If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear a flower in your hair". This is what Scott McKenzie told you. But if you're going to play Cisco Heat then forget about the flower, drive like a nutter and sound your horn continuously. This is Image Works' somewhat different plea.
Here we have a police race-and-chase arcade that's set on the streets of San Francisco - a Jaleco coin-op production! The California Highway Patrol have sealed off the roads in the city centre for a charity race to find the State's best police driver. There are no real rules to this race, other than finishing each of the states within the allotted time limit, so breaking the speed limit, crashing and sounding your horn in a built-up area are all perfectly permissible.
As the race revs up, you're offered two cars to drive. One's a classic cop black 'n' white which is fast but can't turn very easily, while the other is a modern roadster which corners well but lacks pace. No sooner have you chosen your chariot than the lights go green and the tyre screeching starts.
Racing is all about screaming along at full whack, dodging both the other competitors and rubber neckers who've strayed on to the course. Your fellow officers have to be avoided but fortunately sounding your horn swiftly encourages the civilians aside. It's like drag racing in a London cab, with the accelerator and horn in constant use.
San Francisco lends itself this dramatic car duel for two righteous reasons: it has spectacular hills which add that roller coaster feel to the race, and like most US cities all the corners are on right angles. So, while dodging the trams and the traffic you also have to be ready for 45 degree slopes and 90 degree bends! The road obstacles and corners dominate Cisco Heat. You have to be able to spot trouble in the distance if you want to win and as the race progresses, obstacles line up to form traps that require quick stick flicks to avoid. The corners are simply a matter of timing and faith, point the motor at the right second, then hope to pull it straight on the other side.
Cisco Heat works well. The roads flash by pretty swiftly, if not exactly smoothly, and the rolling hills are as good on the computer version as they were on the arcade. The controls are positive, thoughtfully condensed from two pedals, steering wheel and gear lever into joystick and keyboard combinations. They take a little while to get the hang of but leave the drivers free to concentrate on their direction and not their driving.
The driving has translated nearly as well as the control system, retaining the nip and tuck feel that was so effective in the arcade. In the corners though, the conversion falls foul. On the coin-op you had to wrench the wheel around and hang on for grim death as the pneumatically-juddering wheel fought to break your grip. On the Amiga these tense trials are reduced to mild timing tests. The corners were Cisco Heat's primary claim to arcade fame, an effect that marked it out from the car-based coin-ops. And without them the conversion loses power.
Although it really tries to make the racing grade it falls short in certain key areas. Arcade racers in general, rarely offer enough variety to sustain long-term gaming interest and Cisco Heat is no different. It doesn't have enough new tricks to throw at drivers to make the later stages a challenge. This makes Cisco Heat predictable and exposes the game's final, fatal, flaw: it's too short. Good sprite drivers will finish this course in a matter of hours and even average stick wielders should only take a little bit longer.
The Amiga racing world at the moment already makes the M25 somewhat deserted, so new car games have to offer something special if they are to survive the comparison with Lotus II - the reigning champion. Cisco Heat has little to offer except the similarity with its arcade parent; and while it retains the arcade's brevity it loses the coin-op's cornering challenge. Sure, blasting through down-town San Francisco is amusing in the short term, but short-term is all you get.