Hard Drivin'

released on Dec 31, 1989

Hard Drivin' is a 3D arcade hit from Atari Games. You are in control of a high-performance sports car. Your objective is to race around the course as fast as possible and hit as many checkpoints as possible. If you hit a checkpoint you gain extra time to go farther. You will see traffic on the road both in your direction and coming down the opposite direction, so be careful when you pass...

The course has two sections: speed track, and stunt track. Speed track is longer, but you can usually achieve higher speeds. Stunt track requires you to perform several stunts such as jumping bridges, driving through a loop, and so on.

Crashing the car has no serious consequences and indeed shows a replay of your crash from a cinematic angle. Admire your crash head-on into the cement truck, or clipping the minivan, or flying off the bridge in the wrong angle... You lose several seconds as your car is "reset" and you get up to speed again.

The home conversions retain most of the then-advanced 3D graphics but lack the force-feedback that was in the arcade version.


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Weird shit that loops around from being novel at the time of release, to not novel at all upon console port, to novel again in the context of emulation. Buying a 5fps racer with a single track for $60-80 in the 90's is criminal behavior: No amount of marketing or tech hype justifies what a waste of money and space that is. But popping in a rom on the couch for 5-10 minutes? Harmless little tech demo.
It still amazes me how devs managed to do 3D on Genesis and SNES sometimes without additional processor chips. It's a shame that effort wasn't spent on a gameplay format as speed and screen-update-intensive as a racer.
This is the part where I plug a 16-bit 3-D game with minimal screen updates and good gameplay. This is the part where I plug True Golf Classics: Pebble Beach Golf Links. This is the part where you play True Golf Classics: Pebble Beach Golf Links.

Hard Drivin' feels like a great example for a touchy subject among a few of my gaming circles, "does a game age? Or was it just as good as the day it came out?".
Obviously it depends and not everything is black or white, but hilariously I actually think Hard Drivin' aged better for myself after I went back to it. When I originally played the Genesis version back on the Sega Channel (yes I had that) all I remembered was constantly crashing and not being able to control the car at all. For a long while I remembered it as being one of the worst games I played on the console, despite the extraordinary 3D graphics that were cutting edge at the time. It turns out it wasn't so much the game being shit, so much as it was just that I was a shit driver.
Don't get me wrong, the frame rate is low and hits peak powerpoint presentation levels at pretty much the worst time, which is while you're trying to go through the loop-de-loop on the stunt portion of the track, but for the most part I found some enjoyment here even if it was only for ten minutes tops.
That's where the real problem comes in, the lack of really anything to do. There aren't any other tracks to drive on and there aren't any other cars to drive with (not that you'd tell since it's first-person only). You just have the base track with the fork that leads to either the speed or stunt portion, and maybe you'll get to race against a ghost racer named "Phantom Photon" who must've died flying off the loop-de-loop and was buried under the barn nearby.
This game is nowhere near as bad as I remember it being, but the lack of content and the lack of sense of speed due to the low frame rate are ultimately what keep it from being as fun as other racers during this time period. In the Arcades in 1989 it was fine, but spending money on this game for the Genesis probably wasn't a great idea at least at full price, especially when stuff like F-Zero was starting to come out, which IMO was more fun.
I'm sure there's one guy out there who disagrees, props to them I guess.

In the arcades, this was kind of a big deal back in the day. It looks like hot garbage now, but full 3D vehicles moving through the environment was almost witchcraft back then even though it was just very basic coloured boxes.
The Atari Lynx version was... well, hot garbage even back then. There is only the one course from the arcade machine, which splits into two for a "speed" track and a "stunt" track section. Of course you always choose the stunt section to try and drive the big loop. But the frame rate is terrible, and the road feels too small and when you occasionally meet an oncoming car you end up crashing into it because both of you seem to occupy the full width of the road at the same time.
Hardly any content, and essentially unplayable. I paid full price for this game and 30 years later I'm still salty.