in a letter from your superior officer, the full text of which I shall recreate here, complete with spelling mistakes for your pleasure.
"You've got a finely tuned sports car with a custom gear shift with two speeds, high and low.
The button on the shift knob is for a five second high-power boost of nitro fuel which can only be used 3 times in any one mission.
Your mission is to catch up criminals, bumb into them until they're weakened, pass them up, cut them off and bring them to justice.
The distance between you and the climinal is on the map at your right.
You've got 70 seconds to get the job done."
Drive fast, bumb into some climinals, I think I can handle that.
Here are the heroes of Chase H.Q., two detectives who meld Lethal Weapon and Miami Vice into one adrenaline-fuelled whirlwind of automotive justice. On the right is Tony Gibson, driver and sports car enthusiast. On the left is his partner Raymond Brody, who constantly spouts snippets of digitised speech whilst also serving as valuable ballast. I've actually met Tony and Raymond before during VGJunk's run: they're the stars of Taito's Crime City, a side-scrolling action spin-off that was released the following year.
Before you can get into the action, you're briefed on your mission via a call from Nancy, your liaison with headquarters. It seems that Ralph, the Idaho Slasher, is speeding into the suburbs in a British sports car, presumably to escape the indignity of having such a lame serial killer name. All this information is fully voice acted by "Nancy," and very nicely voiced too, with clear, crisp speech that's remarkably pleasant on the ear for a videogame of this vintage.
Now, I don't know much about cars, but even I recognise Ralph's car as a Lotus Esprit. This is partly because it was identified as British, but mostly because when I was a kid I had a toy of the submersible Esprit from the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me and it shared enough bathtime adventures with me that I'll always be able to recognise an Esprit. I might not be able to catch it, though. Let's hope Tony and Raymond's car is up to the job.
There's a map that pops up during the intro, so I thought I'd check it out before I began the chase. "A Street Lined With Large Buildings"? Is this map the work of medieval cartographers? I notice there's no map for the final stage, but it doesn't matter because it probably just would have said "here be dragons" anyway.
And we're off. Chase H.Q. is underway, and I didn't bring up OutRun at the start of this article just as an excuse to talk about OutRun, although you'd be forgiven for thinking that given my track record. No, I mentioned it because Chase H.Q.'s gameplay owes a huge debt to Sega's classic racer, and the two games play (for the most part) very similarly. At the beginning of each of Chase H.Q.'s stages, your task is to catch up to the fleeing suspect by driving as fast as possible through traffic. As the intro states, your car has two gears, high and low. Don't do what I did and completely forget about this minor but important detail, condemning me to a first stage spent wondering why my car wasn't going very fast even when I kept pumping nitrous oxide into it. The turbo boosts are the other big difference (beside the criminal bashing) from OutRun, and they work exactly as you'd expect - your car goes really fast at the expense of being able to turn corners or avoid other road users. I suggest saving them for the later parts of each stage.
It all plays well. Very well, in fact, with a good sense of speed, smooth scrolling and vehicular handling that finds itself in a sweet spot of arcade playability - not too floaty, but not constantly punishing you for every mistake. You are operating under a time limit, but unlike in OutRun where the clock is utterly merciless on the default settings, Chase H.Q. is rather more generous and will let you get away with making the occasional misstep, like plowing your Porsche into a tree at 180 miles an hour.
The one aspect of Chase H.Q.'s gameplay that can feel a little strange is that you sometimes feel like you're being "funnelled" around corners, with the sensation that the car is steering itself. This is true of most arcade racers of this type, though, and the trick to dealing with it is to remind yourself that this isn't a game to be played like a "proper" racing game where your main aim is to take corners well: to succeed here you have to make left and right adjustments so you don't slam into the back of the traffic ahead of you, and when a corner does come up you've got to make sure you aren't going so fast that you slide outwards through centrifugal force and hit a roadside obstacle.
If you drive well enough, and remember to shift up to high gear, (although only a proper idiot would forget that,) you'll eventually catch up with the perp. Once you've got them in your sights, your time is increased and, in a touch so wonderfully charming that it was worth playing the game just to see it, Raymond takes out the police light and sticks it to the top of the car. Now all these other motorists know that I'm a police officer doing 300kmh along a busy highway and not just some random maniac doing 300kmh along a busy highway.
I'm not sure about that big marker that says "CRIMINALS HERE," though. Whatever happened to "innocent until proven guilty?" Mind you, Ralph's certainly guilty of various motoring offences if nothing else, so I'd better ram his car until it's on the verge of exploding.
That's the second portion of Chase H.Q.'s gameplay - repeatedly colliding with the target car until they stop trying to escape the long arm and heavily-reinforced front bumper of the law. Ram them enough to fill the damage bar on the left of the screen to clear the stage, but if you run out of time they drive away. You can continue, but any damage you did to them is wiped away and you have to start the ramming process all over again. This is why I suggested you save your nitro. Also, try to hit them from the side, because that does more damage, although it's easier said than done when you're also trying to not to hit any of the other cars.
Between my determination to uphold the law and Raymond shouting "more, push it more!" down my ear, I managed to tag Ralph enough times to bring him to a halt.
"You have the right to remain silent. We have the right to look cool in pastel suits. Now Ralph, you're going to have to drive yourself back to the precinct, because our car only has two seats. Do you promise to head straight to the police station? No stopping for any slashings? Okay, good, on you go."
Ralph looks mean, but I wouldn't try anything if I were him. Not when Raymond's got his gun aimed right at his buttocks. Ralph also kinda looks like Robert De Niro in Cape Fear.
The remaining four stages of Chase H.Q. follow the same pattern: receive a bulletin about a criminal, chase them down and ram them into submission. For stage two the villain is Carlos, the New York armed robber. They say crime doesn't pay, but Lamborghinis ain't cheap so he must be doing all right for himself. I suppose he could have stolen it. He does have form, after all.
I don't mean to keep banging on about the similarities to OutRun, but Chase H.Q. does have sections where your route forks into left and right paths. The criminal has taken one route, so you'd better take the same route otherwise it'll take you longer to catch them. Fortunately, it's always easy to tell which way you're supposed to be going: if the massive flashing arrow pointing you in the right direction isn't enough of a giveaway, then the helicopter that flies in and tells you which way the criminal went surely will be.
I'm afraid I'm going to have to take issue with the promotional strategy of the American Corn Council. Sure, we all want more people to eat delicious, healthful corn, but if you're going to spend all that money buying billboards to promote the wonderful maize lifestyle then clumping all of them together along one half-mile strip of highway is perhaps not the best use of your resources. I mean, I do really want to eat some corn now, but think how many more people these billboards could have reached if only you'd spread them about a bit.
You know, Carlos seemed a lot easier to stop than Ralph. I'm going to put this down to Italian motor engineering. I should be able to make a Lamborghini stop by breathing heavily on it, so bashing it with my car feels like overkill. And he's driving it near all that sand! That's going to severely reduce the resale value. As will it being on fire. You can just write it off at this point, really.
"You're under arrest on suspicion of armed robbery, murder and painting your sports car a horrible shade of 'warm lemon cordial' yellow. You're looking at fifteen years just for that last one, pal."
Next up, some drug pushers. I don't want to undersell the terrible societal effects of these crimes, but is it just me or are these crimes getting less serious as we go on? I think most people would accept that drug dealers aren't quite as bad as mass murderers. I reckon Raymond and Tony have a reached a point where they'll chase anyone in a sports car just to fuel their addiction to high-speed chases. In the next stage I'm going to be running down someone who cut the tag off their mattress.
There's not much to say about this stage specifically other than that it must be a constant nightmare to live in a house an inch away from a three-lane motorway. Instead, I'll describe Chase H.Q. as a whole, although it's probably already obvious what I think about it - it's good. Really good, even, an excellent distillation of the car chase experience into a form that suits the concept well, the brief but action-packed stages forming a perfect marriage with the short gameplay sessions that are the very basis of what arcade games are about. Little details, like Raymond taking out the police light or the sparks that fly up when you scrape along a tunnel wall, serve to enhance the gameplay, which is fair and consistent throughout, and the whole package is simple, immediately accessible fun.
What a lovely sunset. I think I'll stop to enjoy it for a while. In a job so fraught with danger, it's good to take these moment to recharge one's spiritual batteries, as it were. Okay, that's long enough, we'd better find a fire extinguisher before our suspects are burned alive.
A lot of these post-arrest screens seem to show Raymond taking a deep interest in the suspect's backside. I'd be more curious about how their car repaired itself, personally.
This time Tony and Raymond are on the trail of a kidnapper, who is escaping in a car which, to my untrained eyes, looks very wide indeed. It makes sense, I suppose. If you're a kidnapper you'd want a car with a big trunk.
Graphically, Chase H.Q. is very pleasant 95 percent of the time but my word these tunnels are hideous. All that brown, it's as though I'm driving a colonoscopy camera rather than a sports car.
Hang on, where am I? Are there many places in America where the streets are lined with Greek columns? Actually, what with the desert backdrop, I think our heroes might have stumbled across Iram of the Pillars, the ancient city of legend. That's some fine detective work, boys.
Upon intercepting the target vehicle, Tony and Raymond apply their usual crime-busting technique of ramming into the back of it until it catches fire. You do remember that this suspect is a kidnapper, don't you, detectives? A man wanted for a crime where they may well have an innocent person in the boot of their car? If there is someone back there, I have to assume they said "well, at least things can't get any worse" immediately before our heroes starting bashing into them. If Chase H.Q. was a movie, that's definitely the kind of line that would be in the script.
Oh good, there doesn't appear to be an abductee, just a man whose devotion to beige as a fashionable colour palette speaks to deep-seated mental issues.
For the final stage, our heroes are thrust into the murky world of international espionage as they hunt down a spy from the Eastern Bloc. Sometimes I forget that the Cold War was still going on in the age of videogames, at least until I play something where the villains are Soviets.
The target car is listed as "unknown" here, so the game had better mark it when I approach it, otherwise I'm going to have to crash into every car I see on the off-chance that it's being driven by a KGB agent.
One thing for which I will give Chase H.Q. my unrestrained praise is its difficulty curve. So many arcade games start off manageable before suddenly switching to "screw you, feed me credits" about three stages in, but Chase H.Q. has a nice, smooth progression of challenge where the later stages are noticeably more difficult without ever feeling unfair or designed just to take money from the player.
The spy's car is, in fact, marked the second you clap eyes on it, so there's no guesswork involved and you can finish the game using the tried-and-true methods that have seen you through the other four stages. I mentioned it before as a possible negative about the game, but here the game's tendency to funnel the player around corners is surprisingly helpful, allowing you to concentrate on hitting your target and avoiding traffic without the pesky inconvenience of having to steer.
That man does not look like a Soviet spy. I imagine he was chosen by his commanding officers for this very reason.
After clearing five missions, the game is over and to celebrate Ronald Reagan awards our heroes a strip of toilet paper. Reagan - he's actually the police chief - even congratulates you on completing five missions "without a flaw" by saying "bless you," which is oddly sweet. He's got the face of a grizzled, no-nonsense police chief but the personality of a kindly grandma. That probably explains why he never once asked me to turn in my badge and gun, or told me he wanted this case solving by the book.
Meeemorieees, of the perps we caught...
Do yourself a favour and give Chase H.Q. a go. There's a good chance you already have, because it was very successful and it's hardly obscure, but you should take it for another spin anyway because it's an excellent little game with a great atmosphere that only takes about ten minutes to play through. Of course, it's not as good as OutRun, but even I like a change every now and then.