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Remembering classic games: Hard Drivin' (1989)

Hands up who remembers having to use a manual gearbox on this arcade sim?

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If you vaguely remember a small-scale riot taking place at your local arcade sometime in 1989, chances are it was something to do with the release of this preposterously ambitious stunt sim. One of the first games ever to feature a polygon-based 3D environment, Hard Drivin’ also boasted a number of pioneering touches for the racer genre, including action replays, airborne physics and a clutch pedal to operate the manual gearbox (believe it or not, this was an arcade game that you could actually stall). It’s no wonder the game humbly referred to itself as ‘the world’s first authentic driving simulation game’.

On starting a race you had two routes to choose from, either pin the throttle and head straight on for the speed course or veer to the right into a stunt course, which included vertiginous jumps and imposing banked turns. Pick the latter and you’d engage in a knife-edge dance between successfully hitting the checkpoints within the miserly time limit and accidentally launching your car into a low Earth orbit. A heavy landing treated you to a cracked windscreen followed by a brief replay of your polygonal steed detonating like it’s stuffed with Semtex.

Mastering the handling, which often saw you skating wildly across the surface of the road, was a badge of honour in an era when most arcade racers where disposable two dimensional thrill rides. Post a fast enough lap and you could even challenge the Phantom Photon, a ghost car, in a single lap shootout. Defeat this shadowy adversary and you’d enter your name and be immortalised as the one to beat. Well, immortalised right up until the point where a bored looking teenager came round to switch the arcade machine off at the end of the day.

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