By Kieron Gillen on November 25th, 2008 at 12:32 am.
I returned home on a Saturday night. The good lady was out, cavorting with Germany. I scanned my videogames and searched for something to sooth the anger that twisted in my fevered brain. An obvious solution prevented itself. Outrun 2006: Coast to Coast. I’ve been playing it ever since. And for some reason, my steam profile hasn’t been logging its hours, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say, it’s far too much. But what is Outrun 2006 and why is it so awesome? I’ll reprint my PC Gamer review and some modern assorted thoughts beneath the cut. In short – it’s only twenty dollars and it’s one of the greatest arcade racers ever.
Important things first, just in case you’re only going to be with us for a sentence: This is the best Arcade Racer on the PC in living memory. It’s another reason to be thankful that Sega have moved into PC publishing, as we can finally get to play games as pure, as polished and thrilling as this. For those used to the more real-physics-based approach that’s underlined even the most arcade of the PC racers, there’s immediate culture-shock to deal with. Crashes are a momentary nuisance. Powerslides are approached as abstract art, the back end of your Ferrari swinging around as if it thinks it’s in a particularly grindy hip-hop video. It revels in its unrealism. No bad thing.
To talk about an ideological comrade in arms, Sensible Soccer isn’t about simulating football, but the idea of football. The meticulous movement of a ball around the pitch, how that tugs on the other team’s formation and the precision of a perfect tackle in Sensible are only seen in the real game in its most immaculate, transitory moments. Similarly, Outrun 2006 isn’t about simulating racing, but the idea of racing. Velocity, over-taking and hurtling around a mountain-side track with a perfectly executed powerslide. If Plato designed games, he’d design games like this.
Its arcade nature is best showcased in more alternative forms of play, shown most often in the the Heart-Attack mode, where rather than simple racing you’re trying to satisfy the random whims of the girl in your passenger seat. Crash into all the cars. Dodge all the cars. Only drive in the red bar. Avoid UFOs. All unrealistic. All glorious. Its disdain for the real also enters its sexual politics. For example, the levels where you have to stay ahead of another car to stop your girlfriend splitting up with you. In real life, of course, it’s far more likely your girl will dump you if you constantly come first. Everything reminds me of the old games journalist’s line which has fell into disuse in the modern age – “There’s enough “realism” in real life”. Amen, brother, preach it.
Problems? While its strong design aesthetic makes up for most of its lacking in this department, it’s clearly a cross-developed game for the last generation of consoles and as such a little shabby looking. Also, its difficulty level may be a fraction too low – though for those in the audience who may have this as their first real arcade racing experience, this is no bad thing. And, ultimately, there’s no way I’m going to give a game which abuses the English Language with a title like “Coast 2 Coast” the ninety. Oh – and you’ll almost certainly want a gamepad of some kind to get the best out of it.
But this is an arcade game par excellence, as inviting as the open road and just as compulsive. And when you’re riding down an open freeway, a beautiful beach on one side and a beautiful girl on the other, there’s few things in life finer.
I’m still terribly amused by the hyper-cheesy ejaculatory gag half-way through.
I was actually attracted to Outrun’s reboot by… well, the first thing which drew my attention which was the urinal-wall advert in my pub local at the time when Outrun 2 (of which Outrun 2006 is an update) came out. Basic painted image of the game with a bit too much ill-designed text spouting UK-Resistance-esque Blue Sky In Gaming prose – all about a feeling of driving down beside a beach with a girl in your arms and you being thirteen again – remember that! – when you were thirteen and didn’t hate yourself every time you looked in the mirror and trudged off to a job you despise. Well, that was the subtext. Point being, it was a cheaply done advert trying to tweak some vestigal retro longing for this classic in a pissing pub-bound man. What actually attracted me to it was the sense that, through the terrible execution, they were onto something.
I stress, the only “terrible execution” in Outrun 2006 is in that advert.
The second thing was the Reverend Stuart Campbell having a big apoplectic love-fest over Outrun 2. First he writes a review. Secondly, he writes another one a week later with a McLusky-referencing title. And then it was on sale on Play for a tenner. I could hardly resist.
Didn’t click in the first session so I put it aside.
I was aware that it was a speed-of-play thing. I knew there was something to it, but with the mass of stuff I want to play, I rarely get a chance to get back. The problems of a generalist. But over the years, I’ve known Stuart is almost never (I can’t think of an exception) wrong about something he loves. Something he hates? Sure. All the time. He’s a man with defined aesthetic preferences. But when he puts his back behind something, there’s some core game there which is worth investigating.
So I was overjoyed when Outrun 2006 came to the PC and I could persist a little with it and see what I’d find. And, as the review above shows, it totally clicked. In fact, it clicked immediately, which makes me wonder whether than hour with Outrun 2 was the training sequence for me or whether I just was in a bad mood when I played it. Who knows? Who cares? Outrun 2006 is was much fun as I’ve had with a racing game on the PC since the first Midtown Madness.
If you put aside all the different ways you can progress through the game, it’s main appeal is its purity. You have basically two moves available to you. One is driving normally, which allows you to accelerate and slipstream other cars to get a boost. One is hand-break turning like a fucking lunatic which allows you to take whatever corner the world throws at you and makes you look enormously cool. With any given situation, you choose what will best keep your momentum up.
(Unless you’re playing one of the lunatic random challenge missions, in which case anything goes)
There’s a purity and a joy to Outrun 2006. Yes, a couple of years later and its graphics are starting to look a little like Dreamcast graphics felt like in 2002. But, much like the ‘cast, it manages colour and wit and SCALE and FUN out of nowhere. It’s a romantic game, a game in love with being a videogames, and what videogames what once were and what they can still be – except now they can strike more acutely on their targets. And…
Okay, enough wank. The challenge missions. You’re driving across the Outrun-areas, getting challenges like ramming other cars and dodging and sliding and similar. And then you hit a section where meteors are falling from the sky randomly, and you’re trying to dodge between them. And the repeated bits where UFOs arrive, and you’re trying to work your way around their abduction beams while the blonde lady sitting beside you yelps “INVADERS!” excitedly.
She’s a total joy. At the start of this Outrun 2006 binge, playing early Saturday morning, I’m zooming down a hill in the invigourating San Francisco level when she just purrs “You are soooo cool” or similar. And I nod my head modestly to one side, then the other, before coquettishly replying: “Yeah, I am pretty cool”.
Outrun 2006 made me flirt incompetently with my PC. That’s a videogame.
And look – a whole article about Outrun and I didn’t even wax poetic about the music. That’s how good it is.