Outrun 2006: Gone, But Not Forgotten

Ah, OutRun. The quintessential “Sega blue sky” series… and one that has kind of fallen by the wayside a bit since the expiry of Sega’s license with Ferrari.

After listening to a bit of the soundtrack to the upcoming Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash and thinking “gosh, this sounds a bit like early 2000s Sega music, I feel like playing some OutRun” I decided to… well, play some OutRun.

Specifically, I decided to play some OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast. And yep, it’s still a great game.

Unlikely as it may be, there’s a chance that some of you reading this may be unfamiliar with the OutRun series, so here’s the gist: you, as an intrepid sufferer of a mid-life crisis, have found yourself with a shiny new Ferrari and a girlfriend who is almost certainly only after your money. The obvious thing to do in this situation is drive as fast as possible across the entire country in an attempt to outrun… well, I don’t know really. Child support from a previous marriage, perhaps?

Okay, I made most of that up, though the part about you driving a Ferrari and having a girlfriend is real, the latter part becoming particularly relevant in some of the game’s modes. Ultimately, OutRun is a series that doesn’t pause to ask silly questions like “why am I doing this?” because the answer will inevitably be simply “because it’s fun”. Nothing more complex than that, because it doesn’t need to be any more complex than that.

The original OutRun was a sprite-based point-to-point racer of the kind that were popular in the late ’80s. There were a few spinoffs in the arcades and on home computers and consoles, but a “true” sequel didn’t appear until 2003, when technology had improved considerably, allowing for full polygonal graphics at beautifully slick frame rates rather than the sprite-based “fake 3D” effect of the original.

It would have been easy for Sega to make OutRun 2 more simulation-like, since the inherently more realistic nature of polygonal graphics lends itself well to more believable handling such as that found in titles such as Sega Rally. Thankfully, they did no such thing, and essentially made OutRun 2 into a very pretty version of the original game from 1986, along with adding a bunch of welcome new challenges that only further emphasised the exuberantly arcadey feel of the game.

Of particular note was the “Heart Attack” mode, where not only did you have to race against the clock as in the standard game, you also had to fulfil increasingly unreasonable and dangerous requests by your girlfriend such as smashing cars out of the way, drifting around corners and breaking “tapes” between pairs of cars. Performing well in these challenges added to your overall Heart Points, which represented how much your girlfriend liked you, and at the end of your race you’d be graded based on your overall performance. Every man’s worst nightmare.

OutRun 2 was subsequently ported to home consoles by Sumo Digital, and this version included not only a faithful port of the arcade game but also a series of challenge missions that could unlock a variety of other content.

OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast, meanwhile, was exclusive to home systems, including PS2, PSP, Xbox and Windows PC. Rather than being developed as a collaborative effort between Sega’s AM2 team and Sumo Digital, OutRun 2006 was entirely developed by the latter. It included the entirety of the OutRun 2 SP arcade game, an expanded version of OutRun 2, as well as a substantial “career mode” called Coast 2 Coast, in which you were tasked with completing a variety of missions for a selection of characters.

“Flagman’s” missions focus on racing, and his objectives consist of winning races or drifting as much as possible. The missions for the three “girlfriend” characters, meanwhile, are primarily based on the Heart Attack mode, with a few additions to the formula to keep things interesting.

Coast 2 Coast shakes up the basic formula of OutRun 2 by not requiring that you play through the same old stages time after time in the hope of doing a bit better this time around. Instead, the missions tend to be shorter affairs that focus on one or two of the stages from the complete course of the arcade version, although some of the “girlfriend” missions allow you to drive the complete course and see how far you can get — in fact, this is a necessity to unlock all the individual sub-missions you need to complete to obtain her full approval!

In terms of how OutRun 2006 plays, it’s very similar to OutRun 2, which in turn had a very distinctive, totally unrealistic handling model. Rather than treating the race in “true 3D” as in many other modern racing games, OutRun 2 continued its predecessor’s approach of seeing you always proceeding forwards along the road and largely adjusting your horizontal position rather than “turning” as such. There’s a strong emphasis on drifting around corners to maintain your speed, with a drift being accomplished with a simple tap on the brakes, and techniques such as slipstreaming other traffic or rival racers are very helpful, particularly on the tougher challenges.

The whole thing is such a gloriously colourful, cheerful experience that it’s impossible not to find yourself smiling while you play it. It’s the very essence of what made this era of Sega games special: exaggerated but easy to understand handling; colourful visuals with prominent blue skies; giant numbers on the screen giving you immediate feedback about how well you’re doing; and a surprising amount of hidden depth to its challenges.

It’s a great pity that the expiry of Sega’s Ferrari license means that OutRun 2006 — and indeed other versions of OutRun 2 such as Xbox Live Arcade and PSN’s OutRun Online Arcade — are pretty tough to track down these days, and certainly not readily available on digital storefronts. But physical copies of OutRun 2 and OutRun 2006 are still floating around for all of the platforms they were released for, so thankfully these excellent games haven’t completely disappeared just yet… so if you’ve had a hankering to jump into a shiny, noisy car with a pretty girl and just drive, you better try and track down a copy of OutRun 2006 before it… well, you know.

More about OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast

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