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Image credit: Eurogamer

Hi-Octane (1995)

  • Gamepage
  • Developer: Bullfrog
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts

The story behind Hi-Octane isn't a promising one. Rushed into making a sequel to the classic Magic Carpet (whose PlayStation version was entirely overshadowed by the far superior PC edition) by paymasters EA, British developer Bullfrog created a racing game using the Magic Carpet engine - in, allegedly, just eight weeks. It doesn't sound like a recipe for quality, but then again, that doesn't take into account the concentrated genius which resulted from the meeting of minds at the heart of Bullfrog.

Hi-Octane suffered through constant comparisons with Wipeout, also released in the same year, but casting an eye back over the title reveals a game whose differences from Wipeout are far more notable than the similarities. Yes, it was all about going very, very, very fast indeed - far faster, in fact, than Wipeout allowed players to go - but it was also about enormously wide tracks and giving vast freedom to players, a stark contrast with Wipeout's enforced claustrophobia.

Weapons in the game were limited to missiles and machineguns, with the focus being more strongly on driving than on combat. Power-ups, meanwhile, were essential; without picking up recharges for fuel and shield, players could end up sitting motionless waiting to be destroyed, while speed boosts (from "insane" to "ludicrous", presumably) afforded significant advantages. Hi-Octane never spawned the kind of franchise Wipeout did - but setting aside the comparisons which were rife back in '95 reveals a game that was well worth playing in its own right.

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