First appearing in Japanese arcades in 1986, the OutRun series of arcade racing titles has a long and storied history, proving to be an instant hit with arcade-goers thanks to its state of the art graphics (we mean state of the art for 1986, duh), catchy midi tunes, the ability to choose multiple routes, and its strong emphasis on the passion of motoring, namely the feeling of relaxation and excitement associated with hopping in your four-wheeled beast and blasting down the highway.
While proving to be a shallow gameplay experience - in terms of variety of courses and cars on offer - the OutRun formula is simple, yet effective - jump in your Ferrari and drive extremely fast. OutRun Online Arcade is a title that steadfastly remains faithful to its arcade brother of yore in that is doesn't include anything very different from its predecessor, but what it does do is provide gamers with a quick arcade fix from the comfort of their couch at a reasonable price.
OutRun Online Arcade comes complete with a handful of different game modes (OutRun mode, Time Attack mode and Heart Attack mode) which thrust you into the action where you are on a mission to outrun the clock. But this title isn't as simple as trying to outrace the the ticking of the clock, the game will pit you against a number of obstacles such as: traffic, other racers, not to mention your finicky in-car girlfriend who has a penchant for drifting around corners, all of which serve to keep things challenging. For those who are interested in bragging rights, the game also comes complete with online leaderboards for players with an ultra competitive streak.
For those not familiar with the long-time racing series, the game essentially boils down to the following: Players are able to select from one of ten licensed Ferrari's to race in, where, accompanied by your high maintenance girlfriend in the passenger seat, players race against the clock in an effort to get to the finish line before time expires. The crux of the game is about choosing the optimal course to suit your skill level to give you the best chance of progressing to the finish, as a number of the branching stages can be quite complicated with a number of snaking turns. Your ability to outrun the clock is determined by your ability to perfect your drifting action around this arcade course, and when it comes to arcade racing, nothing is as arcadey as OutRun.
The racing style of OutRun Online Arcade varies between two points: red-lining down the straight pieces of highway at full speed or excessively drifting around corners in an effort to avoid obstacles and maintain optimum speed levels. For anyone who's previously dabbled in OutRun, it goes to say that the most fun you can have with this game comes from pulling drift after massive drift. A simple tap of the brakes and a carefully positioned tap of the analog stick will have you easily entering into the art of drifting, but OutRun isn't about pulling off stylish drifts as seen in games such as Need for Speed: Underground; OutRun is all about perfecting your craft into an art form so that you can perform a drift that you could almost sustain indefinitely. Learning to drift to perfection becomes more important as you make your way through the more complicated sections of road where you'll find it almost impossible to complete the stage in time if you drift incorrectly.
Essentially, that's really all there is to playing OutRun. Avoid the traffic, don't slam into the concrete barriers and drift like a bat out of hell to reach the checkpoint. Many players will find the learning curve of OutRun difficult at first, but after a few playthroughs you'll soon learn to gauge the difficulty of the upcoming section of road and find yourself shaving a few seconds off your time,which is something that becomes a vital part of racing as your progress through the last stage or two of your race - to the point that incorrectly taking one turn could cost you your entire run.
Even after you've become a pro drifter, one thing that keeps you coming back to OutRun are the branching sections of road. Races always begin on the same beachfront stage, but once you reach its conclusion you are presented with a fork in the road where you can choose to take one of two paths. At the end of the next stage you are again presented with the choice of going left or right, and so it continues until you've raced through five different stages. Not only does each stage feature a different look, each stage features a varying level of complexity. For instance racing through the casino strip at night proves to be a mighty challenge when compared to blasting down the beach road. Not to mention the complex turns when you hit the forest stage, which make you wish that you'd taken the city route instead. Players will find themselves on easy street if they keep to the left, while taking the right path leads to a more complicated, yet satisfying route.
Once you've gotten a handle on the racing mechanics of the game in OutRun mode, you can move on to Time Attack mode for more of a challenge. Time Attack Mode features the same tracks as in the normal OutRun mode, except now you also have to race against a ghost car as well as the clock. It's not much of a change from the standard mode, but being able to keep pace with the ghost car is a good way to see how you'll measure up to highly skilled players when you make the jump to online racing.
The online component of the title has proved to be a big draw card for longtime OutRun fans, though the mechanics of it all is slightly disappointing as a whole. Why? Well, essentially, you're playing OutRun mode, except now you've got up to another five human opponents to contest with. The aim of the game remains the same, although the nature of human racers is to bash and crash their way to the front of the pack, except because you're still racing against the clock this usually means that you'll be robbed of valuable seconds and more often than not the race will end without any one finishing. Of course there are options to turn car collision off, which makes online racing a lot more fun, but the game still suffers from one major problem - one mistake and your race is over. Even the most seasoned racer will tell you that if you make one crucial error in online play you'll find that you'll lose sight of the other racers quick easily, making it very hard to get back into the race. That said, if you can manage to keep up with the pack, you'll find that it s quite refreshing how easily the lead can change throughout the course of a race.
The major draw card of OutRun Online Arcade is the inclusion of Heart Attack mode which has always proved to be the most compelling, yet complicated aspect of OutRun. Heart Attack mode consists of you having to perform specific tricks for your in-car girlfriend as you progress through the stages. She'll want you to do certain things such as drift around a long corner or collect a number of gold coins. Perform them well and she'll reward you with her love (in the form of floating pink hearts), annoy her by stuffing up these tricks and she'll pimp slap you from here to next week. Ah, the things we do for love...
While OutRun Online Arcade doesn't bring anything new to the table, it provides gamers with the high-speed thrills and complicated spills that we've come to love about the OutRun series for the past two decades. While it may be an arcade racer at heart, the complicated driving technique required to master this title more than makes up for the otherwise shallow gameplay on offer.