How You Doin’, Sugah?
The one and only time I visited a Hooters, I ordered a burger well-done, and it came to the table red and raw. The waitress apologized and got me a replacement burger, which she accidentally charged me a second time for on the bill despite my not even biting into the original burger. While I was there, I bore witness to a dude hitting on a different waitress so aggressively, a manager had to come by the table and tell him to slow his roll. I still ended up leaving a 25% tip because despite my order and my experience being a total debacle, I felt bad for everyone working there. Also, my waitress was admittedly very pretty and called me “cutie” and I am a complete and total sucker.
In case you are unaware, Hooters is a chain of restaurants wherein the primary novelty is that the waitresses are all conventionally attractive and made to wear semi-revealing uniforms. It is a company in which the employee handbook demands that female staff “acknowledge and affirm […] the Hooters concept is based on female sex appeal and the work environment is one in which joking and entertaining conversations are commonplace.” In other words, employees are basically made to consent to being objectified and hit on by customers if they want to keep their job. Granted, there are hundreds of thousands of other waitress gigs out there where the environment isn’t inherently skeevy by design, and a woman who knows what they’re signing up for should be free to pursue their “Hooters Girl” career as they please. But also, they should totally be allowed to kick shithead customers in the groin if they happen to get handsy.
In 2002, someone decided that what the Hooters brand needed was a tie-in video game for the Sony PlayStation. Not the two-years-young PlayStation 2, mind you, but the original PS1. And what genre did they assume most players would want to see the Hooters brand associate with? No, not a dating sim or food service simulator.** It’s a danged racing game. Because truly, the strength of the Hooters brand doesn’t lie in pretty women or passable food: It’s all about their on-and-off involvement in sponsoring NASCAR racers. And who better to helm development than Hoplite Research — the developers of 1999’s Extreme Paintbrawl 2?***
Gas your cars and get your grub on, folks: It’s time to go on a Hooters Road Trip.
** If you absolutely, positively need to live out your food service fantasies, get your hands on Cook, Serve, Delicious. If you prefer your games on the rare side (pun intended), you can always go ahead and import the Japan-exclusive Yoshinoya for the PS2.
*** Yes, the original Extreme Paintbrawl is on the shortlist of “games to review” for this website, and is one of the most truly terrible first-person shooters of all time. How it has managed the staggering number of sequels it has is beyond me, but at least Hoplite’s take on the franchise is a marked improvement over the first.
In Case You Didn’t Notice, Everything Here Is Just Plain Bigger
In addition to being a later PS1 release (new releases continued as late as 2004), Hooters Road Trip was also slated to be a budget title, originally releasing at the low price of just $9.99. For price comparison, that’s as much as a small order of wings at a Hooters restaurant will run you! Evidently, publishing this game was one of Ubisoft’s attempts to enter the lucrative “value software” market of the early-to-mid 00s. To that end, a PC version of the game was also released, which differs greatly in elements of track design and car physics. We’re gonna go ahead and focus on the original PlayStation game in this article, as it was probably the more “popular” of the two releases.
After being greeted by an intro FMV featuring a series of Hooters Girls jiggling in your general direction, you’re taken to the main menu, where you’re given the standard assortment of racing games options. You can view a map of all the scenic locations in the game, reminisce over your past record times, adjust a small handful of game settings, and manually save / load your data. There’s no auto-saving or mid-game save prompts to be found in this title, which I discovered “the hard way,” as they say. Also missing from the game is any form of multiplayer; which maybe the developers figured no self-respecting player would want to reveal to their friends that they paid money for a Hooters-themed video game, let alone ask other people to play it with them. That leaves you with a “Race!” menu, providing a number of single-player game modes.
The primary attraction here is the Roadtrip mode, wherein you will race in a series of several stages from one point on the map to another. The number and selection of stages will vary based on how many times you have played the game mode, with six possible stage combinations (Roadtrips numbered one through six) ranging from as little as two consecutive stages to as many as seven in a row. Unfortunately, you can’t actually pick which series you want to play through, as you simply begin with “Roadtrip 1” and progress to successive Roadtrips with subsequent playthroughs. If this sounds unnecessarily complicated, it’s because it is. At the very least, there’s a “Custom Roadtrip” option that allows you to create your own series of tracks to play through consisting of the pool of tracks you have already raced on in the standard game mode.
Along with unlocking the new sets of stages and accompanying tracks, completing Roadtrips will also unlock new vehicles for you to drive. Which comes in handy, as the starting selection of three cars leaves something to be desired. The “Kenaya,” for example, might actually be the best-handling car in the game, but is simply incapable of reaching the top speeds necessary to beat the first place CPU racers. The “better” cars – which display higher statistics in top speed, acceleration, and even handling – boast some of the worst steering I have ever encountered in a driving game, but they are necessary evils if you want to have any hope of catching up to other racers on straightaways.
But before you can even take your newly-unlocked motor vehicles on the road, you’ve gotta earn your licenses for them first. Yes, really: You need to take your new cars to the test track in the “License Car” mode and complete the course in under a set time before actually properly unlocking the cars for use in other game modes. Not only that, but if you should ever decide to change the game’s difficulty level, you’ll have to go through the process of unlocking the cars for the licensing mode and passing the tests all over again [for that difficulty]. Of course, it’s all just busywork to pad out your playtime.
And so, the gameplay cycle for most players will consist of completing a Roadtrip, unlocking a new vehicle, earning the option to race using said vehicle, before embarking on the next Roadtrip. Repeat this cycle until you’ve unlocked all the additional vehicles – making sure to place in first in order to unlock the additional “Bonus Cars” (joke options like the “Beater” and “Camper”) – or until you decide you don’t want to play any more Hooters Road Trip. By my guesstimation,** it’s possible to finish all six Roadtrips and nab all the unlockables for a given difficulty level in just under an hour and a half, assuming you’re efficient enough to place first in every race your first time through.
Beyond the unlockables, is there any other incentive to play and replay the game? Well, there is the singular aspect of the Hooters brand that is represented in the entire game: Hooters Girls will congratulate you in brief video clips upon reaching each of the locations on the map. Pretending as if each of these videos was filmed on-location in each given city (in actuality, it’s quite easy to discern that they were all shot inside of the same Hooters establishment), you’ll receive a greeting from a state representative Hooter Girl (all local girls from that one Hooters location, faking regional accents poorly), attempting to add some sense of accomplishment to completing each track. With lines such as “Hey there, welcome to Jacksonville” being delivered with the unenthusiasm only a criminally underpaid service worker can muster, this is not actually a major selling point for the game.
I’ll be completely honest here: It doesn’t help that the standard Hooters uniform isn’t actually all that titillating or skimpy by today’s standards, and so I can’t imagine even the most hot and bothered of horndogs really getting much out of any of these brief cutscenes. Only slightly more risque are the end-of-Roadtrip congratulatory cutscenes, starring a crew of bikini-clad Hooters Girls (presumably?) at the beach to celebrate your coming in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd overall in the rankings. There’s also one loading screen image featuring a girl in only her underwear which is slightly more suggestive than the rest.
I feel like a creep even taking the time to point these out and rate them on their potential “erotic” value, but it’s all sort of part and parcel with the Hooters brand as a whole, and these are legitimately the sole incorporation of said brand into the game. You don’t pass by any Hooters establishments on the side of the road in any of the tracks, you don’t collect hot wing power-ups to temporarily boost your speed, there isn’t even a Hooters Girl to act as a flag girl at the beginning of the races! The harsh truth is, if you were to take out these cutscenes, you would simply be left with the most generic racing game of all time. As it turns out, it’s not even a very competent one at that.
As mentioned briefly earlier, the car handling is far from ideal. In the faster cars, simply tapping the analog stick left or right can send your car flying into the walls at a 90° angle relative to the road. At a certain point, you’ll be spending more time desperately trying to stabilize your car than you will actually attempting to overtake your competition. Honestly, your rivals are more or less incidental in the races, often falling victim to oncoming traffic and knocking themselves out of the race more effectively than you’re able to if you’re actively trying to knock them off-road. That being said, the oncoming traffic also poses major threat to you as well, with the danger of a high speed head-on collision being… both cars abruptly stopping completely in place, with no damage transferred to either vehicle.
The tracks themselves aren’t very intricate either, with mostly slight turns and completely linear design. There’s the occasional slightly-sharp turn to mix things up, but these are used surprisingly sparingly for a game that could’ve really afforded some genuine variation between stages. Further similarizing each of the tracks is the fact that not many of them feature any vertical variances: Most tracks take place across a flat plane, with only the occasional hill to potentially take your car momentarily into the air. Some of the tracks present what may be mistaken for shortcuts / side roads at first glance, with long-running road barriers ending and opening up into intersecting roads and open off-road areas, but these are always gated by invisible walls. Nothing like the freedom of the open road, eh?
In one of the few positives I will afford to the game, each track is at least cosmetically unique based on the cities it is meant to connect / transpire in. New Orleans, for example, will take you through some appropriately swampy bayous, before transitioning into the arid dunes of Corpus Christi. That being said, the track you’ll end up seeing the most of is “Ft. Lauderdale to Jacksonville,” as it marks the beginning of each and every one of the six Roadtrips (as well as the end of the third, where you simply drive it in reverse to end your round trip), which is also unfortunately the most simple / plain of all the tracks in the game. Be prepared to be welcomed to Jacksonville more times than if you were to land a flight in Jacksonville International Airport.
Now, I personally think it’s a bit silly to rag on fifth-generation console games for their “primitive graphics” or whatever it is cynical reviewers like to do. But considering this is a post-PS2 released game, having been developed with the benefit of all the programmer secrets of the PlayStation having been discovered and shared, it really isn’t much of a looker. There’s a lack of sideline spectators to cheer and jeer you on your travels (save for a small assortment of farm animals in the Atlanta-adjacent stages), shrubbery consists of repeated single-directional sprites, cars generally consist of very low polycount,*** and the draw distance is honestly kind of abysmal? At the very least, it all serves to keep the framerate nice and steady enough, which it damn well better be given the lack of graphical detail and polish.
What really pushes the presentation over the edge for me is the lack of any sort of unique style: It simply attempts to present itself in a “pseudo-realistic” manner, with standard cars and tracks grounded in boring old reality. That’s fine for a Gran Turismo or other proper racing simulator or what have you, but this is a Hooters-branded video game! Their company slogan is “Delightfully Tacky, Yet Unrefined!” The cars should have painted hideous shades of white and orange to match the Hooters uniform, and decaled with scantily-clad babes. There should’ve been animated girls with huge boobs jumping up and down on the sides of the road to cheer you on. Hell, it could’ve have a cartoon owl serving like a Mario Kart Lakitu to fly in front of you and tell you when you’re driving in the wrong direction. I’m not saying this is an aesthetic I’m particularly eager to see realized, but it would have at least given the game something to make it distinct.
Fitting for a game so woefully generic, the soundtrack consists entirely of stock music, courtesy of the Bosshouse Music company. The eight included tracks are generally of the “interchangeable rock” variety, with some bluesy influences sprinkled over a couple for good measure. They are at least decently fitting as background music to a racing game, so the developers can’t be faulted for their selections. Of particular amusement to me personally is a track titled “Let’s Get Away,” which the name of only serves to remind me of the far superior “Let’s Go Away” created for Daytona USA. Sad to say, but these Bosshouse boys got nothin’ on Takenobu Mitsuyoshi.
So, with all said and done, what’s my biggest problem with the game? Amazingly, it’s not the sub-par driving or bland track design: It’s the fact that it simply does absolutely nothing with the Hooters license. As such, it does nothing to draw potential new consumers to the restaurant or to even pique the interest of a Hooters regular. When Burger King would eventually put out their Sneak King promotional game starring then-mascot “The King,” they used the context and mechanics of the stealth game genre and found ways to plug their product into it as frequently and as blatantly as possible. Sure, that’s not actually a very good game either, but at least it’s distinctly Burger King and serves as a cute bit of corporate-approved kitsch. Love or hate the Hooters brand as you will, but their officially licensed video game could’ve certainly afforded to make more reference to them.
Call me crazy, but I get the sneaking suspicion that Hoplite Research didn’t originally intend to be a Hooters-themed racing game! If I didn’t know any better, I might almost believe that they put together the bones and engine for a racing game without a particular style or direction in mind, and simply sought to sell it to the highest (or just the first) bidder to do as they may please with it. From there, Ubisoft could’ve taken them up on the offer, looking for a cheap way to turn in a game to Hooters Inc. to fulfill some contractual agreement. From there, they could slap the bare minimum amount of Hooters branding onto it – not even bothering to ask for any alterations to be made to the core game itself – and release it straight to the bargain bin without making too many waves. It all sounds like such a labor of love, doesn’t it?
** In other words, using the recorded time of a 100% longplay as reference. It personally took me about two hours to finish all six of the Roadtrips in a single sitting, not always managing to achieve first place.
*** For those not in the know, “polycount” refers to the number of polygons (interconnected shaped surfaces) used to render a 3D object. The more polygons utilized in a 3D object, the more detail it can potentially have in terms of shape and structure. Textures are applied to these polygonal surfaces to give detail and to hide seams, and can thereby create the illusions of rounded objects if so desired. With the cars in Hooters Road Trip generally consisting of a low number of polygons, they tend to take on more angular and “pointy” appearances.
Now Doesn’t an Order of Hot Wings Sound Great?
I couldn’t find any sales data for Hooters Road Trip. Given the budget price and general lack of effort put into the game, I get the impression that it didn’t cost too much for Ubisoft to put it out, and so the break-even point was probably set pretty low to begin with.
You may be shocked and astounded to hear that the game was critically savaged on release! I’m pretty sure it only took game reviewers looking at the game’s title to say to themselves “oh, now this will make for some good content.” Even the notorious “lad mag” Maxim (whose audience honestly probably shared a fair amount of overlap with Hooters patrons) couldn’t help themselves from publishing a one-paragraph review of the game, calling it “Ubi-Soft’s redneck wet dream come true.” Naturally, they go into absolutely no detail about the game itself, simply mentioning that it contains “crappy graphics and gameplay.” Most other outlets seemed to fixate mostly on the game’s graphics as well, almost as if they were holding a PlayStation 1 budget game to the same standards as a then-recent PlayStation 2 release. GameSpot’s Gerald Villoria at least assessed the game in some amount of depth, and posits a theory similar to mine:
“Judging from appearances, Hooters: Road Trip probably began as a quickly produced racing engine that was slapped together with a small assortment of video clips to publish a value title fit only for distribution in bargain bins or as part of restaurant promotions.” ~ Gerald Villoria
Various sources (all seeming to quote the same line from the game’s Wikipedia article) seem to indicate that a review in a May 2002 issue of Game Informer “rated this game as one of the worst of all time” — a quote I can’t verify without having access to that particular issue of Game Informer. I don’t believe Hooters Road Trip quite earns that distinction, as it is a fully functional product at the very least and not entirely unplayable. Again, I feel like most journalistic folks went into the game wanting to tear it to shreds on the license tie-in alone, exaggerating how bad it actually plays and making more comments regarding the Hooters brand itself than the actual game at hand. I mean, granted: It’s not really a game with much to say about it outside of it’s connection to Hooters. But it’s also certainly not among the all-time worst in the history of the games medium.
Amazingly, this would not be the last time the Hooters brand flirted with the world of video games. In 2011, Homefront set out to underwhelm the modern military FPS market, and brought a handful of real-world brands along for the ride. According to Kaos Studios level designer Rex Dickson, the decision to include in-game product placement for brands such as Hooters and TigerDirect.com wasn’t “about making money for the game,” but rather to “create a world that players can believe is real.” I’d discuss this line in more depth, but let’s just say I might be saving that diatribe for a future article.
The Hooters brand is very easy to hate. I’m sure someone could or probably already has made some overly-long think piece about how it “represents the worst stereotypes of America” or “contributes to a culture of toxic masculinity.” I mean, they wouldn’t be wrong or anything in those assertions, but we’re talking about Hooters here: A sub-par restaurant chain that stays afloat entirely because a significant number of people like looking at boobs. Alls I’m saying is, it’s a company that hardly seems worth the time to hate quite so passionately. And so, when it comes to Hooters Road Trip, it’s easy to understand why folk might give it a worse reputation than it possibly deserves. If you stripped the game of the already-insignificant amount of Hooters branding, and saw it released as “Rockin’ Road Trip” or something else suitably generic, I would bet it would’ve been an immediately forgotten game, too dull to warrant so much as a memory of mild aggravation in the minds of those who may have played it.