Every year the centre of San Francisco gets cordoned off in preparation for the race of races. It seems that San Francisco is a dream city for people who like to drive around in car chases all the time, and the cops have a hard time keeping up with them all. So each year they close off the city centre and race each other just to prove how crap they are.
And hey presto! That's the scene set. Pretty simple stuff, isn't it? Well anyway, the result of this is that you've got a racing game in 3D, which might or might not be like every other racing game on the Speccy. Lets have a look at it or, as they say San Francisco, let's have a look at it, man.
You start off in a typical cop-car. You know the sort, the blue and white four door with a massive bonnet and boot, or hood and trunk as our Californian cousins might perhaps say. If you're still unsure as to what sort car this is, just think back to the sort of police vehicles you used to see in The Dukes Of Hazard; incidentally, they certainly should put back into its old slot of tea-time on Saturdays.
The car has two gears, high and low. In low it'll do around 100 mph but when you slam it into high gear this will whizz up to a rather spanky 175 mph which is probably much faster than they can go in real life.
DO YOU GO ON THE BRIDGE?
Yes, well the game actually starts on the Golden Gate Bridge. You are close to the front of a pack of about ten other coppers, all in cars which look identical to yours, but are blue, whereas yours is a rather fetching shade of red.
At the top of the screen there are the usual Formula One lights, three red and one green. When the green one appears, you hit the gas-pedal. And everybody screeches past you. It's immensely annoying because you instantly lose your first place, even though you're accelerating as quickly as your car will go.
Mirrorsoft must have done this deliberately because you get so angry that you concentrate on winning; which is, after all, the idea of the game. So as most of the cars burn off up the road, you've got to knuckle down to some serious work.
First thing to do is suss out the gears. Although there are only two, it's a wee bit tricky changing between them. What you've got to do is pull back on the joystick and hit fire at exactly the same time. You'll lose a bit of speed as you pull the joystick back, but with any luck you'll now be in the gear of your choice.
At 175 mph it's pretty easy to start gaining back the places so long as the road is straight and the cars stay in their lanes. The problems start with the corners, hills and dangerous driving of the other coppers belting along in their panda cars.
Collision detection is a bit generous, shall we say. What seems to happen is that you can drive through other people, but your speed decreases to about 40 mph. I wish that would happen in real life, but in the game it takes some getting used to.
THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO
All would be fine, dandy, and rather boring were it not for the corners and hills that make 'Frisco an interesting city rather than corner-less, hill-less one.
The sides of the road are littered with all sorts of things like trees, billboards aid telegraph poles. Hit them and one of two things could happen; you could spin the car round, losing large amounts of speed but keeping basically on the road. Or your could rip the car right upside down. This knackers your speed completely and will almost certainly ruin your entire life. Well, as far as this attempt on the game is concerned anyway.
The race is divided into stages, and a large clock ticks away in the top left of the screen. if you get through the first stage, from the Golden Gate Bridge to Fisherman's Wharf, you get a whole chunk of extra time to blast your way hither on towards the finish line.
Obviously, the stages get tougher as you get further into the game, with the added bummer that if you go really fast and build up a bank of space time, it doesn't carry through onto the next stage. So each time you've got to go like the wind, mama!
As well as the other cars, there's plenty of traffic which will happily get in your way. Obviously the police haven't done a very good job of cordoning off the centre of the city, because there are loads of cars, trucks and buses littering the roads.
These often occur at intersections, where the offending vehicle will straddle the road completely. How you get round it is up to you. It's just possible to squeeze through on one side or the other, but if you fail, you'll be catapulted high into the air and, although you'll survive, you'll lose loads of speed and time
Mirrorsoft have remained true to the Jaleco coin-op, and have put in some wicked intersection corners. What you're supposed to do is look out for the sign-posts at each intersection. If there aren't any you can whizz straight across (avoiding any buses, trams or stranded cars). If there is a sign-post, you've got to wait until you can read it, then swerve violently in the direction it's pointing.
The bad news is that the intersections, like all intersections in the USA, are at right angles. So what you're being asked to do is go round a right angle bend at 175 mph. A tad tricky, don't you think?
Well there is a way of doing it. If you whack the gears into low just as you approach the junction, the speed slams off and you are just able to squeal round the corner. But it's dead difficult and you'll be lucky if you don't have a little argument with the kerb.
POLIT POLICE PLEASE
Another weird feature which has been brought in from the coin-op is the horn. Pressing fire (or the space bar) beeps your horn, and, because you're driving against pretty law-abiding policemen, they move out of the way. It's a bit ridiculous to try and overtake somebody who's doing their best to block you, then beep your horn and watch the silly fool pull over and you howl past.
Hmm. I think I've given you a pretty good idea of what's actually happening in Cisco Heat. But what I haven't said is what it's like to play.
Here's the bad news. Cisco Heat isn't really much cop (nice gag, that). It's a mono job, with a rather poor backdrop of a pretty unrecognisable cityscape. The road isn't solidly filled in or anything. It's just a load of flickering straight lines which scroll past with astonishing jerkiness.
This is the the game's major problem. The frames chug past so slowly you've got time to see each one and notice how not-very-good it is. I've got the strong feeling that if everything was really quick, the graphics would look much better.
The jerkiness actually affects your gameplay, too. It makes the car unresponsive, so you have to move earlier than you need. This means that as well as fighting the twisty roads and the other road-users, you've actually got to make allowances for poor programming.
Cisco Heat has got lots of stages, and if you really concentrate on the flickery screen, it is possible to get quite far into it. However, it just doesn't have the whizzy graphics or impression of speed that it needs. It's good, but its not as completely brilliant as I expected it to be. You'd be better off with Power Drift on budget.
Cisco Heat doesn't take racing games places they've never been. It's not very good, really.
5 FACTS ABOUT SAN FRANCISCO (AND HEAT)
San Francisco will be completely pedestrianised by 1993. So there'll be no more car chases, Streets of San Francisco or cop races.In 'Frisco in summer it approaches 130'F in the shade. So there's lots of heat there.There are so many hills there, it's impossible to play marbles anywhere. Instead, everybody has car chases (but what they'll be up to after 1993 is anyone's guess).Dirty Harry was filmed there. So was Blake's 7 and the Multi-Coloured Swap Shop.There's a bridge there, made completely of gold (with a gate built into it).
Driving in a straight line is for wimps. If you can spin your car around like a waltzer and still qualify, you'll be a man my son. Cisco Heat is certainly one way of making that difficult but necessary transition from childhood to maturity without involving all your relatives.
The start of the race is more confusing than simultaneous equations. You've got keep your eyes fixed on one path, ignore it and go all over the roadsj. If there are bods in the middle of the road, hit the horn and they'll move out of the way as if by magic.
It's not fair when this happens. You've only got one corner to go round and the blimmin' time runs out! It makes you want to pull out the Speccy's wires, jump on the Speccy and then get on quietly with your homework until tea-time and your mum calls you for toasted muffins.
Oops! If you let your tyres scuff the kerb you might end up seeing the world from a slightly different viewpoint (ie upside down and with your head caved in). So if you've always wanted to smash up cop cars like they did in the brilliant 'Dukes of Hazzard' show, you can. Hurrah.
San Francisco was completely devastated by fire in the year 1906!