Sega’s racing arcade games were virtual fixtures in the arcades. They had sleek polys, great sound, could be found as stand-ups or sit-down cabinets emphasizing everything from taxis to bikes, and wrapped that experience in awesome music. They were also incredibly fun and could be counted on to throw a lot of weirdly creative challenges at the player. As anyone who has played Crazy Taxi can attest to, Sega vaunted their experience in this field in as many wacky ways as possible blending serious racing to over-the-top experiences like those found in 1999’s Emergency Call Ambulance.
This time, your goal wasn’t to beat a speed record in a stock car, race against friends, or go cross country. You were saving someone’s life instead as a heroic ambulance paramedic in Chicago! After picking automatic or manual transmission, it was time to save lives. You could even race along in third or first-person.
The game consisted of four missions each of which start out with a small story cinematic introducing the “accident” that brings your ambulance to the scene and the patient you’ll need to save. For example, in the first mission in which the dispatcher calls it out as “trailer truck vs. car” ( a station wagon collides with a tanker trailer that went out of control, sending it airborne), a young 10-year old boy named Jack is in serious condition and has to be rushed to the hospital. Only you can do it!
As you drive, you’re actually being timed by how much “health” your patient has as it slowly counts down while you weave through the city. Hitting anything, or being hit, will actually hurt your patient reducing the time you have to get them to safety. As you race through the city, directions will be called out on where to go or which turns to make around busy corners (everyone jumps out of the way) or through burning gas stations.
Chicago must also be the most accident prone city on your watch. As far as I could tell, everything falls apart while you’re at the wheel. Just in the first mission alone, one of the things you have to avoid is an exploding tanker truck. In the last mission, lightning strikes cause apocalyptic damage to buildings in your path sending debris and other obstacles raining down. It’s as if someone doesn’t want you to make it to the end.
The missions are also pretty creative and have some of that oddball humor that Sega’s arcade games sneak in. The second mission tasks you to deliver a cop who has a near death experience with a rocket launcher thanks to a gang that he and his partner were tailing. Throughout that race to the hospital, the black van and the cops after it make cameos adding to the challenge in trying to avoid them.
The third mission involves bringing an injured and pregnant Kate to the hospital, narrowly avoiding a torrent of exploding tanker trucks at the end. And the fourth and final mission has you rescuing a smiling President of an unnamed country to a military hospital while following behind a military escort as nature beats down on Chicago to stop you.
The looks deceptively easy from the video below, but that’s probably after a lot of practice since hitting anything — especially in the last mission — could completely wreck any chance of finishing the mission. There’s probably a reason that there are only four of those in the game given how tough it could be.
Emergency Call Ambulance even has an ending to its little story of heroic driving as the President you save awards you a medal in a ceremony where all of the people you’ve rescued show up to take a group picture together.
In an arcade filled with shooters and wreck-em-alls where the goal was to demolish the enemy, racing games such as those which Sega did so well were a welcome respite. But with Emergency Action Ambulance, Sega took their game into a different and unexpected direction that made the player a “real life’ hero, something that the American flyer for the game implied in calling the game part of Sega’s “Real Life Career Series” which also included other games such as Brave Firefighters (1999). To fans, however, it was just another reminder of the kind of creative spirit that Sega loved to share with their arcade audience.