People don’t often think of the Genesis as a polygon pusher…mostly because it wasn’t. That didn’t stop some developers from trying to turn it into one though! Enter Hard Drivin’, a port of Atari’s 1988 3D polygon racing game. Ported to the Genesis in 1991, this game was one of the earliest examples of 3D graphics on a home console and given the limitations of the hardware, is surprisingly not a complete and utter disaster. That is not to say the game is good, though. Far from it in fact.
Few racing games age well and Hard Drivin’ is certainly not an exception. Sporting only one car and a single course that branches off into a racing track and a stunt course, the only feature that really sets this game a part from its contemporaries is its 3D graphics, and unfortunately that is all this game really has going for it. The controls are incredibly sluggish, making it difficult to make turns and avoid oncoming traffic at high speeds. The oncoming traffic can be especially annoying on the stunt course, where cars will come at you even over ramps and through the course’s loop-de-loop. It’s impossible to see the traffic coming in situations like this and is a text book example of bad game design if there ever was one. If that weren’t bad enough, the stunt course also forces you to approach some areas at speeds that are just too slow. One of the most irritating instances is the ramp, which forces you to hit it at 60 miles per hour. If you approach it too quickly, your car will just crash to the ground and you’ll be forced to start at the last checkpoint, sapping what little exhilaration it could have provided.
The game also moves like molasses. The Genesis was clearly never meant to produce 3D graphics at any kind of decent and playable speed, and all the blast processing in the world is not enough to get this game moving. Even the massive, Sonic 1-esque loop-de-loop in the middle of the track is an absolute bore to drive though because the whole game feels like it’s moving at fifteen miles per hour.
Really, this is the game’s main problem: its primary selling point comes at the expense of everything else in the game. Yes, it’s pushing 3D graphics on the SEGA Genesis. It’s impressive and the developers who managed to pull it off should be commended. As far as 3D graphics go, this is probably the best example I’ve ever seen on stock Genesis hardware, blowing the pants off of EA’s own awkward efforts. Graphically, this game is pretty amazing given the hardware. Looking at it this way, it’s difficult to really fault the graphics, and anyone looking for an interesting Genesis tech demo will certainly find it here.
Unfortunately, for all the attention that was given to the game’s visuals, little care was put into its audio. The game’s “soundtrack” is nothing more than an awful midi that plays during the game’s start menu. Aside from that, the only other sounds in the game are your car’s screeching tires and roaring engine, which sound pretty typical for a racing game from the time. Without a proper soundtrack the game carries none of the charm that one would should expect from a nineties arcade game, and players are better off just muting the television and playing their own music instead.
As an entertaining racing game, Hard Drivin’ fails miserably. Its controls are sluggish, the game play is slow, and the course design and traffic too often encourages players to slow down. As an example of early 3D game design and as a Genesis tech demo though, Hard Drivin’ may actually be worth a brief look, if only to see a side of the Genesis few games of the day explored. Hard Drivin’ can be found pretty affordably at most retro game retailers, so if you see it for a few bucks it might be worth picking up, if only to see it in action on a real Genesis. Hard Drivin’ is a bad game that has only gotten worse with age. Genesis owners would have to wait until 1994 to get a good 3D racing title, Virtua Racing. Though even that game needed the SVP chip or a 32X to run properly on the Genesis. Kudos to the developers who pulled Hard Drivin’ off, even if it didn’t work very well in the end.