Another day, another budget PSOne release and as usual it?s a load of shi? Hang on; something isn?t quite right here ? it?s actually good?! That?s the amazing truth folks, hard to believe I know, but Midas Interactive?s £6.67 arcade-driving title Runabout 2 is a rather fine production and top fun to boot! Midas Interactive are not exactly renowned for their five-star standard games in all honesty, but they really turned the tide during the course of 2003 by cleverly bringing over a bunch of little-known Japanese-developed titles and releasing them on the budget ? the highlight of the collection being Runabout 2; an arcade-based driving game in the mould of a Grand Theft Auto-meets-Driver hybrid. Runabout 2 sees you being recruited by a secret agency for whom you must perform a variety of driving-related missions in order to attract the attentions of possible future employees. Having chosen to pilot one of the many vehicles on offer, you take to the glorious 3D city streets in order to complete a host of tasks within a set time-limit. Objectives include tailing suspects in high-speed pursuits, defusing bombs, delivering packages and darting through checkpoints among other trademark tasks associated with the genre. Despite the price-tag and rather tame name, it?s fun from the word go; the vehicles require a surprising amount of skill to handle, but once you?ve mastered the basics, you?ll have a ball thrashing round the busy opening city level. The first mission is simple enough in theory, though still delivers a thoroughly enjoyable experience; the basic idea is to get from one side of the city to the other, but the tight time-limit and congested roads mean you are forced to take some rather unorthodox routes to reach your goal. Part of the beauty of the Runabout experience is that several sections you would normally expect to be out of
bounds in a game of this ilk can actually be explored. Within seconds of the start you can smash through a large metal door, revealing an aircraft hangar complete with bi-plane and storage crates ? its main purpose though is to save the player some precious seconds negotiating traffic. Half a minute or so later you are given the option to plough across a crowded beach, smashing up deck-chairs and ice-cream stalls ? it?s absolutely mad! The level objectives themselves could be seen as somewhat linear as there is rarely an instance whereby you actually get to choose what you want to do next, but at least there?s a fair bit of variety between the things you do tackle. There is a different mini-city attached to almost every new level you encounter, including some truly audacious settings including, of all places, a pyramid and desert town. Such is the diversity between each that no sooner have you left the sunny sea-side location of the first level than you are cruising around a neon-lit night-time city, looking to deliver parcels with the aid of a high-powered scooter, which brings me neatly to the next plus point ? the vehicles. Whilst Driver?s choice of transport was limited to just a small selection of cars, Runabout 2 goes to extraordinary lengths to provide the widest range of vehicles available in any game I think I?ve ever played ? scooters and motorbikes; sports, classic, rally and police cars; turbo-charged supercars; hatchbacks and even, would you believe, a tractor! Development time has clearly been spent giving each style of motor its own unique feel ? the bikes are very nippy but corner rather luridly; the rear-wheel drive cars slide easily and, in the more powerful cars, the player is forced to adopt the infamous ?manual transmission? gearbox as standard. Perhaps the best and most innovative feature on show is the ?damage counter?, a simple device that awards the player points
for destroying various parts of the scenery. Destructible scenery is a relatively common-place attribute among games these days I hear you say, but it?s the way it has been implemented into Runabout 2 that makes it especially good. Each piece of scenery in an environment holds a different value, and smashing up these pieces gains you a certain amount of damage points. Totalling a passing hatchback may gain you a fair amount of points, but if you?re clever you?ll wait for something expensive to pass such as a sports car or limo before unleashing hell. Its fantastic fun; the best example being in a level whereby you get to scythe through a museum ? smash the precious paintings and cabinets and watch those points rack up! For a time it appears the lifespan may suffer ? the game comprises of a relatively slim 13 levels which, compared to other titles in the genre, seems a little bit lightweight. However, upon completing the levels, you?ll discover that there are over 90 secrets waiting to be unlocked through replaying them. Secrets range from visual extras that can be attached to your cars such as vanity mirrors, drink-holders and disco-lights, to actual unlockables such as new vehicles or weaponry. Cleverly, many of the better secrets require you to complete levels very quickly and/or without sustaining any damage (which is easier said than done), thus providing much-extended replay value. Graphically it?s okay; nothing special, but certainly of a better visual quality than your average budget title. Cars are solid and the levels appear detailed, if somewhat rough-around-the-edges at times. The developers deserve a degree of credit as each area is absolutely packed with activity; be it with buildings, people or cars, there?s always something going on in the field of play, which is nice. Perhaps the only real let down in this department involves the people who roam the levels; up close they are
little more than pixelated blocks that bounce around with no form of animation, and seem to make no physical contact with anything that hits them. The thirteen levels are not too difficult to polish off ? I managed them in a couple of days, though with the addition of the frankly bewildering array of extras and even some alternate endings, there is potentially several weeks of play to be had here. Even if the novelty of the extras wears off, there?s fun to be had setting speed and damage records on the various levels, so it delivers a strong overall package in this respect. Runabout 2 doesn?t have a certificate and carries only the lowest ELSPA age recommendation of 3+, which basically means it is suitable for all. It?s good, simple fun and because it is such good value, it?s an ideal title for the youngsters or people who have just bought a PSOne. So to conclude Runabout 2 may not match the dizzy heights of the Grand Theft Auto franchise and at times feels decidedly low-budget, but the fun-factor wins through ultimately. It?s a very nice surprise that, despite its unadventurous name and price-tag, provides ample amounts of playability and unexpected glimpses of innovation. Technically, it?s nothing too snazzy and certainly won?t convert those who hate their driving games, but the imaginative level design and respectable lifespan means it is very definitely worth the miniature admission fee. A good ?un!