“Let’s go, Mr Driver.” The Chase HQ video game must have left a lasting impression on me, because in 2014, some 26 years since the game first appeared, I still mutter that line from time to time. Mostly in my own company, when nobody is around.
Of all the games I played as a young, impressionable teenager, it’s Chase HQ I remember the most. Maybe it was the pixel-perfect Porsche 928, driven by the good guys. Or the sound of “Nancy from Chase Headquarters”, who provided much-needed information on the whereabouts of the ne’er-do-wells and American lowlife. But whatever, I loved it. And it was one of the first games I remember buying for my Commodore 64.
The game was a relatively simple affair. You were in control of the Porsche 928 and were given 60 seconds to hunt down the criminals. If successful, you were then given a further 60 seconds to apprehend the villains, which was achieved through the simple act of smashing into the back of their car. First the bad boy’s car would begin to smoke, then flames would start to appear, before finally, a towering inferno would engulf the exotic motor.
Miraculously, the criminals – such as ‘Ralph, the Idaho slasher’ – would be pulled from the flaming car, held at gunpoint and put under arrest. There would then be a further four criminals to hunt down, before the game would end.
As you’d expect, the criminals got progressively harder to catch and more often than not, the time would run out before you had the time to cause enough damage to the rogue’s car. If you had more coins, you could chuck them in and pick up where you left off.
Once Chase HQ had left the arcade and arrived on home computers, a shortage of coins wouldn’t be your worst enemy, rather the number of times the game would crash on loading. Or the times you were called for your tea by mum. “I’ll be five minutes, Mum, I’ve just got to set fire to this Lamborghini Countach”.
Thanks to the wonder of the internet, it’s now possible to play Chase HQ online, for free. In an instant, the memories of 1988 will come flooding back.
For such an old game, the graphics are genuinely impressive, if a little rudimentary. Controlling the car is a basic, stop, go, left and right affair, plus there’s the availability of three turbo boosts, signalled by the neat turbo icons at the bottom of the screen. Since re-discovering it, I haven’t managed to get past level two without taking advantage of the extra credits. But I’ve read online that it’s possible to complete the entire game in ten minutes. Gran Turismo, this is not.
But back then, we didn’t have access to ‘real driving simulators’. Our racing games were simple, basic and fun. I distinctly remember playing Turbo Esprit – a forerunner to the Grand Theft Auto series – which had functioning traffic lights, indicators and a working dashboard. I never once followed the instructions or played along with the gameplay. Just driving around, stopping at red lights, maintaining my lane discipline and using my indicators was enough for me. But then I didn’t get out much.
Looking back on Chase HQ, it’s very much a game of the 1980s. A rather lovely tribute on retrogamesnow sees it as a cross between Beverly Hills Cop and Sega’s Out Run, which is brilliantly observed. I see it more as a Miami Vice, with Tony Gibson and Raymond Broady – the two police officers – playing the part of Crockett and Tubbs. Sadly, ‘Sonny’ Crockett’s pet alligator is absent from Chase HQ.
If you were successful in taking down Ralph in his Lotus Esprit, you’d then be faced with Carlos, the New York armed robber in his Lamborghini Countach. This was followed by a Chicago ‘pusher’s’ white Porsche 911, an LA kidnapper’s Ferrari 288 GTO and – in classic Cold War era brilliance – an Eastern Blog spy in a Porsche 928. The game developers missed a trick there, surely it should have been a modified VAZ 2101?
Your partner in the 928 was Raymond Broady, who it has to be said, probably drank far too much coffee. From the relaxed “let’s go, Mr Driver”, he quickly moved on to more panicked expressions, such as “more, push it more”, “oh man”, “punch the pedal” and “one more time”. For anyone listening in and not aware of what you were playing, it must have sounded like 80s soft porn.
Speaking of which, I’ve only just noticed the roadside billboards advertising a local lap dancing joint. Perhaps this game had more in common with Beverly Hill Cop than I originally thought.
It’s a properly cool trip down memory lane. Rose-tinted nostalgia it may be, but I reckon Chase HQ is up there with the best driving games of all time. See what you think.