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Out of gas

OutRun 2006 eats some dust

5/16/2006 4:46:45 PM

Rating: 1.5 stars

HOT TIP: Because races are won and lost on the curves, choose a car with good handling rather than a high top speed.

Let’s start with the premise that racing games are inherently fun. Who doesn’t love driving fast, with reckless disregard for the law? It satisfies a primal urge. The question, then, is not whether OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast is playable or even enjoyable, but whether it distinguishes itself from the competition on the PS2 and Xbox. Compared with franchises like Burnout and Need for Speed, OutRun is about as enthralling as playing with slot cars.

The game is actually a warmed-over repackaging of OutRun 2 and its arcade follow-up, OutRun 2 SP. It’s as if nothing had changed since the first OutRun, which came out way back in 1986. This is the epitome of an arcade-style racer: gas and brake are your only controls (choose a manual transmission if you’re feeling saucy), and you can powerslide endlessly. It’s easy to pick up, and a little bit tricky to master. As it should be.

The problem is that the roads start to feel restrictive. There are no shortcuts or jumps to take. Crest a steep hill in San Francisco at 300 kilometers an hour and your car remains glued to the asphalt. It just feels wrong. Eventually you start to notice other quirks. Like, why is there no oncoming traffic? Why does bumping another racer cause him to spin out but not lose enough speed for you to pass him? How come bumping a wall often teleports your car back onto the road with no apparent loss of speed? None of these things is fatal by itself, but put together they produce a game that’s not immersive.

In Coast 2 Coast, you pilot Ferraris through hyper-stylized renditions of real-life locales like Las Vegas, Niagara Falls, and even Paris. (Which coast is that last one on?) In addition to standard winner-take-all races, you also have the option to perform missions in which you strive to satisfy the demands of your horrible, shrewish girlfriend. The “mission” tag would seem to imply a more free-form style of play, but no, you just cruise through the same tracks as in the races. Your girlfriend’s orders range from passing as many cars as possible to drifting as long as possible. She mixes it up with occasional “special requests” involving ghosts or UFOs. (Don’t ask.) Yes, she will dump you if you fail to satisfy her — just what you’re looking for when your real girlfriend is in the room threatening to dump you if you don’t stop playing so many video games. This is supposed to be escapist!


IMPRESSIVE GRAPHICS:  But just which coast is Paris on?

A clumsy interface and horrible play balance don’t help. Navigating the many submenus is a trial. After each race, you hit the X button to advance — except after the last race in a circuit, when hitting X makes you replay the final round. Oops. You can also accrue “OutRun miles” to exchange for bonus cars and unlockables, which is great except that the game doles out the miles so liberally that you can buy dominating cars much earlier on than you should. Again, sloppy design.

Some of OutRun 2006’s goofier touches are endearing. The graphics are cartoonish but ultimately impressive — the large-scale backgrounds provide no shortage of awesome sights. Often you can see the road stretching far into the distance as you zoom past massive mountains, redwood trees, and even a space shuttle preparing for launch. On the other hand, we have at last found a soundtrack that makes EA Trax seem bitchin’. The cheesy porno music that adorns this game includes stunning lyrics like “It is paradise and it is very nice.” Look, if paradise turns out to be only very nice, I’m asking for my money back.

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