Saturday, 19 February 2022

Hooters Road Trip for the PlayStation

It was announced yesterday that Nottingham will no longer be the only UK city playing host to Hooters, the US "breastaurant" concept chain known for employing "endowed" young women as waitresses. Liverpool can look forward to being the second pin in the Hooters' map. Entirely by coincidence, I started playing their officially licensed video game last week, Hooters' Road Trip. Why? Misplaced curiosity, just seeing how a business that revels in its oh-so funny "delightfully tacky, yet unrefined" marketing would translate its concept into a racing game. And the result, predictably, was anything but delightful.

Like practically all racers, there's precious little foregrounding. The aim is to simply pick one of three default cars - up to 16 vehicles can be unlocked - and race from A to B, meeting the qualifying threshold. Which is usually fourth place in most races on easy mode. It's worth noting that the computer-controlled opponents only stretches to five. Manage this feat of Herculean gaming and you make it to the next race and, ultimately, the next stage in the "road trip". That's all there is to it, as simple a racer as can be.

Where do the women of Hooters come into it? Loading screens get poorly digitised images of grinning and posing waitresses in branded gear as the disc spins away, while the old Hooter Owl logo pops up to denote loading. Occasionally, when starting a new race a bit of FMV pops up with a hostess, presumably from the localities concerned, welcoming "y'all" to their neck of the woods. And if one wins a race a bunch of beach-clad women bounce up and down, excitedly shouting "you're number one!". And that's pretty much as far as it goes. Whoever bought this on release in 2002 for scopophilic reasons were sure to be disappointed.

I'm not a forgiving man, so even if this game was a good play I would not have overlooked the misogynistic branding. But this is not a good game. Among the PlayStation cognoscenti, it's held up not just as one of the worst titles on the system but should be lumped in among the fraternity of famously terrible games. I wouldn't go that far as there is much, much worse, but this is a very deeply flawed piece of programming. The first of its main issues are the controls: they are absolutely dreadful. When selecting a car, you are treated to its vital stats represented as bar graphs. The longer the bar, the better it is, one would assume. But choose a car with good speed and good handling and you're done for. The merest tap of the wheel sends the motor barrelling all over the road. For example, you can earn licenses to drive unlocked cars by taking them for a test spin. I picked a speedy-looking beastie with (apparently) good handling and I couldn't keep it straight on a course entirely free of sharp bends. Trying to drive truly is an exercise in frustration. Therefore, choose the car with the stiffest, worst handling and the game becomes more bearable. But despite the rubbish controls, it is still pretty easy to win a race. Even as you careen from one crash barrier to another, the opponent cars are so pitiful no one should have any problem qualifying. On higher difficulty levels they get a touch faster, but that's it.

In other words, Road Trip commits the most egregious sin a racer can commit: it's boring. To be honest, I hadn't been this bored with an "entertainment" product since watching the last Indiana Jones film. It's easy, the tracks are poorly designed with too many short hills and sharp bends (though some of the scenery is passably nice) and the whole experience is so forgettable I'm having trouble conveying it with words. Ubisoft, the publishers, knew this wasn't any good and it was released for $10 in North America. But it is still unforgivable. With arcade masterpieces like Ridge Racer Type Four tearing up the track for three years prior to this on the trusty PlayStation, what excuse does it have for existing? What were the developers trying to achieve?

It seems Ubisoft slapped the Hooters licence on the game to help it shift units. But with the "charms" of internet pornography widely available at that point, it was hardly going to attract the attention of a horny customer base. Taking a more generous reading, you might say it was an attempt to conjoin fast cars with conventionally attractive women - a lifestylist ploy that part-underpinned OutRun's appeal, and sucked deep from the bong of Hollywood chaser movies. But while Sega's arcade hit was questionable and undeniably stylish, the two elements of Hooters Road Trip, the brand name and the bland game, are mushed together with all the subtlety of a pile up. And in this sense, the finished article is true to the spirit of Hooters as a flogger of fodder. It objectifies young women, exploits their labour, and serves up fare that is neither interesting, original, or enjoyable.

Image Credit


BCFG said...

"But with the "charms" of internet pornography widely available at that point, it was hardly going to attract the attention of a horny customer base."

I don't know about that, the current war on porn by the woke ultra conservatives probably means most porn will be cartoon based in the not too distant future, as every ambulance chasing law firm takes a very keen on interest in porn and it's so called 'victims'. You cant dish out compensation to cartoon characters, as least not at the time of typing this!

Phil said...

Off on a tangent, the Tory war on porn is an interesting thing. I wonder if their attempt to get digital ID through this time will succeed.