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Hard Drivin’ (Genesis, 1990)

Driving into a 3D future at 5 FPS.

Hot Wheels sold separately.
The box art moves faster than the game.



DEVELOPER: Atari (port by Sterling Silver Software)

GENRE: Driving

RELEASE DATE: 12/21/90 – (JP), 1990 – (US), 12/91 – (EU)

Three years before Virtua Racing puttered to the arcades, Hard Drivin‘ enveloped its drivers in primitive 3D polygons. No small feat for 1989! The game’s ambition went beyond its visuals too. The cabinet’s steering wheel was equipped with force feedback, its car physics were more realistic than other driving games of the time, and it pioneered the “instant replay” within the arcade driving genre.

Don’t tell me to go 90, game. I got this.

Save for a lowered framerate and graphical downgrade, the Genesis port is very similar to the arcade. You control an “expensive sports car” (labeled as such by the game itself) from a first-person perspective across a single course. The course has two tracks: a speed track where you can test your driving/speeding skills, and a stunt track that features a bridge jump, a 360 degree loop, and a banked turn. You’re given a minute and forty-five seconds to complete a track, though time is added when you go through checkpoints and upon completion. After you finish one track, if you have any time left, you can drive through the other. When your time is up, the game is over.

No, you’re off road.

The speed track is the easier of the two. Stay on course, follow the speed limits (until you get the hang of the vehicle), take in the 3D barnyards and convenience stores, and you’ll finish with time to spare. The stunt track is where those advanced car physics really shine. If you don’t keep it at 60 miles per hour as you leap across the bridge, you will crash upon landing. If you don’t hit the loop going 60 or more, you might roll backwards. Drone cars litter the road as well, and if you hit them at a decent speed, you’ll crash and lose time.

You’re goin’ down, bridge.

Automatic transmission is smooth cruisin’ with very little challenge, while Manual involves an awkward control scheme that makes for emphatically hard drivin’. To shift up or down, you press ‘C’ and ‘Up’ or ‘Down’ on the D-pad at the same time, while (in theory) accelerating with ‘A’ and/or braking with ‘B.’ I’m sure this would come naturally to your fingers if you practiced long enough, but it feels needlessly cumbersome, especially when compared to the simple ‘Up/Down’ shifting found in games like Super Monaco GP.

Chevy Astros are the worst.

The “instant replay” is shown from a third-person perspective and is only activated when you crash hard into another car or the ground. The camera pans out to show your car in the split-seconds before your mistake and ends in the inevitable explosion. Today, instant replays can be found in every sports and racing game, but for the time, this was an ingenious idea that lessened the blow of one’s poor driving skills. Sure, you lose time, but at least you get a funny video out of it.

“America, America, oh this is you-u-u!”

If you clear the stunt track in a minute and forty or less, you’re challenged to the Phantom Photon, a ghost that’s a lot better than you at controlling an expensive sports car. If you beat the Photon at his own “death-drives-a-stick” shenanigans, your car will take its place and you or your friends will be able to challenge your racing abilities via a brand new ghost car. The game doesn’t have any save option, though, so once the game is turned off, your performance will be lost forever.

Mr. Photon, Esq. cordially invites you to a race to the death.

The two tracks included with Hard Drivin‘ are enjoyable, but once you’ve taken them on and bested the Phantom Photon, there’s not a lot to do. I suppose you could bump the game up to a higher difficulty or try and get good with a stick shift, but Sterling Silver Software really should have added a few extra console-exclusive tracks.

We had some times, didn’t we Hard Drivin’?

Despite Hard Drivin‘s clear innovations and despite the fact that I appreciate the content that is there, I can’t in good conscience recommend anyone purchase this for more than a dollar. Why? I beat the game in less than fifteen minutes without too much trouble. And while those fifteen minutes were a surreal trip into a chunky pixelated world of ages past, they were still just fifteen minutes. If only I could have driven you harder, Hard Drivin‘. If only.


14 replies on “Hard Drivin’ (Genesis, 1990)”

I did. It was good fun and addicting to see all the crazy ways you could crash the car. Then watch the replay and laugh your ass off.

It was a different time period. This younger generation is spoiled with their gigantic maps, drive anywhere gameplay, and pages of customization. You can have all that and stick it where the sun don’t shine. That’s way too much time to be sinking into a single driving videogame.

As a ~12yo I watched my older sister’s boyfriend play this a couple of times on the deluxe arcade cab. I remember being impressed by how easy he made it look, but I was never tempted to try it.

This has to be the most encouraging review I’ve read of the MD version by some distance. Given that I like games that offer up bite-sized experiences, I’m more interested than I’ve ever been in giving it its moment in the sun. I might have felt differently if I’d just shelled out AU$120 (iirc) for the privilege!

It wasn’t $60 and you didn’t grow up in the same era. So of course it would seem like a ripoff. Tengen games were typically cheaper. SNES games were usually in the $50-$75 range. I still have old EB inserts if you want proof.

It might not have been $60, but it wasn’t exactly cheap for what you’re getting (SegaRetro lists the original retail price at $54.95, according to an old Gamepro scan – I’m sure the price went down quickly –‘).

I like what was offered in Hard Drivin’, but even for 1990, there’s very little content here. I’ve played hundreds of these old games, and there are plenty that offer more for less.

I’ve always enjoyed Hard Drivin. I have a bit of a soft spot for old polygonal games and this is always a fun game to revisit.
Definitely budget entertainment though rather than a full price. But these days when I enjoy short ‘quick blast’ games this definitely scratches that itch.
Excellent review as always Dylan.

I’m mi d of shocked you liked it as much as you did. This is one low FPS bad controlling driving game. I rented it and it was an excellent rental title, enough to play what there was to play and that’s it. I guess the free roaming nature of it if you weren’t trying to win was kind of fun. Just driving around and doing crazy jumps and crashing had some appeal I suppose. But I generally didn’t like this game.

I had a good laugh at this one the other day, my eight year old daughter was looking at some of my games as I was boxing them up and she came across ‘Hard Drivin’ and was looking at the Japanese manual and said ‘look daddy he said a naughty word’ not sure if the western version is the same but I would doubt it but there is a comic strip at the back and it is based around the game printed in English, it is seen through the eyes of the driver and as he crashes in it he says something like ‘Oh Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiitttttttt’ – it did make me smile – oh those crazy Japanese 🙂

Last time I played this I didn’t like it at all, it just felt broken and it wasn’t fun – I whipped it out of the Megadrive after witnessing far too many of those cracked windscreen images, I might revisit it at some stage to se if I can re-evaluate it.

That’s hilarious that your daughter discovered that. No doubt that language was cleaned up for the Western releases.

Oh, Hard Drivin’ is broken, no doubt, but it’s amazing that the Genesis was able to achieve this in any way. In terms of janky early 3D games on consoles, Star Cruiser is way better.

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