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Chase H.Q. Secret Police (Game Boy Color) artwork

Chase H.Q. Secret Police (Game Boy Color) review

"Chase H.Q. must have made quite an impact in the arcade. Released in the late 80ís, the game was soon ported to most every console and handheld system in existence at the time. Most of these ports did their best to emulate the originalís style, providing a fast-paced environment where success depends solely on quick reflexes. When it came time to release a version for the Game Boy Color, though, the developers decided to make some adjustments. Drifting away from its driving roots, C..."

Chase H.Q. must have made quite an impact in the arcade. Released in the late 80ís, the game was soon ported to most every console and handheld system in existence at the time. Most of these ports did their best to emulate the originalís style, providing a fast-paced environment where success depends solely on quick reflexes. When it came time to release a version for the Game Boy Color, though, the developers decided to make some adjustments. Drifting away from its driving roots, Chase H.Q.: Secret Police adds innovative strategic elements to the gameplay. Unfortunately, this new aspect has been asked to hold up the actual driving portion of the game, an aspect that has been completely eviscerated compared to its predecessors. Considering these facts, itís evident that Chase H.Q.: Secret Police is a mere shadow of the original.

When playing a typical version of Chase H.Q., you knew what to expect. The call would come out from the dispatcher; a fugitive is on the loose. You would respond like a bullet, racing through town and trying your best to avoid smashing into any civilian vehicles. If you beat the clock and pulled even with your prey, the pursuit would continue until either the timer ran dry or you successfully smashed his car into an immobile hunk of metal. With Chase H.Q.: Secret Police, the formula has changed. Sure, a dispatcher, this time an attractive blond, will still relay information about a criminal on the run, but now tracking him down will be a team effort. On every level, you can choose three out of five possible officers to help in your chase, each with supposedly different strengths.

So how exactly does this cooperative setup work? At the beginning of each level youíre given an overhead map of a section of the city. Amongst the simple layout of city streets lie several police outposts where you can station your selected drivers. Then, almost unexpectedly, the chase begins! Right there on the map, the criminal, represented only a circular symbol, will appear and make a mad dash for one of several possible exits from your jurisdiction. Your chasers, creatively shown as numbered squares, have to make contact with him before he exits the scene and ends the game. A simple touch wonít land him in the slammer, though; once you collide the traditional Chase H.Q. style of play returns. Now, with both vehicles actually appearing on-screen, all thatís left is to follow and ram the perpís car until it will run no more. Succeed and itís on to the next mission. Fail, and only the continue screen awaits.

The developers certainly took a risk introducing a more cerebral element into the gameplay. While visually underwhelming, the concept of collectively guiding your pieces to cutoff every path of the criminalís escape is brilliant and exciting, not to mention challenging. The computerís movements are not immediately predictable, meaning you canít just sit on a particular spot, secure in the knowledge that the suspect will eventually just fall into your trap. The game uses other ploys to trip you up, too. Sometimes, a decoy criminal will appear one the screen, identical to your real target. With no way to distinguish between the two, you have to divide your forces, increasing the chance that your primary prey will go free. In later levels, the fugitiveís entrance and exit points occasionally appear on the same side of the screen. All your officers start on the other, meaning you have to race over quickly before he slips away untouched.

Most importantly, success in this game really depends on using your drivers as a connected unit. In the driving portion of the game, the player has one major concern: fuel. While the criminal has a seemingly endless amount, each of your drivers can only chase for a limited amount of time before their tank runs dry. When the current pursuer has to beg off and take time out for a refill, the target is free to make a beeline towards his goal. If youíre only using one officer at a time, youíll find yourself losing quite a bit, as the opponent will have so much strength itíll be impossible to wear him down in one round. The game forces you to use your head and move your officers collectively, so that when one bails out, another will be close by to immediately intercept and pick up the slack.

While the developers poured a great deal of effort into the brain-crunching choreography that is the strategic part of the game, they seem to have deprived the driving portion of an equal amount of painstaking attention. Sure, the third-person presentation is the same as seen in previous versions of Chase H.Q., but comparatively the driving has been gutted to its barest elements. First off, for a game where excitement is predicated on speed, you car feels unbelievably slow. Horizontally, its movements are sluggish, making it hard to maneuver around curves and obstaclesÖ not that youíll get much of an opportunity. Instead of weaving in and out of slower-moving traffic as with past games, Secret Police provides you with little opposition in your chase. Occasionally, a single Sunday driver may get in your way, or misplaced lines of boulders or oil barrels will inexplicably pop up the middle of the road. Other than those, youíre free and clear for a 200 mph leisurely drive, doubly aided by the fact that you canít run off the highway. Even if you deliberately steer your wheels towards the shoulder in a suicidal rage, an invisible wall of protection will keep you on track.

However, other elements were added and altered in an effort to change the way you damage the criminalís car, and thus make the pursuit more compelling. Youíre able to use bullets, fired from a little handgun sticking out of the driverís side window. If you expect them to do major damage, though, youíre sadly mistaken. In a disappointing turn, youíre lucky if they cut down your opponentís damage meter at all. Most of the time it will only slow him down a fraction, meaning this ability is only useful for pulling escaping cars in like a tractor beam. Once youíre ready to swap paint though, you learn of the true invincibility of the fugitiveís ride. In previous games, as long as you made contact with the criminal, he was guaranteed to take some damage. Not so here; if you fail to hit the target squarely in the rear bumper, heíll only accelerate away from you without a scratch. Nothing is more frustrating than pulling closer and closer to your goal, only to see your effort was wasted because you missed the tiny vulnerable spot. Most baffling, though, are chasers differing abilities, or lack thereof. Despite each one having distinguished specialties such as speed, handling, or power; all of the driverís cars handle the same way. While each of these facets were no doubt supposed to boost the player's opinion of the game, they really only show up as additional glaring flaws.

While the game disappoints in terms of gameplay, it only goes downhill when considering the graphics. One canít be sure if the makers wanted to showoff on a color handheld system, but they decided to use bright and garish colors in every instance. The map screen features streets of blinding gold, and the only icons are squares and circles. In the driving mode, the cars are small with little detail, but are all pastel greens, blues, purples, and yellows. The sides of the roads donít show any realistic landscape but are instead composed of thick horizontal bars. In a surreal display, ugly alternating swathes of purple and gold or black and gray will adorn the shoulders. These horrendous visuals do nothing to enhance the already less than mediocre driving experience.

Chase H.Q.: Secret Police is a game that abandoned the very principles that made its predecessors popular. The new strategic elements certainly add a fresh, challenging, and enjoyable dimension to the game, but the driving portion of the game is shoddy at best. And in reality, the driving is what will lure most players into trying this title out. Those looking to find the same kind of excitement they found in the arcade will instead be placed in the untenable position of pushing around squares to chase after a circle, all to find a driving experience that is nearly unplayable. If youíre looking for a nice strategy game with an annoying mini-game, Secret Police may be for you. If you want more of the style that makes Chase H.Q. great, donít bother.

woodhouse's avatar
Community review by woodhouse (May 23, 2004)

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