What sort of cheese-addled Neanderthal came up with the Knight Rider concept, eh? It's incredibly facile. Dream up a stupid name, toss in a shallow back-story about a crusade to champion morals and surround it with adjectives - rinse under a stream of forgettable bad guys and shove it down a TV aerial. Bosh, Knight Rider. But then again... the concept of an indestructible car with a sentient intelligence, armed with the sort of gadgets that would put the entire contents of Q branch across all 20 Bond movies to shame, and a driver who spends most of his time inadvertently showcasing the car's extraordinary assets... that could make good television! And a good game, too.
Above the law? Beware
A quick crash course for the two or three of you that haven't heard of Knight Rider, and I do mean quick. Deep breath, now. [Ulp.] Cult TV series starring David Hasselhof as Michael Knight, along with a helpful scientist called Bonny and a sentient car named KITT (Knight Industry Two Thousand) - indestructible due to a molecular bondage structure and equipped with gadgetry - trawling Deep South helping rednecks win races, clobber bad guys and generally do good, all whilst trying to bring down moustachioed bad guy Garth, also played by Hasselhof, and his nefarious KARR, KITT's opposite number-gone-wrong. Got it?
The game understandably emphasizes KITT's abilities at the expense of all else, and for a game about an indestructible car it's actually quite enjoyable. Instead of a roaming RPG, which is what we'd kind of wanted, developer Davilex has produced a string of gadget-oriented missions mixed into the flow of the game's underlying story. KITT has some basic abilities like Turbo Boost to increase his speed, but he can also opt for Ski Mode if the surface demands it, and scan and jamming modes to unearth enemies. As the game wears on, Bonny will augment KITT's abilities with extras like Super Pursuit Mode.
In terms of gameplay mechanics, Knight Rider is an odd one, not unlike Spy Hunter in its approach, but KITT's super-vehicular abilities allow him to jump like Mario, and swing himself up onto two wheels to cross narrow gangways and slip between gaps- a fairly unusual dynamic to say the least.
The control system is quite simplistic with all the buttons where they should be, and the physics model is understandably insane, with sharp turns and slides pretty much unavoidable due to the ludicrous manoeuvrability. However this does mean that wrestling to line the car up isn't much of a problem, and since this has dogged similar racers for years we can't complain too much. Fast-acting brakes also help to supplement your driving style in avoiding obstacles, such as boulders knocked from cliffs, falling masonry and other hurdles your prey will use to block your progress.
Graphically, Knight Rider isn't going to win any awards, but the car is definitely KITT and the driver definitely Hasselhof, and Davilex has been working closely with the show to emulate the important details most effectively. The geometry of the levels is sometimes complex, but often simple and yet detailed enough to seem fitting. Draw distance is quite impressive, but with a world inhabited by rocky outcrops, mountains, wooden scaffolding to tussle on and irregular foliage, this isn't too difficult to imagine nor to achieve.
The K.I.T.T model itself is very well produced, with trademark black and white hubcaps and that distinctive, nose-heavy sports car look which won it so many admirers back in the day. Although you don't see too much of the interior thanks to the traditional jet-black windows, you can just imagine KITT's peculiar voice reverberating around the cab. In fact, the thing which Davilex have managed to do best of all is to promote the Knight Rider theme. It's ever-present, from the dusty, sparsely populated locations and the cheesy cut-away-camera jumps to the constant procession of the actual theme tune, which Davilex use to great effect in the intro movie and elsewhere, and their own Knight Rider-inspired musical compositions.
Knight Rider was cheesy when it was on TV, and it's cheesy as a videogame, too, but by emphasizing KITT's stupendous abilities above all else it actually transcends the uninspiring format of the show and offers something potentially quite enjoyable. We'll have to see how long it can hold up without faltering, but on first impressions of this and its ported-to-PC sibling, this could be one shadowy flight worth taking.