"Super Runabout" is a mission based driving video game. It was first released for the Sega Dreamcast in 2000 by Interplay. In the United States, the game received a guidance rating of "T" which deemed it suitable for ages 13 and above.
Set in the US city of San Francisco, California, the player assumes the role of a delivery driver. He must pick up items as dictated by the mission objective before each stage and rendezvous at a specified point before the allotted time expires. As an additional objective to the gameplay experience, players may carelessly meander around the busy city streets and annihilate as many neutral vehicles as possible without destroying their vehicle. Doing this will reward the player with in-game cash winnings which automatically grant an upgraded vehicle at certain dollar value intervals. New vehicles are often faster and more hardy than what one becomes accustomed to after a brief period of play. As the game progresses the levels will sequentially become shorter, so having access to a faster vehicle is something I found to be necessary for successful completion of the game. I also found the process to be rather fun in its in execution. While one must be aware of the timer at all times, the sensitive controls allow one to demolish a fellow member of the road without suffering much of a time penalty.
Unfortunately, it is also these sensitive controls which hinder the gameplay experience. The physics of the title allow for spin-outs and these are frequent in their occurrence even when the situation does not warrant such a reaction. When attempting to make sharp left turns, I often found my vehicle spinning madly out of control which usually led to a collision with the nearest building. While this wouldn't necessarily be an issue if the controls were more refined, reversing and attempting to get back on track is a tedious chore with several "donut" style spins being seen while attempting to realign my vehicle in a desired direction.
The graphics are presented from a trailing view of the player's vehicle. For the most part, I found animation speeds to be smooth and adequate for the quick pace of play. There did appear to be a few instances where video lag made itself apparent through the sudden appearances of other vehicles or buildings, but these events were rare in my experience. The audio is also acceptable in its presentation. The title's musical scores are filled with pop style interludes though I found them to be very short and often repeated themselves after a few minutes of playback. The sound effects are standard fare and include typical engine noise and tyre screeches when making a sharp turn.
Super Runabout provides a generally acceptable gameplay experience. While its sensitive controls require a steep learning curve that I never quite found myself mastering, the destruction derby style of gameplay is appealing to me as a player and is something I would happily recommend to prospective buyers.
If you overlook some of its more obvious flaws, Super Runabout really isn't a bad game. In fact, on occasions the sum of its parts can amount to quite a lot of fun. The problems start when you compare it to the competition - as a Dreamcast title, it appears immediately dated when put toe-to-toe with Crazy Taxi, but rather more ominously, comes across as a rather less complete version of its PSOne predecessor Runabout 2.
Following on from PlayStation titles Felony 11-79 and Runabout 2, Super Runabout (SR) is seemingly the third instalment of the city-based, checkpoint-chasing driving series, though confusingly it came out a couple of years earlier than the second game in the UK and there is also a Runabout 3 available for the PS2. Phew!
Though there are two storylines (from the point of view of civilians or police) each with six missions, the two sets are extremely similar to one another and most players will be able to polish it off in a day or two. Missions tend to involve a simple mix of rushing from point A to point B, though become more playable in instances where chases and the destruction of the scenery are encouraged.
One of SR's chief identifying features is the level of carnage you can cause to the surroundings, allowing you to gleefully wrack up millions of dollars worth of damage (or points, as I prefer to think of it), by smashing into statues, bins, crates, fences and other cars, each of which has their own specific value. There are literally hundreds of things to hit in the city but as you have to keep an eye on the damage your vehicle incurs, it pays to search for the most expensive property you can vandalise, and this is a fair bit of fun. Although the time-limits on the missions are easy to beat, the gameplay remains engaging enough thanks to the decent level of traffic you'll need to weave through, whilst rocketing up ramps and finding hidden routes also prove quite rewarding in the short-term.
The mission objectives are bizarre and cluttered to say the least. In the space of six levels, you'll be challenged to beat a stolen F1 car across the city; collect a variety of hot dog ingredients before delivering them to City Hall, before then being challenged to rescue the President from an oilrig patrolled by a mad man in a tank. Don't expect Super Runabout: The Movie any time soon.
It's disappointing the objectives are so narrow in their ambitions, because the San Francisco themed environment is very good indeed. The missions sadly do little to encourage exploration of the superbly detailed cityscape that includes a host of mountain paths, a complex network of docks and even a subway travelling right under the city - all of which many games may never realise are even there. The environment is impressively large and smooth considering the amount of activity, and the loading times are also very good.
Graphically, it's fair to say the series has never really relied on pretty looks, and unfortunately Super Runabout doesn't buck the trend in this regard - it looks quite underwhelming next to similar Dreamcast titles. Whilst the cars aren't too bad, the cities are riddled with an alarming amount of pop-up with huge buildings and structures just appearing out of nowhere and if your car rolls or gets snagged on steps or awkward scenery, it can take awhile for it to right itself. Though character animation isn't a prominent feature in the game, it deserves a mention because it's so very bad.
The handling is okay for the most part, but at low-speed things can become a real handful. The turning circle of most of the vehicles is absurdly large, making precise manoeuvring in tight spots a bit of a nightmare. More annoying is the duration of time it takes for the camera to pan back behind the car after reversing to show the road ahead; you are left accelerating blind for what feels like an eternity and this causes problems in traffic congested areas, and is a niggle that really need not have been there.
Another obstacle the player has to overcome is the wayward crash physics. Whilst mowing down minor scenery such as cones has no adverse effect, colliding with cars is a different matter. So much as nudging another car causes them to explode quite violently, and it isn't always clear where they (or you) will then head. The suspect physics are exposed particularly in a mission that sees you having to nudge a bunch of enemy limos into the sea - hitting one on the edge of a pier saw the limo somehow not only avoid the water but race off behind my car! In a PSOne game, these shortcomings would be understandable, but in a Dreamcast title where crashes and smashes play such a big role, it's unacceptable.
The games biggest failing is also it's most surprising - the serious lack of longevity. As mentioned earlier, there's little challenge to the missions, but whilst Runabout 2 offered great scope for replayability thanks to its whopping hundred or so unlockable extras, SR offers only a dozen or so extra vehicles to find post-completion, which will disappoint fans. Sure, you can get your hands on a tank complete with highly-destructive turret as well as an F1 car and a Limo, but there's little real incentive to return after a few days play.
Super Runabout's lack of content and ambition negates the solid city design and basic fun offered up by its smash 'n' drive gameplay. It represents a step backwards from the budget classic Runabout 2 and as a next-generation upgrade, has to be seen as a disappointment. If you're a fan of this style of game, it's worth a go, though for casual gamers, it's not going to tempt you into getting a Dreamcast.