Cisco Heat: All American Police Car Race
for Amstrad CPC

Company: Jaleco
Year: 1991
Genre: Simulation, Action
Theme: Driving / Police & Gangsters
Language: English
Licence: Commercial
Views: 861
Review by LostInSpace (2023-06-17)

Police cars not only have a terrifying effect on criminals, but also let many toddlers dream of a career as a policeman while playing with their Matchbox equivalent. In the early 90s, as the first Cisco Heat arcade cabinets appeared in public, every school child was able to get right behind the wheel of those machines and spend a few coins for a quick manhunt on the American West Coast under the impressive landmark of the Golden Gate Bridge. To top the feeling of steering so fabulously fast through the street canyons by using a real (physical) steering wheel was kind of illusionary for the rather underpowered home computers of that time. But at least the charm of the original should have approximated as closely as possible.

The real innovation of Cisco Heat within the ranks of early racing games was the combination of the familiar curved racetrack winding through landscapes with abrupt right-angled 90-degree curves representing the intersections at the blocks of houses in the big city of San Francisco.

Oops, wrong turn

But the All American Police Car Race also excites by the famous hilly street areas – along with the well-known trams climbing on them. There, the too fast driving vehicle is frequently catapulted into the air, which leads to remarkable rollover accidents. The race in the busy city is also spiced up by uninvolved vehicles, cross-shooting taxis or furniture transporters, pylons from construction work and also various other police vehicles, including 8 officially competing opponents.

The ranking within this group at the end of the race plays no role in the outcome of the game. The only decisive factor is to reach the finish line in the given time. The above-mentioned flying rolls of the car can also be practised without penalty. The only drawback is the enormous loss of time. The car, however, remains undamaged. Since the courses of the total of 5 tracks are sometimes quite long, the seconds fly by and you head for the intermediate checkpoint, which credits a time bonus, with a high level of focus. The actual goal is often reached literally at the last second, which makes every single minimal mistake measurable, especially in the later levels.

The ports do not copy the actual route exactly from the original, but have chosen different courses and corresponding time limits depending on the system. Only the score is calculated in the same way for the respective implementation, so that theoretically a system-independent comparison of driving skills is conceivable. The choice between two different car models in the arcade is omitted for the Amstrad CPC version. This is absolutely bearable, since the models hardly differ in their driving characteristics even in the original.

Despite the blocky graphics, the start screen for the Amstrad has worked out particularly nice. The graphics are also otherwise catching the atmosphere of the arcade version very closely: you drive accompanied by a nice little soundtrack along the coast, through urban canyons, past mountains and finally towards the Golden Gate Bridge – all of them easily recognisable thanks to static image elements. Only the size of the actual active gameplay was reduced by a static frame, as in many other ports.

One issue that no honest reviewer of Cisco Heat for the Amstrad can get past is the slightly low frame rate. Especially on extreme hilly driving sections, oncoming hilltops build up into a flickering grey “road wall” and lead to a confusing collision detection. Rough encounters with invisible cars are then often the result. However, these areas are rather rare and almost never decisive for the course of the game.

Much more annoying is a noticeable lag when steering, which causes the player to switch direction a little bit earlier than you would actually think by graphical means. In a barely noticeable way, the frame with the collision detection seems to be lagging behind.

If you are a gamepad user, the controls might be confusing as well: Shifting from a low gear to a high gear is done with the fire button. In many other racing games, this is actually reserved for accelerating. In the Amstrad version of Cisco Heat, you drive faster by moving the D-Pad in the forward direction, which probably stems from the usual use of a joystick at the time, which you intuitively push forward in such games.

rollin' rollin' rollin'

From a gameplay point of view, the Amstrad version invites you to start playing right away, as the first two stages can be completed almost at the first go. Later on, even the self-proclaimed racing pro gets his challenge, as the last level in particular does not forgive any mistakes and there is no save-, password- or continue-option.

After a little period of settling in, the races are quite enjoyable and action-packed due to the constant traffic on the road. This is precisely what sets Cisco Heat apart from other racing games for the CPC in a positive sense. Games like Wec Le Mans, Crazy Cars 2 or even Chase H.Q. offer basically just a bunch of tame snake-like meandering roads.

Jaleco wanted to go big with the Amstrad version, but failed in some ways due to overestimating the power of this home computer. In my opinion, Cisco Heat is still a fun racing game and retains a lot of the fascination on the CPC, which the legendary arcade version did on me.

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