ZX Spectrum

Do you remember Review A Great Game Day 2013? No? That's ok. It was a while ago (a year, in fact) and a lot has happened in the interim. So then Last year, I chose to review the rather tremendous Speccy Beat 'em up Target Renegade, but it was a very close run thing. You see, I almost opted to look at another classic Spectrum title, Hijack, so why don't we take a peek at that this year, eh?

On the surface, Hijack looks like it belongs alongside the multitude of flip-screen adventure games that litter the Spectrum library. These titles were the spiritual forebears of the Point'n'click genre, tasking the player to explore exotic locales in order to find a number of weird and wonderful items that were needed to solve a series of increasingly obtuse puzzles. However, though Hijack made use of the same flip-screen design, at it's core it was a very different beasty. Rather than an adventure, creators Paradise Software somehow took the core game play mechanics but shoe-horned in a complex and involving political simulation.

The plot and objective of Hijack is relatively straightforward: There has been an old-school 80's style hijack and, as the official in charge of the Pentagon's Department of Hijacks, it's up to you to work out how to resolve the situation in a way that keeps the President on your side and the hostages' brain matter intact. Sounds simple, eh?

Except, it isn't. The game may fit inside 48k of ram, but it tracks a lot of independent factors that the player has to control.  It's not enough to merely work out who the hijackers are and what their motivation is, you have to make sure that a constant stream of information is made available to the press and that foundations of a resolution (be it through raising funds or sending commandos to the scene) are laid.  Alongside this, you may also have to track down an information leak within your department while constantly making sure you maintain the confidence of the president - he has the final say on whether you get to fly out to finally resolve the hijack.

If that wasn't enough, the whole thing takes place in real time, and this is what makes Hijack a truly ingenious and brilliantly evil game: First up, You have just 15 real-time minutes before the Hijacker's deadline has past. This forces you to weigh up the cost/benefits of everything you do. The CIA agent might be able to give you all of the information you need about the hijackers, for example, but asking him to produce his fullest/longest report will take 12 minutes. Leaving you with just 3 minutes to act.

On top of this, you can only issue orders to advisors physically in the same room as you, so even when you know what you need to do, getting it done is often easier said than done (apparently, In the 80's no one knew how to use their desk phones.) The game helps you to an extent  - though the characters wander around the building, each has their own office and there is a roaming secretary you can use to track down errant advisors - but this definitely adds a random element which, along with the various hijack scenarios, adds an impressive amount replayability.

As Hijack is a Spectrum game, you can see that a number of compromises have been made: There isn't much in the way of a sound track, and eerily everyone in your department seems to be a clone of your sprite (you can only tell who's in the room with you by looking at the row of lit/unlit portraits at the top of the screen.)

Still, I have a massive  soft spot for this game. In light of the recent success of titles like Papers Please, its clear that Hijack was a game well ahead of its time. However, if the concept is intriguing and surprisingly modern, the gameplay is decidedly retro: If Hijack were to be remade today, it's obvious from the outset that it would be a completely different. After all, considering the need to control an entire department, producing a third person adventure game makes no sense whatsoever.

But I love Hijack because rather than despite this genre mismatch. Yes, roaming offices and lift shafts desperately looking for your military advisor or the code you need for the records computer can be a tad frustrating, but these frustrations are reminders that Hijack hails from a time when the generic conventions we know and love were just starting to be codified. Hijack is a brilliant and inspires original and I doubt you will get another chance to play anything like it ever again - So why not give it five minutes of your time, eh? Don't worry if you don't want to though - unlike the hijackers I won't hold a gun to your head or anything.