Insert Disk collects Hi Octane for the Sega Saturn.
Today’s retro game review is Hi Octane for the Sega Saturn. This retro gaming classic has become a little forgotten in recent year. Hi Octane was the obvious rival to the Wipeout series. With a strong emphasis on combat racing Hi Octane delivered a fast paced futuristic racer. Bullfrog Studios may be better known for other games but Hi Octane was a very competent addition to their video game library.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. Today we’re going to be taking a look at a rather forgotten mid-90’s combat racing game. Today we’re taking a look back at Hi Octane. Hi Octane was released on the Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation and Dos PC. Developed by Bullfrog Productions and published by Electronic arts. The mid-90’s saw the shift from traditional 2D racing games in favour of developing next generation polygon racers on the 32-Bit platforms. Perhaps the best known of these games was Wipeout which saw several sequels.
Hi Octane on the other hand remained a one off. As such its popularity hasn’t transferred to the newer gaming generation as what is on show here is very much a product of its time, never updated and perhaps not so relevant for the next generation. I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Bullfrog Productions though and games that tend to get lost in the long grass of the retro gaming field. Hi Octane may not be best in class but there’s definitely enough reasons for you to give this game a try. Firstly, it’s vehicle roster. There’s all shapes and sizes on display here for your choosing. You can go slow and powerful, fast but fragile or a balance of the two. I can’t help choosing the one that looks like the Delorean from Back to the Future as it’s over well balanced.
Setup to the game is very easy and there are a multitude of game modes to explore. Everything from Championship season, Single events, Death matches, split screen and hot seat modes. Instantly when you first play Hi Octane you will certainly have to adapt to the control method. By default you press forward on the d-pad to accelerate. Whilst this isn’t uncommon in older games it’s perhaps not my favourite option as you have to be extra mindful not to stall on sharp bends. The control also seems quite wobbly and really appears to lack precision when turning. This is partially due to the re-used control method from Bullfrogs earlier Magic Carpet game being reused in Hi Octane. It gets the job done but will feel somewhat awkward if you haven’t played them game for some time. Not assigning accelerates to a button though does free you up on the right hand side of the pad though. You will be required to use three main elements to successfully dominate a race. The minigun, speed boost and missiles. Each of these are assigned to their own button. Early on you’ll notice that you will be in all out war with you opponents. If you can sidle up behind them its worth releasing your minigun to wear their ship down and give them some issues. Be careful though as your minigun will overheat so use it wisely.
Secondly is the missile attack. You’ll only have a limited number of these but they do pack a punch. Line yourself up behind you rival and left the missiles fly. You’ll see their life bar deplete and you will either for them to repair or destroy them completely. The third element is the speed boost. Periodically you can charge your boost and release it to your advantage. You can use this in an obvious way on long straight sections of the track or save it for more tactical moments when you need to out run the guns of a following player. Hi Octane requires you to also make strategic decisions in the way you race. On each lap you can enter pit stops to add to your fuel, weaponry and shields. You can stop on these recharge pads for a full recharge and loose time or simply fly through them but only receive a small top up of their effects. This really adds to the strategy of the race. You may be happy to go close to running out of fuel if the extra speed on the track will see you in to a safer position. Safety is a major concern in Hi Octane. Moments when you are bunched together with your opponents are often the most tense. You’ll find that there is a strong buzz of minigun fire and multiple rocket explosions going off. If you or your opponent does suffer a death the penalty is time. The rescue bots will get you back up and running but there can be a frustrating few seconds as you feel time slipping away from you. If you can be on the right side of the killing though there’s a really great sense of satisfaction. Notice here as my kill count goes from 0 to 3 with a well placed missile. This is exactly this reason you can’t afford to hang around near the refuelling stops.
It is also worth going for those kills. Once a ship explodes it will drop useful cargo powerups such as larger fuel tanks. These perks in addition to the standard red icon pick ups can build to give you a small advantage and tip the scales in you favour. One noticeable element of Hi Octane is its soundtrack. I’m not exactly sure what genre you would put it in but its something between industrial and dance. Each track is high tempo and full of pulsing beats. It fits the game play like a glove. In terms of track layout Hi Octane offers up a very good selection. The first 2 tracks are reasonably easy to memorise. Track 3, the Shanghai Dragon is where the game takes a little more dedication though. Its hairpins, crossovers and jumps make this a really exciting challenge. Each track also has a set of shortcuts. These can save you large amounts of time. Get it wrong though and you can find yourself stuck on a wall.
In general I have few criticisms of Hi Octane but getting trapped on the edge of a wall can lose you large amounts of time and is in my opinion something that should have been addressed in the development. Simply bouncing the vehicle back in to the runway would suffice. Instead there’s an awkward grind to get up and running again. For modern gamers the draw distance may also be seen as an issue. Due to the processing power required for fast action there had to be limitations somewhere. You can see far enough in to the track and there is a map to follow. However, it does make you appreciate the power of more modern machines. It would be unfair to criticise the Sega Saturn of Sony PlayStation though as this was the standard of the day. Having said that the local split screen mode would have been quite hard work for the player even back in the day. The last criticism I have is also around processing power. Hi Octane was pitched as a well “Hi Octane” game, meaning lots of speed. There is a genuine feeling of speed but I dare say the average frame rate is in need of a little boost. It’s not a game killer but you do find after a while that you are manually compensating for the frame rate.
Overall though the graphics and general presentation do take you in to a post-apocalyptic racing world so there’s no major complaints from my side. Hi Octane may not have gone down in gaming history as best in class of its type. It is however a very solid game. What it gets right is the strategy element of balancing weaponry, shields and fuel. The diverse vehicle selection and balance of gameplay. If the game were to be remade today with fixes to the control method and graphical limitations of the 90’s I’m certain that Hi Octane could be re-booted in to a really fascinating retro revival. For now though you’re going to have to keep it retro.