San Fran-tastic.

San Francisco Rush was the very definition of a 90’s racing game: a crazy premise, inventive track designs, exaggerated physics and a host of wacky unlockables. It’s one of those games that many of us may have gotten for Christmas or a surprise birthday present. But ultimately, apart from a few fond memories, the game faded into collector obscurity.

And that’s a shame really, as SFR was a fun little racer that drew comparisons to more popular titles such as Cruis’n, Daytona USA and Carmageddon. A few years later, a sequel would be made that set the series fifty years (or forty-nine) into the future. San Francisco Rush 2049 was that game, and it was a great blend of fun, arcade-style racing and smart, science fiction track design.

Street Racer

The selection of tracks was impressive at the time

2049’s premise was rather simple; you raced around several tracks set in a futuristic San Francisco, leaving your opponents in the dust, whilst doing your best to avoid crashing and subsequently blowing up. This was easier said than done, however, as your opponents had a steely determination when it came to winning, often resorting to aggressive measures by knocking you off the track or straight into a wall.

The selection of tracks was impressive at the time, with several of San Francisco’s landmarks and locations being represented with futuristic renditions. The great thing about these courses is the fact they were more than just simple racetracks. Each track was absolutely loaded with secrets and shortcuts that rewarded the avid explorer as racing off the beaten path could often lead to the discovery of coins.

In this future, environmentally friendly cars didn’t exist.

There were sixteen coins to be found on each track (eight silver and eight gold). Collecting these coins unlocked new tracks, cars and parts that would improve your ride. Silver coins were generally easier to find, and were often seen in the air (and can be collected from a jump) or down a shortcut. Gold coins however, often required some expert hunting to find. As an example, one gold is only obtainable by launching your car onto a ferry that continuously moves back and forth. Anyone in their right mind would think this is just part of the scenery, but one can make a very precisely timed jump onto the ferry to nab the loot. The fact that 2049’s challenge lay not only in the racing, but also in exploring, greatly enhanced the game’s replay value – it was easy to spend hours upon hours finding everything that all the tracks had to offer: a testament to how well designed the tracks were.

Step On The Gas

San Francisco 2049 boasted a nice multiplayer suite, too.

The racing itself was fairly basic. In the standard racing mode your car will have nothing special to offer outside of the basic accelerate, brake, turn and accelerate some more…apart from a sweet pair of wings that can be activated while in the air to perform various stunt manoeuvres. This was fairly useless during a race, but contributed to the deep scoring system found in the game’s stunt mode. While this smaller mode didn’t take anything away from the main racing career, it was a fun little diversion that saw you launching your car off ramps, earning points as you flipped your car in all sorts of directions to earn big points. One interesting aspect of the stunt mode was the ability to choose your car’s wing length before the event; smaller wings were easier to control but have lesser flipping abilities than the larger wings. The larger wings, of course, were much harder to control, but the points threshold increased dramatically.

San Francisco 2049 boasted a nice multiplayer suite, too. The racing and stunt modes could be played with up to four players. Exploring the tracks with friends was a surprising amount of fun, whether you were all searching different parts of a track, or collectively trying to score the perfect jump to find that elusive gold coin. The stunt mode also began to resemble a Hot Wheels track with more than one player; colliding with another player in the air was annoying, yet somewhat hilarious.

The final mode on offer was battle mode. This was a Twisted Metal-esque affair that had players racing around large arenas, picking up weapon power-ups to destroy one another. Weapons ranged from a fairly standard machine gun and grenade launcher, to a deadly soundwave generator that instantly destroyed anything in its radius. Again, it was a fun little mode, but it never really offered anything special. It would have been nice if the battle mode allowed players to race on the normal tracks as opposed to the bland arenas exclusive to the mode.

Trackmania

Despite all this, San Francisco Rush 2049 is still a fantastic racing game that sadly flew under most people’s radar, even though it was released on the Nintendo 64 and Sega’s Dreamcast (which was unsurprisingly the best and most graphically impressive version of the two). The genius track design, featuring layer upon layer of secrets and shortcuts is something not many racing games have achieved (or bothered to achieve). It’s truly a shame that this game didn’t get the attention it deserved as much as the other racers of its time. As wacky 90’s racers go, San Franciso Rush 2049 was definitely one of the best.

Prefer moving pictures and sound? Then watch our video retro reflection here

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