The game consists, simply enough, of driving around the track before time runs out, and your score is based on your time. The beginning of the track forks into two choices, a "Speed Track" that emphasizes conventional high-speed driving ability, and a "Stunt Track" that features wildly dangerous (but still reality-based) obstacles. This makes Hard Drivin' one of the earliest examples of the stunt racing subgenre.
The game's development involved using real world physics equations when designing the car's physics, using data from a 1950s study that was originally for aeronautics development. Further adding to the game's realism cred, the cabinet included an accurate manual transmission feature.
The game spawned two very similar sequels, Race Drivin' and Hard Drivin' 2 before falling into relative obscurity. It was ported to various consoles to varying degrees of success, and prototypes have surfaced in recent years of numerous other attempted ports, most notably one for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Hard Drivin' demonstrates the following tropes:
- Artificial Stupidity: The other cars on the track will make absolutely no effort to avoid you, even if you drive on the wrong side of the road on a direct collision course with them.
- Artistic License Biology: Running over a pig makes it moo.
- Badass Driver: The whole point of the game is to test your real(ish)-life driving skills for a high score. Exaggerated with the Stunt Track, where obstacles include a corkscrew, bridge jump, and vertical loop. It culminates in a 100-foot-tall near-vertical hill followed by a 360-degree spiral along the walls of a tunnel to avoid a crashed tanker truck... whereupon you do it all over again.
- Border Patrol: Being off track for 10 seconds cuts the gas and forces a respawn when the player comes to a stop. What mystic force prevents the player from exploring is up to their imagination.
- Bottomless Fuel Tanks: Provided you reach each checkpoint in time, your car will run indefinitely.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: In spite of having a highly advanced sports car, your car will spontaneously combust no matter how minor the crash is.
- Fauxrrari: The car you drive looks suspiciously like a Ferrari Testarossa, but is referred to simply as a "sports car".
- Fragile Speedster: Even when you're not going fast, motion + wall = death. Likely by design to get the player back into the action more quickly.
- Indestructible Vehicles: The oncoming traffic in the arcade version and some of the ports hardly even notice when you ram into them. You, on the other hand...
- Nintendo Hard: Well, it's called Hard Drivin' for a reason, after all. As a simulator-type driving game, you are expected to take corners like you would in a real-world car, and crashing will cost you a ton of time as you attempt to start your car back up again.
- No Sidepaths, No Exploration, No Freedom: See Border Patrol.
- Racing Game: Pretty obvious from the title.
- Ramp Jump: Taking the stunt track allows the player to jump over an open bridge.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential: Pretty much nothing keeps players from running over all the cows that they want and still qualifying for the championship. They even moo back at the player when hit.