It's well-documented that the original OutRun hit the arcades in 1986, and set a new standard for arcade racing games. Offering brilliantly varied graphics, multiple routes to race through and a choice of music to listen to whilst you drive, the game was a hugely groundbreaking title that instantly earned it's place as an arcade classic. Seventeen years on, and OutRun has been brought screaming into the 21st Century with a new arcade release. Using Xbox architecture in the cabinet, an Xbox version was always on the cards, and this is the result.
OutRun 2 is a commendably faithful conversion of it's arcade brother. For those of you unfamiliar with the core OutRun formula, the original game is set against the clock, with the player racing through 5 consecutive stages, each punctuated by time-sensitive checkpoints. This sequel actually consists of 15 different stages and, like the original OutRun, different routes can be chosen between and at certain points on the track where the road forks into two routes. Which way you go determines which area you travel through next, and different routes have different degrees of difficulty. There's 16 different routes through the arcade game, which doubles to 32 when you unlock the reverse stages (which do actually feel genuinely different in reverse).
In addition to the original Arcade mode, there is a brand new addition, the appropriately-named 'Heart Attack Mode'. Essentially, this is similar to the standard Arcade mode, but with one big difference. As you drive, the player is no longer racing just against the clock, but is tasked with collecting love hearts for your female passenger. These are gained by performing certain tasks for them. These can range from avoiding traffic, hitting down cones and powersliding for as long as possible. When the task is completed, a rating of your performance is given, with these ratings combined to give a total heart attack rating at the end. This mode offers an excellent alternative to the normal arcade mode as it tests your driving abilites rather than your racing skills.
Years ago, such a selection of modes would have been more than enough to keep people happy (Ridge Racer's three tracks, anyone?) but developer Sumo Digital has added a brand new mission mode, stuffed to the gills with 101 missions to complete. Each set of missions is set around the map used in the arcade game. Initially you can only select one path, but like the Arcade mode, more paths will open up as you complete stages. Fully completing the game means finishing each and every one of the stages, with many of the missions expanding upon the gameplay and tasks found in the Heart Attack Mode mentioned earlier.
These tasks are hugely varied: some have you navigating through cone gates, others steering carefully between convoys, and others powersliding into corners as much as possible. Certain exercises involve collecting hearts lying on the track, knocking down cones while avoiding others, or even taking photos of hearts that are cleverly placed on corners. Even your number and memory skills are challenged, with some tasks requiring simple maths or memorization of sequences of fruit to succeed. On completion of a task, a rank is awarded, with an A the minimum requirement to progress, and AAA being the best. As you progress through the Mission Mode, you unlock cards. These cards usually contain pictures of Ferrari-related items such as model cars or clothing.
Completing a whole stage unlocks the final cards which present you with more desirable items such as remixed music, new cars to use in the game and 2 bonus tracks - one based on Daytona 2 and the other based on SEGA's less well-known SCUD Racer, both of which have been moulded impressively to fit OutRun's unique style whilst retaining the feel and atmosphere of their original incarnations. Pleasingly, the original OutRun arcade game is also hidden away inside OutRun 2 for those wanting a trip back to their 1986 memories.
While OutRun 2 only features cars from one manufacturer, that manufacturer is the famous Ferrari, so expect to be able to get your hands on some of the company's most famous cars - the Ferrari F50, F40, GTO 328 and even the mighty Enzo (all of which come in a variety of colours with a press of the Y button). The licensed Ferrari cars each feel pretty similar, with a few differences in acceleration, handling and top speed, meaning certain models obviously are more suited to certain tasks. Perhaps the most important skill to refine in OutRun 2 however is the art of drifting, performed by letting off the gas, tapping the brake, then accelerating again very quickly as you turn hard into the curve. This helps take a bend without losing too much speed, and is essential for getting around the game's tighter turns.
The game offers three camera angles: in the car (the dash is, sadly, not rendered), bumper cam and behind the car, and the handling is pure arcade. If you're a simulation fan looking for some realism and authentic physics, then OutRun 2 simply isn't for you. The control are simple, with both accelerate and brake set to the analogue triggers, whilst manual gears (which PALGN recommends learning as they allow the player to take corners even faster and tighter than if you were in automatic) can be set to any of the buttons or even the right analog stick.
Graphically, OutRun 2 is fantastically close to the arcade game. The cars are beautifully modelled, with seamless reflections and a ton of detail giving the cars a very colorful and faithfully realistic appearance compared to the real thing. The environments hardly let the side down either, and are both stunningly detailed and varied. Depending on which route you take you can start off at the seaside near the beach, drive through snowy moutains before finishing off in a Paris-esque city at night, complete with Eiffel Tower. Take another route and you'll end up navigating through deep forests, old castles or Egyptian deserts.
Couple the cheek-flapping sense of speed that sees the courses fly by at an intense pace with the almost perfect framerate (one or two areas suffer from slowdown), and the result is a visual tour-de-force. The characters in the cars also animate, with the girl offering a juicy slap to the side of the driver's head should he flip the car or hit a wall. The driver himself will casually lean his arm out the window until you reach high speed or begin to drift, giving them a human effect.
Meanwhile, fans of the arcade original will be happy to hear that the original music has been ported over successfully, and possibly tweaked even further. In a similar vein to the rest of the game, much of the soundtrack is unlockable, with the player starting off with just a handful of tracks. Progress through the levels however means players quickly amass a collection of music that goes well into double figures. But whilst PALGN is fond of the typically cheesy SEGA music, those that aren't so keen won't be happy to find that there's no Custom Soundtrack option. The engine sounds, the squeal of burning rubber at the start and screech of stressed tyres around corners are all well-sampled and realistic sounding, though the option to include your own tracks would have fitted in perfectly with a game that is primarily about the sheer joy of driving fast.
OutRun 2 supports Xbox Live for both Time Trial scoreboards and online play. And in PALGN's eyes, the Time Trials are the best thing about the game. Not since the days of Ridge Racer and Daytona has this reviewer been quite as motivated to improve race times: learning each corner, mentally recording the racing line, and timing each powerslide to perfection to shave milliseconds of your times OutRun 2 is massively rewarding, ensuring additicion to the online scoreboard.
There are time trial scoreboards for every stage, route and bonus tracks, all of which allow the sharing of ghosts to download and race against. The ghosts can be uploaded to the Xbox Live servers after finishing your stage. And when racing head-to-head online, the host has the option to set a number of different restrictions for the contest, such as a route or particular car model. The OutRun mode can also be played across Live, however you can't all race in different directions unfortunately; whichever way the current leader chooses is the way the game forces you to race, giving a great advantage to the current leader at each checkpoint.
Unfortunately, OutRun 2's online play is marred by some dodgy online coding. For instance, whilst the title supports up to eight players, things tend to get very laggy with any more than four. Cars jump around the screen, occasionally teleporting through each other. And with games like Moto GP, RalliSport 2 and Project Gotham doing online so well, there's really no excuse for OutRun's frankly primitive online play. Collisions can't be turned off either, which only makes the problem all the more prominent. And another little niggle, whilst PALGN is on the subject: the lack of a rear view mirror is a hugely annoying omission in a multiplayer title. But it's not just the online play that's subpar too either - the scoreboards can be temperamental, with scores not always updating correctly. For a game where time trial is such a large component, it's a wasted opportunity. Hopefully a future patch will eventually fix the scoreboards, though it has yet to surface.
But PALGN doesn't wish to moan too much. For whilst OutRun 2 may have taken 17 years to be released, it's hard to deny the wait was worth it. The online section of the game spoils things somewhat, but it doesn't prevent OutRun 2 from being a cracking experience. With handling that's surprisingly deep, stages that are filled with variety and challenge, an excellent Mission Mode, addictive time trial mode and a large helping of graphical polish, OutRun 2 provides a great alternative to this year's biggest arcade racing game, Burnout 3. And as much as PALGN loves Criterion's street racer, there isn't quite the overwhelming desire to learn every inch of the tracks or spend hours perfecting time trial times as there is in OutRun 2. And as was seen nearly two decades ago, it's something OutRun does well. Very well.