Can you feel that cool ocean breeze whipping through your hair? The surf splashing against your brow? That tanned hand creeping onto your thigh from the passenger seat? "I want to go far away!" she breathes into your ear. You may be sitting dry-eyed in front of the TV with the curtains drawn, but your mind is speeding along those perfect, curvaceous highways, bracing itself for those heart-in-mouth power slides and weaving through traffic at virtual right angles as it nails them. No doubt about it, OutRun is one of the highest peaks of videogame driving fantasy.
But many of us already knew that. The tricky thing about evaluating the home version of this game is balancing its ebullient fun factor with its arcade origins; the former demands players don't stop praising it, the latter reminds them it's all over within minutes. Well perhaps not all over, and to be fair this latest edition has made some fair concessions towards a more conventional game structure and lifespan, but really the gameplay remains unchanged from 2004's OutRun 2.
It remains, then, a beautiful, sun-kissed experience with that distinctly Sega twinkle in its eye, its luscious drifting and slip streaming mechanics still beautifully simple yet unfailingly engaging. It's also distinctly retro of course; from the flat 2D crowds at the finish line, to the cheesy remixes of already cheesy (though much loved) music, to the overly strict gravity that inhibits the fun a little compared to most modern racers—it's been a while since cars were not allowed to leave the road outside of canned crash animations.
Yet nostalgia and style are weak currencies to a mass market obsessed with content, and OutRun's primary commercial frailties are its simplicity, its repetition and its lack of long-term structure. Interesting to note how severe those criticisms sound today, Sega's racer being born of a design ideology that barely considers them criticisms at all. And so perhaps the most significant aspect of OutRun 2006's appearance is that it debuts the series on PS2 and PSP, so it's no surprise to see that its principal new mode, Coast 2 Coast, is absolutely concerned with eliminating any associations with the disposability of arcade gaming.
Built up of Flagman tests (mostly straightforward races across a few map sectors) and girlfriend tests (cross the map while impressing your passenger girl by performing various tasks at her request), Coast 2 Coast mode initially comes across as a rather unceremonious segmentation of the OutRun gameplay. The bitty and unsatisfying Flagman tests see a Burnout-style malaise setting in as the player dutifully chips away at them and plows through one generic race after the next—especially if he buys a decent car early on and dumbly speeds his way to easy victories.
Thankfully, the girlfriend challenges are far more palatable, based as they are around OutRun 2's Heart Attack mode, with the classic structure in place as players weave their way across OutRun's impossible geography while performing a number of impromptu driving tasks, from dribbling a beach ball to bashing other cars. Less successful (though insanely addictive) when attempted in isolation—as is necessary to attempt all request sets and progress to the next girl challenges—what's surprising is not the vast number, variety nor the invention of the challenges thrown the player's way (they are none of these things), but how compelling they remain after dozens of repetitions. As predictable and straightforward as they are utterly irresistible, the heart challenges only throw into relief how little encouragement we need to thrill to the game's fabulous drive-and-drift mechanics all over again.
Still, it's hard not to feel that Coast 2 Coast mode doesn't so much add anything new to the game as strip it down and repackage it in bite-sized portions. The unlocking system feels equally cynical: only two cars are available from the start, car colors must be unlocked individually for each car and being made to unlock music tracks feels more like penance than reward. It's a system of meager returns rather than real incentives and it grates that even some of these cheap unlocks remain unattainable without a PSP link-up. The only real benefit of PSP-PS2 connectivity will be for those who simply must play OutRun whether home or away and wish to synchronize the progress made on each version.
Yet though its success in trying to make this fine game more palatable to a broader audience is a qualified one at best, perhaps the most satisfying aspect of OutRun 2006 is how confidently it assuages any fears that the golden formula might somehow seem less entertaining next to EA and Criterion's aggressively trailblazing Burnout games. Less ambitious and less sophisticated certainly, and even a little lazy by the standards of most sequels, but when you deal in luxuries you can afford yourself more than most. After all the blaring heat and noise ('sound and fury' would be unfair) of Burnout, there's still nothing quite like a cool ocean breeze whipping through your hair.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Playstation 2 version of the game.