Outrun 2: Coast to Coast Review
The PlayStation 2 version also offers online play, but I just can't bring myself to wholeheartedly recommend that particular iteration of the game.
It's a matter of perspective.
The PSP catalog isn't saturated with racing games, and, as of this writing, OutRun 2006 is the only "traditional" racer available for the system that includes an online multiplayer mode.
Contrast that to the PS2's library, which is overflowing with racers of all sorts, many having online modes.
OutRun 2006 shares a few aspects in common with Burnout Revenge, and therein lies the problem. OutRun 2006 and Burnout Revenge are both simple "gun the gas and go" arcade-style racers. Both games offer high-speed racing on multiple tracks. Both sell for $29.99 right now.
With regards to OutRun 2006, that thirty bucks gets you a simple arcade-style racer with 12 Ferrari cars and 32 single-road track segments. Depending on the mode you play, a course will consist of anywhere between two and five of those track segments. Now, compare that to Burnout Revenge, where thirty bucks gets you fleshed out car handling, an awesome crash mode, more than 60 unlicensed vehicles, and 20 full-length courses filled to bursting with alternate paths and shortcuts. The math just doesn't add up in OutRun's favor.
Not that OutRun 2006 isn't fun to play. It is, if you like easygoing racers. This modern re-tooling of OutRun brings the classic series into the modern age with updated graphics, improved car handling, and a bunch of brand-new tracks, but otherwise remains faithful to the simplistic nature of the original 1986 arcade game.
It's you in the driver's seat and your buxom blonde girlfriend in the passenger seat... of an expensive Ferrari.
"Simplistic" is the key word. Each track segment is a single four-lane road without any shortcuts. Press the gas button and go. Depending on the mode you choose, you'll need to take first place, get the best time, or satisfy your girlfriend's commands. To accomplish those goals, you'll have to do your best to stay on the road and navigate the many curves up ahead. The game introduces a few sim-like aspects to the series, like drifting and slipstream tailgating, but is otherwise still rooted in the trademark OutRun rule (try not to run into things). Smacking into the back of another car or sideswiping a guard rail will slow your car down and cost you precious milliseconds. Unlike the original OutRun, however, end-over-end crashes only happen in OutRun 2006 if you slam hood-first into a railing at high speed. Also, the time limits aren't as Draconian. Whereas it was nearly impossible to reach the end of the Goal D and Goal E paths in the original OutRun without loads of practice, most players should be able to do so in OutRun 2006 after an hour or so.
There are traffic and rival cars to deal with, but traffic only appears in pre-set spots and rival cars follow pre-set lines. They'll keep the same speed and won't try to block you if you try to pass, so taking first place is entirely a matter of driving fast and not slapping into the rail too frequently. Rubber-band A.I. is in full-effect though, so, once you do take the lead, they'll catch-up and stay right on your tail for the rest of the race.
Generally speaking, OutRun 2006 has all of the trappings of a Sega-produced arcade racer. Cars handle more like toys than heavy vehicles and the physics are such that if you smack into a rail or the back of another car, you'll only slow down a little bit (though the other car may flip end-over end, land right-side-up, and continue as if nothing happened). Drifting is exaggerated, such that you can skid through a turn with the car at a 180-degree angle for a solid five-seconds without losing much in the way of speed. Similar to recent Ridge Racer games, some corners have pre-ordained drift areas, where if you perform a drift going into the turn, the game will pull you through it automatically. Thankfully, OutRun 2006 doesn't hold the player's hand nearly as much as Ridge Racer 6 does.
As for play modes and extras, the menu includes about what you'd expect from a game that was originally produced as a sit-down arcade machine. OutRun 2006 includes all 15 tracks from OutRun 2, which was released in the arcades and for the Xbox platform, as well as all 15 tracks from the arcade-only follow-up, OutRun 2 SP. Two bonus tracks are also included, but they're not the Daytona or Sega GT tracks that were included in the Xbox version of OutRun 2. Again, keep in mind, the tracks in OutRun 2006 are shorter than the typical courses featured in other racing games. Each takes roughly fifty-seconds to just over a minute to complete. Play modes include arcade, outrun, time trial, heart attack, coast 2 coast, and multiplayer. In the arcade, outrun, and time trial modes, players tackle the courses in a "choose your own adventure" style format, just like in the original OutRun, where a branching path at the end of each track gives you two choices as to what the following track will be. Heart attack mode is an inspired mission mode, where your character's girlfriend calls out brief missions on the fly, which you then have to satisfy. Some of the missions are downright fun, such as "hit the cars" and "avoid the UFOs." The coast 2 coast mode brings it all together, packaging up time trials, drift missions, standard races, and heart attack missions into a lengthy career. Each event earns you OutRun miles, which are points that you can use to buy the unlockable items in the "showroom" menu.
Some people won't appreciate the manner in which OutRun's unlockables must be bought. Everything is unlocked in the arcade mode, but the only items available from the get-go in other modes are a couple cars and a small sampling of tracks, music selections, and body colors. Additional tracks, music, and paint jobs must be purchased from the showroom menu using the OutRun miles that you earn. Problem is, many items cost anywhere between 5,000 and 30,000 miles, and the average event only gives up approximately 1,000 miles. You'll get more for lengthier races or for getting AAA ranks on heart attack missions, and less for short races or events that you've already completed.
Multiplayer is supported, via the Internet on the PSP and PS2, and across local-area networks on the PS2. Internet races allow as many as six players to participate, whereas LAN games allow up to eight. Few people will probably ever make use of the PS2's LAN option, though, since eight individual PS2 systems and TVs are required to make full use of it. The multiplayer setup is serviceable, but woefully barebones. A friend list is supported, but there's no method for chat, either through a text-based room or via a voice headset. A modest selection of options lets players specify car types, courses, and whether or not to enable "catch up" boosts. In general, online games are as smooth as offline races.
Although the PSP and PS2 versions of the game can't play against one-another online, the two versions can be linked together using a USB cable to transfer progress and unlockables back and forth. This is nice, because you can have one overall career file shared between the two games. Not so nice, though, is that certain unlockables must be purchased on the PSP, while others are exclusive to the PS2. This means that anyone that buys just a single version of the game won't be able to unlock everything in the showroom (unless they use a cheat code). It wouldn't be so bad if the exclusives were limited only to cars, because many car types handle the same, but certain courses and music selections that are also exclusive to either version of the game.
Personally, I don't mind that the game is simplistic. What irks me is that there isn't much to the overall experience. Thirty-two tracks may sound like plenty, but that's nothing when you consider that each track can be run in less than a minute. Also, despite all of the various missions and events in the different modes, it actually doesn't take very long at all to complete the game. After four hours, my own progress indicator had already reached 90% and I had already unlocked half of the showroom. The remaining 10% took a couple more hours, and I'm still working on the showroom (raises fist at OutRun miles!). I'm not sure why a PS2-owner would pick up this game, when there are other, more fleshed-out games available for the same cost. Unless you're really into arcade style racers, or specifically adore OutRun, you're certainly better off picking up a game like Burnout Revenge, which offers a similar experience and online play, but with larger courses and a greater variety of modes. The same can't be said of the PSP, however, since there are still but a few racers available for that platform, and OutRun 2006 is the only one that offers online play.
In terms of aesthetics, OutRun 2006 can best be described as sunny. Most races take place during the daytime, with the sun blazing above and only a few clouds marring an otherwise deep-blue sky. Except for an occasional quick jaunt through a city neighborhood or tunnel, tracks typically offer an open view of the surrounding environment, affording players the opportunity to gawk at beautifully sweeping farmlands, mountains, and beach-side areas. Car models are always glossy and don't incur damage. There isn't a preponderance of visual effects, but if you pay attention you'll notice car exhaust trails, tire marks, dirt clouds, and grass clippings at the appropriate times.
Objectively speaking, the graphics in the PS2 version are a couple years behind the curve, at least in comparison to games like Gran Turismo 4 and Burnout Revenge. The PSP version doesn't seem so outdated, mainly because racers on that hardware tend to yield weaker visuals than comparable PS2 games. The game has no trouble pushing polygons, in the form of dozens of cars and hundreds of buildings and objects, but the textures used to fill-in the scenery are rather lo-rez and muddy (especially when you focus on the roadway or the mountains). The sense of speed is good, but the simple toy-like car models and choppy crash animations are less-than impressive. There's a bit of commuter traffic here and there, but, again, the "wow" factor disappears once you realize you're seeing the same dozen cars rubberstamped over and over again. Of course, one could make the point that Sega intentionally kept those aspects simple as a nod to the original OutRun arcade game. Certain visual aspects are top-notch, particularly the window reflections, spark effects, and shadows. The draw distance is great, even in the PSP version, and water surfaces are suitably reflective and shimmery. For better or worse, OutRun 2006 looks like a typical Sega arcade game.
My main gripe against the visuals is that no anti-aliasing or filtering was applied to the graphics. As a result, horizontal objects, such as guard rails and fences, appear to mesh together or distort. If you played Ridge Racer V when the PS2 was first introduced, you have some idea of the phenomenon I'm describing (the black lines outlining the metal fences on either side of the track would crack and jumble together when they weren't viewed head-on). The problem isn't as prevalent in OutRun 2006, but it's still pervasive enough to be bothersome.
I also suspect that the video output is being rendered internally at a lower resolution than the final output. Obviously, I can't prove that, but it would explain why the "jaggies" described above actually get worse when you set the game to output a 480-progressive video signal. Typically, when I toggle a game to send a 480p signal to my widescreen HDTV, the graphics become sharper and you can make out fine details that you otherwise wouldn't see in the standard interlaced image. In the case of OutRun 2006, the image does become cleaner on the 480p setting, but edges look "blockier" and the distortion of horizontal lines becomes worse.
The lack of anti-aliasing, and the appearance of jaggies, isn't as big of an issue with the PSP version of the game. The handheld's smaller screen and tinier pixels do a lot to minimize jaggies, and also help hide the other blemishes that are obvious in the PS2 version. The textures don't look as muddy and lines don't distort as much. There's some "slowdown" in spots, and the framerate isn't always steady, but, overall, the graphics in the PSP version meet or exceed those of its console cousin.
As for the audio, the music and sound effects are also decidedly retro, but in a pleasant way. Multiple remixes of original OutRun tunes, like "Magical Sound Shower" and "Splash Wave" are available, along with a dozen or so other equally-sunny compositions. Sound effects consist primarily of generic engine revs and tire squeals, but they're enhanced by the game's immaculate use of surround-sound, which literally makes it so that you can hear cars whoosh-by as you pass them.
On the whole, OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast is good for what it is... a simple, arcade style racer that retains the core concepts of the original OutRun arcade game while incorporating many necessary gameplay and audio-visual enhancements. Anyone that owns a PSP system should definitely check the game out, while PS2 owners should approach with caution. There are just too many other, better racers on the PS2 that you should play even before OutRun 2006 comes to mind. Despite its shortcomings though, OutRun 2006 still manages to be fun, so you probably won't hate yourself too much if you bring it home.
5/5/2006 Frank Provo