The name Sega has always been synonymous with arcade racing and rightfully so. But now that most games are judged on home consoles (while sitting on comfy couches) and no longer in sweaty coin-dens, how does the most complete OutRun package ever released fare? With no addition to the simple (and shallow) drift-mechanic, no enormous graphical breakthroughs, the same three ladies to contend with as before, many of the exact same courses we've already seen a few times before and just the Ferrari license to pin its hopes on, can the OutRun series still pack enough fun in a quick-fix arcade romp to get old-school fans salivating? Can it even remotely dream to compete against the Burnout, PGR or Need for Speed series? The answer, surprisingly, is a trumpeting yes. But make no mistake about it, this is now considered a niche title that will not hold everyone's attention. But old-school fans will be quite pleased.
Two years after the Xbox-only OutRun 2, Sumo Digital and Sega add as much content as could be imagined into an OutRun game and release it cross-platform. Fans of OutRun 2 will find most of that game herein (the Beautiful Journey course - from Palm Beach to Cape Way - has been completely included) and all the familiar faces return: Alberto (the suave but woefully abused hero of the game), Clarissa, Jennifer (ugh!) and Holly (as well as a few others). Many of the modes first introduced in OutRun 2 also return (more fleshed out), but what OutRun 2006 really does is wrap the entire experience into one large envelope. You'll now feel that whatever you're doing, regardless of the mode, will have an impact on your progress in the game. A simple, but clever, license keeps track of all your stats and OutRun Miles (OutRun 2006's currency for unlockables). Where OutRun 2 felt like many disconnected ideas and modes, OutRun 2006 feels more like a cohesive unit and is infinitely more enjoyable to play through.
Returning to the single player modes are the Time Attack (drive against the clock), Heart Attack (fulfills your girlfriend's demands and earn hearts/points) and OutRun (reach each stages' goal before the time expires) modes as well as the newly redesigned (and renamed) Coast 2 Coast mode which is the heart of the game. In this mode you will race against rivals and complete varied (and sometimes very odd) tasks to please your female companions. To make the process easier for gamers, a wonderful system has been implemented where at the end of each stage you can choose whether to repeat the stage for a better grade (take exit X) or move on to the next stage (take exit Y). While simple (and again clever) this should be an option in any videogame with the possibility of failure.
The single player mode also allows you to play through the OutRun 2 (Xbox) stages, the arcade version of the OutRun 2: SP stages and the new OutRun 2006 stages. It must be said that the new stages truly steal the show even though some of the OutRun 2 maps are truly memorable. It's also in the single player mode that you will spend your OutRun Miles to buy new cars (and colors) as well as sound files and stages.
Fortunately, the gameplay in OutRun 2006 has not been tweaked very much. Yes, drafting plays a bigger part in races, but the core mechanic of launching your car into a controlled side-spin to keep up speed in corners has not been changed at all. And thank god! Non-fans will never understand it, but true OutRun fans will still find themselves appreciating the simply ability to slide between cars as you drift through a nasty curve. Few games have this much smile-inducing gameplay. And try as I may, I can not get non-fans to appreciate it at all. They just look at me and ask "this is suppose to be fun?" Hah, but we know better!
For those who haven't played through OutRun 2, you will not only find yourself racing against time and rival cars in OutRun 2006, but also trying to avoid UFO lasers, dodging meteorites, colliding with cars at your girlfriend's insistence (talk about auto-erotica!), passing traffic, nudging giant beach balls and more. It may all sound odd, but it is OutRun's most compelling (and original) concept. I can honestly state that you'll never find most of these in a regular game.
OutRun 2006's multiplayer modes are a fun diversion, but the fact that they generally focus on the racing aspect exclusively hurts them a little. Luckily, leaderboards for other modes help give the game a sense of community. The hardest thing to accept though has to be the exclusion, again, of split-screen racing. Why this wasn't finally added is still a mystery. On the bight side, online racing is smooth and everyone out there is the community is generally mature, respectful and fun to play against.
Graphically, OutRun 2006 looks a lot like OutRun 2. The cars, scenery and animations are all great, but after playing more current titles, little things like the asphalt are starting to look dated (especially at high speeds). In the audio department, the same voice-work you'd expect returns (yes, she still tells you every choice you've made) and the audio presentation you'd expect is back as well. Every double-entendre song title you know and love (in every form you can think of) makes an appearance and helps create that OutRun feel perfectly.
Let's face it; OutRun, especially in a day and age where everyone's weaned off the latest and greatest racer, is a real throwback to the old-school racing games and as such, is an acquired taste. I couldn't contain my excitement at getting this new version but among my friends (and friends list) I was the only one doing so. This is now a niche title (wow, makes me feel old) and one that fans will appreciate and enjoy immensely. Anyone who doesn't "get it" probably never will and that's their loss. The joy of drifting is back, the deep learning curve and mastery is still there to be had and there is no better version of the game out there. For all the Old Schoolers out there; run out and get it.