Reviewed: May 14, 2006
Released: April 25, 2006
I distinctly remember the first time I ever happened upon an OutRun game; It was 1986, I was in the 9th Grade visiting my older sister for “Sibling’s Weekend” at the University of Michigan. Her dorm was a stone’s throw from the Student Union, and late one night I wandered over to check out the Union’s basement arcade. What I found inside completely blew me away; a showroom-new cabinet featuring Sega’s OutRun.
Although there had been plenty of racing games in the arcades before it, for that period OutRun was the pinnacle of style and technology. As one of the first games to feature real-life supercars (a convertible Testarossa), the Ferrari-red cabinet and logo-emblazoned leather steering wheel were enough to make any 14-year-old kid drool. Add to it the amazingly realistic 3D graphics, blazingly fast sense of speed, and force-feedback steering, and suddenly that 14-year-old kid was Magnum PI (Google that one, kids). I must have dumped ten dollars in quarters into that OutRun cabinet that night.
I still stand firm in my belief that OutRun was a pivotal ingredient in turning the tide of the wavering arcade industry in the mid-eighties. The game was not only a hell of a lot of fun, but the cabinet itself had enough “cool factor” to successfully draw in an audience which would not normally play games - proving to all that video games could be more than just hamburger-stacking, turtle-smashing and ostrich jousting affairs. With the popularity of the aforementioned Magnum PI, and Miami Vice television programs, there wasn’t a sane person who didn’t want to take the wheel of a Ferrari, and OutRun was the perfect vehicle (excuse the pun) to do just that.
In fact, the original OutRun game holds up very well even to today’s standards. So, when Sega announced a current-generation update to the game, the media was a bit more supportive than usual. The usual moans and groans were replaced with honest-to-goodness intrigue as to what Yu Suzuki and his people planned for the unsuspecting audience.
OutRun 2 hit the shelves in 2004, and while it ultimately may not have had the horsepower to compete with the current line of racing games, it was a fitting homage to the legendary title that started it all for the genre nearly two decades prior.
Now it is spring 2006, and Sega is unleashing another update to their seminal racing title – this time titled OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast. And while not much has really changed from the 2004 release, the name of the game here is added content – with Sega throwing a few new gameplay modes, courses, and a few other goodies onto the previous release.
As I said, OutRun was arguably the first successful 3D racing game to hit the arcades, and it laid the pathway for the great arcade racers of today like Ridge Racer and Burnout. For the most part, the 2006 formula is virtually identical to the 1986 formula, so I don’t really have a whole lot of explaining to do; the car needs to get from Start Line to the Finish Line, crossing a series of checkpoints in-between, and do it all within the allotted times.
What Yu Suzuki and his SEGA did so many years ago that made OutRun so amazing, was the way they employed a constantly forking roadway system that opened into a pyramidal matrix of differing difficulty levels (each fork having an easier and a harder branch). Different combinations of these pathways lead to differing destinations and differing goals. Having the ability to forge your own pathway through the game was something that hadn’t been seen before in 1986 – and it really helps carry the play value in 2006.
Technically, OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast is blazingly fast. Maybe not as fast as the higher levels in Burnout Revenge, but it is a heck of a lot less mentally taxing as Criterion’s games, while still playing faster than most other games on the PS2. In fact, this is another one of those games where you need to remind yourself to blink your weary eyes as you drift from corner to corner, avoiding the oncoming traffic and the overly aggressive rivals.
No surprise, drifting plays a very important role in the game, and the developers have made the drifting mechanic quite natural and easy to control. Transitioning from side to side in some particularly narrow chicanes can be a chore, but navigating around tight hairpins is utter bliss. The game also allows for a degree or two of horizontal freedom letting you lace your way around slow-moving or oncoming vehicles as you drift around the many curves.
Early on in the game, the competition seems a bit overly easy – but the difficulty level increases quickly - in fact, I would almost say a bit too drastically for its own good. It was in the blink of an eye I went from handily winning each and every race to suddenly having to fight to get in the top three. Considering how badly the game seems biased towards helping the competition get the edge – with crazy catch-up logic, and totally unfair contact – the game can become a bit infuriating at times, especially during long races.
All of the modes from the 2004 release return, including the wildly enjoyable (and sometimes quite painful) Heart Attack mode, in which the racer must impress the girlfriend by performing tricky driving maneuvers and cone contests at her request. The game also includes the arcade version of OutRun 2SP, as well as a few other goodies.
The newly added Coast 2 Coast mode basically uses a very thin storyline to combine the standard OutRun racing format and the Heart Attack mode, which ends up coming off as bit of an OutRun/Crazi Taxi/18 Wheeler hybrid. The mode has the gamer following the directions of the Flag Man– who lays down a series of racing-based speed and performance challenges – or from the girlfriend – who supplies some of the more unusual challenges like avoiding aliens and such.
But really, not much has changed in the mechanics of OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast to really make it any different than 2004’s OutRun 2 – or even the original 1986 release for that matter. But it all almost seems to be done by design. It appears that SEGA was quite pleased with the 2004 release, and simply decided that 2006’s game would be more of a stand-alone expansion pack than a sequel.
The problem is, without significantly updating the content, the game begins to feel quite tired. And no matter how many courses or cars are added from the arcade OutRun2SP, the game still begins to be a bit repetitive early on.
Right off the bat, I must admit that save for a few technical hitches and graphical annoyances, OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast looks absolutely fantastic on the PS2. Once again, I was blown away by the amazing sense of speed, and the kick-ass trackside visuals.
True, OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast is no Gran Turismo or Burnout – and it doesn’t even improve on 2004’s release one bit – but the way that it uses today’s technology to capture the sun-and-fun feeling of the original title one more time will have you feeling like you are meeting up with a dear old friend.
The game features some jaw-dropping elevation changes, rife with oncoming traffic and lush backgrounds. Best of all, everything comes at you with little-to-no effect on the blazing fast framerate.
But that is not to say that the game is visually perfect. The cars are all a bit jaggy around the edges – then again, after six years of the PS2, we expect jaggies from the PS2 (despite Sony’s E3 promises way back when). The reflections and shadowing are also a bit on the weak side – using faux-real-time effects that come across as stunted and blocky, and often popping on and off inexplicably.
And while the backgrounds are absolutely stunning and jaggy-free, the way that the game transitions one level to the next can be a bit disorienting. Transitioning from a city to a deep forest, one will often see towering mountains in the background suddenly stretch up into view – and I don’t mean popping in, I mean stretching as if being pulled from above. Skies will also unexpectedly change from bright and sunny to dark and cloudy in instantaneous wipes.
Once the background has fully transitioned, the scenery is wonderful – but the process of changing is downright weird. And considering the levels last maybe 20-30 seconds, and a single run will take you through four or five different locales – it does get a bit goofy. It would definitely be cooler if the transitions could be exploited for effect – like making the mountains erupt from the horizon with earth shaking force, or gradually changing the sky mapping.
Still, considering the overall look and quality of the game, probably the closest comparison to OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast visuals would be Namco’s Ridge Racer series, including Ridge Racer 6, currently released on the Xbox 360. I am being quite serious, OutRun looks utterly phenomenal on the PS2.
On the other hand…
Oh SEGA, why-oh-why do you consistently have the absolute worst music and sound in the industry? Sorry SEGA fan boys, but having the choice between MIDI-sounding J-Pop and MIDI-sounding elevator-metal just doesn’t cut it in 2006. I understand the whole nostalgia kick, but c’mon – hasn’t somebody at SEGA leaned to play any real instruments yet?
For those who care, all of the familiar OutRun radio stations are present and accounted for in Coast 2 Coast; and yes, they still feature those same strong, masculine names such as Splash Wave, Magical Sound Shower and Passing Breeze. And if that weren’t enough, SEGA also included a bunch of remixed and special versions of the songs to keep your fan boy feet tapping.
The sound effects are equally wretched, with some of the lamest engine rumbles and tire screeches in the industry. For such a drift-heavy game, you would expect a bit more presence to the drifting effects, but sound effects circa the mid-eighties is what you get. The engines barely sound different from the lowest-end Ferrari (if there really is one) to the big dog Enzo supercars.
None of this should come as a surprise; SEGA’s has been making atrocious sounding games for decades now. Thankfully, their games tend to play well enough to make up for the sound quality.
For a mere $30, OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast Coast 2 Coast features a heck of a lot of content. But while the title does hold quite a bit of nostalgic value for the older gamers like myself, I must admit that it really cannot hold a candle to the super-involved tuning and racing titles of the current generation. Without a real hook – other than the zillion unlockable goodies – the game is a ton of fun for short runs, but not for much more.
For a gaming geezer like myself, I personally had an enjoyable trip down memory lane with both of the recent OutRun titles. But that is because I was able to put aside some of my usual standards and requirements based on the nostalgic appeal of the old workhorse. I have a feeling that some of the younger set won’t have such an easy time with the shallow, repetitive nature of the racing – especially compared to the similarly priced likes of Burnout 3, Burnout Revenge or Need For Speed Most Wanted.
I definitely recommend a pre-purchase rental for the majority of the readers out there. But for those of you who – like myself – remember playing the OutRun way back 1986, you really need to pick this one up.