San Francisco Rush 2049 is a sort of Frankenstein monster, a strange collection of ill-fitting parts. It is, at core, an arcade racer set in a futuristic San Francisco, but it is also a stunt driving and car combat game. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do any of these types of games particularly well. What it does do, however, is sew these pieces together with a thread of fantastic graphics, ingenious maps, plenty of speed and solid fun. Although it has limited appeal as a single-player experience, with a couple of friends and an itchy trigger finger, it can definitely be a fun ride.
The appeal of arcade racing games versus hardcore driving simulations is the chance to do something in a car that simply isn’t possible in real life. Things like jamming on the turbo, firing pulse blasters into a sucker or trashing an opponent by landing on him are the exclusive joys of videogames. What makes these games so fun is that players often have to decide between finishing first or blasting an opponent, whether they want to take the corner as quickly as they can or hit the nitro boost and try the ramp.
San Francisco Rush 2049 is obviously an arcade racer, but it barely offers that standard arcade fun. Players aren’t given the opportunity to decide between the safe main road and the tricky short cuts because, if they want to win — at least in the circuit mode — they absolutely must master the shortcuts. The opposing cars and AI stick the racing line with such precision, that the only hope of winning comes through the game’s many side streets, tunnels and ramps. This is, in fact, the real strength of Rush; some of those shortcuts are truly ingenious and a lot of fun — if they can be found and survived.
Along with the shortcuts, there are eight gold and silver coins sprinkled throughout each map that must be gathered to open up more courses. Unfortunately, these coins are so hidden and out of reach that there is simply no way that they can be collected during a race. It would have been interesting and fun if players were forced to choose between a fast time and gathering some coins, but that really isn’t an option in this game. Instead, players will need to go into the single race or practice mode and search every ledge and alley in each course to find all the coins. Some of the gold coins are also ridiculously high up, further forcing gamers to master difficult jumps. And if they miss, they must tediously drive through the whole course to try again or simply restart the race.
This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that Rush starts out with access to only five courses: four race tracks and only one stunt course. To open up the two locked racetracks and four locked stunt courses, players must gather all the coins on all the levels. That’s quite a bit of the game locked away at the beginning, and we would have preferred more or easier access to those extra tracks.
This becomes truly annoying in the stunt mode. Originally found on the Nintendo 64 version of Rush, the stunt mode begins in only a single arena. Players must master the game’s ridiculous physics model, which approximates what it would be like to drive on the moon. Any bump or ramp sends the car spiraling out into space, usually ending in an enormous fireball. Players must perform stunts like wheelies, spins and rolls in order to collect points, but those points are only awarded if the car lands safely on its tires. To enable that, there are small wings that pop out from underneath the car to help balance and guide it. However, using those wings reduces the score, forcing players to decide whether they want a few points or none at all. But ultimately, the points are meaningless because it is really the coins that open new arenas and extend this mode’s limited fun.
If Rush only had its racing and stunts, then we might have hesitated to recommend it, but the addition of a multiplayer mode that adds weapons to the mix is a great idea. There are four separate “battle arenas,” each with a distinctive theme. Scattered throughout the arenas are various weapons and powerups. The weapons are all colorful and fun, ranging from a simple machine gun to a proximity blast that can wreck your opponent’s car instantly. There are also coins that provide shields, invisibility or radar cloaking. With up to four players on the split screen, the havoc found in the multiplayer is a lot of fun.
Ultimately it’s really as a party game that Rush 2049 succeeds. Once players have explored the map and gathered all the coins, there is not much attraction. But cruising through the air with a friend, only to knock him into an on-coming streetcar, is almost worth the price of admission alone. The fun soundtrack is perfect for the proceedings, and the colorful graphics look even better than the arcade version.