It's strange how certain games are tied to a system so tightly that you don't believe they'll ever work on anything else. Outrun 2 is such a game, with fans swearing blind that it could never work as well as it does on the Xbox. So, when SEGA announced OutRun 2006: Cost 2 Coast for The PS2, Xbox and PSP (plus the PC) the news was met with much scepticism. Well, it's time to start believing as OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast might just be the best arcade racer available on all three systems.
Once again in the hands of the supremely capable Sumo Digital (OutRun 2 on Xbox, Virtua Tennis on PSP), Coast 2 Coast is basically OutRun 2 superfied: it's like every OutRun 2 fan's dream come true. What you get is the full arcade version of OutRun 2, the full arcade version of OutRun 2 SP, an impressive challenge mode, online play, tons of unlockables... I think you get the idea. There's a lot crammed into this game.
On the gameplay side of things the biggest change is the newly introduced slipstreaming. By tailing opponents or other traffic you gain extra speed, propelling your car past your rivals. This has been implemented across the game modes, and while long-time fans may argue that it spoils the game, I found it to be an excellent addition to the arcade-style racing. Everything else is pretty much as it was, but when it was so good before, there really wasn't any point in changing it. If any game handles powersliding better than this, please let me know.
The core game mode is undoubtedly Coast 2 Coast. This is a series of skill-based challenges and quirky mini-game-esque scenarios. Flagman challenges test your driving skill, asking you to beat rivals in straight out races or slipstream and drift challenges. Girlfriend challenges make up the other part of the Coast 2 Coast mode and they're an altogether different kettle of fish. You drive through a complete course as you would in the arcade game, but each section is peppered with challenges, such as avoiding alien abduction, smashing into a certain number of cars, overtaking challenges and more. Once you've completed a stage you can select it again from the menu to try and achieve that elusive AAA ranking.
While simply throwing your Ferrari sideways around a corner is reason enough to keep playing, the reward system in the game is worth equal praise. Whether you're playing for fun or attempting a new high-score, you earn OutRun miles. Every single moment you spend on the road is worth something, even if you restart a challenge or quit before the end. It's a brilliant system and makes playing the game even more worthwhile.
You're obviously not earning all these miles for nothing, and Sumo has included a shop full of goodies to tempt you. After a few hours with the game you'll have enough miles to gorge on a few items, with Ferraris, courses, challenges and extra music all available. The system works perfectly for everyone as it doesn't restrict the unlockables to the experienced players and adds an addictive 'just one more race' quality.
Which brings me nicely to the 'pick up and play' appeal of the PSP version. Taking the superior Xbox version out of the equation, the PSP game is probably the best of the bunch, purely because it fits the system so well. It's not as beautiful as the other versions, with a lower frame rate and some rough textures, but on the PSP only Ridge Racer competes visually. The controls work surprisingly well too, with the analogue nub feeling a little better than the Playstation 2's rather twitchy left analogue stick. Load times on the PSP are relatively painless too and the just Drive mode is perfect if you don't have long and want an instant dose of adrenaline.
PSP to PlayStation 2 link-up isn't something I'm overly keen on, mainly due to the extra cost of buying the same game twice, but it's ideal for a game like this. If you've been playing the PSP game while out and about you can transfer your licence over to the PlayStation 2 and pick up where you left off, and vice versa. You'll obviously still have to buy the game twice, but few games that have used this feature have worked equally well on both systems. If it wasn't for the lower frame rate in the PSP game and the twitchy analogue steering in the PlayStation 2 version, you'd swear you were playing the exact same game.
The final piece to the puzzle is online play. Sumo has done an excellent job here too, with full online play for up to six players, online scoreboards, plenty of game settings and a friends list available in every version of the game. Again, the PSP version just feels more special, being able to sit anywhere that's got a wireless hotspot and play people from all over. There's also local wireless play if you find anyone who's up for a game.
From a technical point of view the Xbox version is the winner, with a smoother frame rate being the most noticeable difference. The PlayStation 2 version is no slouch though, with slowdown only occurring when the screen is filled with cars and on certain sections of track. Both home console versions support widescreen and 60Hz, and the PlayStation 2 version even supports progressive scan - something not possible on a PAL Xbox. The frame rate on the PSP version is a tad disappointing, but it's easy to look past, and the great draw distance and sense of speed has been reproduced admirably on the handheld.
OutRun's soundtrack is widely regarded as one of the best ever and the tunes here live up to the past games. As well as the standard set that includes Magical Sound Shower, Splash Wave, Shiny World and all the rest, there are numerous versions from the 80s and Euro remixes, plus you can buy new tunes in the shop and listen to your own tunes in the Xbox version. Effects all sound great, but on occasion they can sound a little out of place, with cars that you passed at about 2 Mph due to a recent crash causing the same whooshing sound as a 100Mph + overtaking manoeuvre. The soundtrack's the real star though, with a collection of tunes that you'll be humming and whistling for months.
No matter which system you own you can't go wrong with OutRun 2006. For the absolute best version you need to check out the Xbox game, but other than a few slight technical differences and some control irks you'd be hard pushed to tell it apart from the PlayStation 2 version. The game really shines on Sony's portable too, with what seems like the perfect set-up for a handheld game. PlayStation 2 to PSP link-up is also a great feature if you want to play the game at home and while travelling. If the idea of powersliding brings about even the slightest tingle of excitement in you, OutRun 2006 needs to be in your collection - the version you choose is up to you.