Chase HQ was an arcade racer that was very much of it’s era, so 80’s in its style that it could have been directed by Jerry Bruckheimer, starred Eddie Murphy, and had a soundtrack by Harold Faltermeyer. Playing like cross between Sega’s classic OutRun and the film Beverly Hills Cop, your role is to chase the bad guys through busy streets and bring them to justice by ramming them off the road. So for a brief moment, you felt like you were the star in a buddy cop movie – that was the magic of Taito’s 1989 classic Chase HQ.
The cabinet itself was an elaborate affair, the stand-up version having both foot pedals and a wheel, as well as the hi/lo gear selector with turbo boost button. Sirens would blare from the machine in attract mode and during the game, accompanied by flashing lights above the screen.
Insert a coin and you would be given your instructions by police dispatcher Nancy, including the description of the felon you are to apprehend and the vehicle he is driving. Jump in your Black Porsche 928, floor the pedal in low gear, and you are off down the road in pursuit of your target, accompanied by blaring 80’s synth music. A graphic shows your proximity to the car in front as you dodge traffic to the accompaniment of shouts from your partner.
Passing traffic on tarmac covered sections, via branching paths that take you through part finished roads littered with barricades and cones, you soon catch up with the criminal. Now you need to ram his vehicle to damage it, the level of damage indicated on a progress bar at the top of the screen. Keep your eye on other traffic and obstacles as the guy in front can get away from you if you are not careful, and each collision causes a slight skid, using up precious seconds on the countdown timer. This is where the turbo boost comes in, allowing you to quickly recover the distance between you and the target vehicle before he gets away. Deliver the requisite amount of damage before the timer runs out, and the criminal is forced to the side of the road and taken away in handcuffs, his expensive sports car in flames. Nancy in dispatch will then present you with a new criminal to apprehend in a faster, more robust vehicle.
Through the game, if you have either the skill or the cash to keep playing, you will encounter sports cars ranging from a Lamborghini Countach to a Lotus Espirit Turbo – clearly the criminal element have great taste in getaway vehicles, and a few quid to spare. Each enemy was more difficult than the last to take down, the Chase HQ cabinet was designed to keep you pumping the machine full of coins in order to progress. That said, a skilled player could complete the entire game in around 10 minutes, with each of the 5 cars having to be defeated in under 60 seconds.
The Chase HQ arcade game was a blast, and the inevitable home conversions were always going to be challenged, given the powerful graphics and audio, not to mention the bespoke driving controls of the original machine. The rubber keys, limited graphics and tinny sound of the Spectrum would not therefore on paper make a good home for a Chase HQ conversion. The reality was however a different story, and whilst not a perfect conversion, the Spectrum version of Chase HQ by conversion experts Ocean was actually pretty good.There were also conversions for pretty much every home computer and console available, including releases by Ocean for the Amstrad CPC and Amiga, and by Taito for the NES, Game Gear and Sega Master System.
There were also some arcade sequels in Special Criminal Investigation, and Super Chase: Criminal Termination, but neither had the impact of the original Chase H.Q.
The dangerous driving mechanic has been seen throughout video game history, with games such as Road Rash on the Sega Megadrive, and more recently the Burnout series of games on the XBOX. Chase HQ however remains the most perfect and polished arcade racer, something that has to be played on an original cabinet to really be appreciated, and it’s one of my all-time favourite arcade games.