‘Punch the Pedal’. Just one of the iconic phrases from the original Chase H.Q. still lingers in the minds of many, as does the woeful Commodore 64 and Amiga ports. A slew of home conversions and a staple of many an arcade meant a tune-up and respray of Taito’s runaway success was incoming with an obligatory sequel. Special Criminal Investigation: Chase HQ II, was rolled out into arcades in 1989, with the Amiga port hitting the streets in 1990.
Our buddy cops from the first game, Gibson and Broady, return but swap seats in the pursuit to rescue three kidnapped ladies, one being the Mayor’s daughter. The Porsche is replaced with the Special Investigation Chief having ‘developed a highly-tuned machine’, aka a Nissan. Our previous dispatcher is also replaced as she disseminates incorrect intel but some hazard warnings too, knowing bus routes inside out. Very helpful.
As a straight arcade port you won’t find any options, but a hi-score table is present for those wanting to challenge themselves or a friend.
Booting this up, we put our foot to the floor and race into the first level as our souped-up car sets off towards a lurching skyline. Billboards and other roadside furniture all look perfectly competent, if lacking in the finer details, with the game appearing to be an adequate representation of its arcade origins…until it actually gathers pace.
When hitting top speed or a boosting, the road routine isn’t particularly enticing, lacking smoothness with moderate draw distances. The scaling of distant objects moving close to you is choppy with levels involving a sequence of fast bends suffering the most. Your focus will be quite narrow as you concentrate on your road position and lining up the next target, but its fluency pales in comparison to titles such as Lotus 2 or Crazy Cars III.
The vehicles themselves are drawn to a decent standard but destroying road warriors disappointedly results in them just disappearing into the ether. There’s a good range of environments and colour swaps but these are mainly confined to mountainous areas or cityscapes. Gunfire also suffers from a lack of frames as it splutters down the road. The on-screen UI is clear and well laid out, with speed, score, available boosts and distance to target placed in a way to be informative and non-distracting.
Interlude screens such as the level completion and mission briefings retain an arcade quality although the targets always seem to be arrested in the same canyon area, regardless of the level you’ve just played.
While perfectly sufficient, the port lacks the finesse and fluidity of the arcade version and it’s Atari ST roots are clearly on show. It’s a shame more bespoke work wasn’t completed on the Amiga as this could have really allowed the title to shine but as it is, the overall presentation is mixed.
The sound design of Chase HQ II is for the most part, pretty good. There are some great quality digitised speech samples during level intervals although the voice level during the intel sections gets a little bit lost in the mix. The bad guys voice acting is suitably cheesy with one of the worst forced laughs to ever grace a home computer.
Sound effects are a little more variable in quality as gunfire sounds flat and engine noise never really convinces, although the whoosh when initiating a boost is suitably thrilling. Collisions with cars aren’t impactful enough but the chopper has great presence as it thunders in to drop off an RPG.
The title screen music is upbeat and Chris Scudds in-game theme really is a driving force. It’s low bass lines and synthesised tom rolls give it a great 80’s feel and adds a much needed intensity to the gameplay. While it is the only in-game music, the brevity of levels and the tunes numerous layers stop it from getting tired.
As with any arcade drive and shoot, getting from A-B is not the important part but the journey is. Chase HQ II takes its cue from any action movie chase scene, trying to create a powerful concoction of firepower and fast cars. The sequel one-ups it’s predecessor by adding the ability to shoot as well as ram, making the game feel more dynamic. The addition of oncoming traffic also helps inject a small risk/reward element as driving on the correct side of the road will often be fraught with hazards such as the obligatory boxes and barriers. All that’s missing are caged chickens and some fruit stalls.
Handling is capable if lacking a little weight as the car glides rather than grips the tarmac. Shooting feels responsive but it’s a shame two-button joystick support wasn’t implemented as hitting space bar to boost can be a little awkward in more intense moments. Don’t expect any weaving in and out as enemy AI doesn’t pose too much of a challenge with the 60 second time limit proving to be the biggest foe, leading to some close calls. The damage taken by boss vehicles increases as you progress through the 5 stages with pick-ups such as shotguns and RPG’s helping to even the odds. On the flip side, most standard cars offer up about as much resistance as Oscar Pistorius’ bathroom door.
The sequel to the coin-op smash had some favourable reviews upon release although most fell into the mediocre category, with Amiga Power calling the conversion ‘sloppy’ and ‘lazy’. It’s relative lack of speed makes any gameplay thrills feel slightly underwhelming and hurts what should have been a great pick-up and play title.
SCI: Chase HQ II isn’t a bad port, it’s just not a particularly good one. Some adrenalin-fuelled moments are felt but they never reach the heights of its coin-op father. Initial thrills soon fade as you trickle through the levels and when you complete the final race against time, the gameplay loop feels…exhausted.