Gosh, just how many of our childhood memories can be traced back to the venerable Bullfrog? Syndicate, Magic Carpet, Populous, Dungeon Keeper… the list goes on and on. However, some of their titles were more misses than hits which didn’t particularly stand out for one reason or the other, but still managed to attract a dedicated cult following. A textbook example is 1995’s Hi-Octane for the PC, PlayStation and SEGA Saturn.
The game is a hybrid between a racer and a shooter, set in the future where players compete in a no-holds-barred grand prix that features weapons every bit as prominently as it does racing gear. Several hovercraft-style vehicles are available for play, each with distinct attributes regarding armour, weapons, speed, weight and general appearance. Though it may seem like a logical decision to choose a smaller craft in order to be a more difficult target to hit, in truth all vehicles have the same hitbox.
The essence of the game is simply completing the requisite amount of laps and perhaps taking out an enemy or two in order to increase your chances slightly. Along the way, power-ups which bestow more beastly firepower litter the tracks, whilst keeping an eye on your fuel gauge is an ever-present priority. Passing through a refuelling station will ensure you never run empty, but dawdling too long in the same spot will invoke memories of The Tortoise and the Hare as your enemies whiz past you.
Hi-Octane’s theme can be equated to many combat-racers of the ’90s, from Carmageddon to Mario Kart. However, it’s most prominent inspiration seems to have been Wipeout XL, perhaps better known as Wipeout 2097 to those of us not living in the USA; in fact, many in the gaming press of the time dismissed Bullfrog’s effort as a cheap clone meant to muscle in on Wipeout‘s turf. These accusations are not unfounded, as Hi-Octane‘s similarities are more than merely coincidental, and it generally feels shorter, shallower and less polished. Peter Molyneux himself was quoted as saying that the title was originally a side-project programmed by the Magic Carpet developers in their free time and released it in order to pacify a gaming world which, at the time, was eagerly awaiting the release of Dungeon Keeper.
Nonetheless, the game certainly has its merits and it developed a cult following amongst the PC crowd. Your only challenge will be finding a proper copy; even the demo remains elusive. GOG.com currently has it on wishlist, so we might just see a re-release in the near future. Add your voice and we just might see it sooner.