Formats: 360, PS3
Release: Out now
Developer: Sumo Digital
A riotous celebration of the unfashionable, OutRun Online Arcade is the antithesis of the modern racing videogame. Traction control, torque split and camber adjustments are alien to this world, in which performance is virtually indistinguishable between supercars. Indeed, wherever realism has presented a barrier to high-speed grace, OutRun discards it without a second thought. The result is the driving experience of boyhood dreams: gleaming red Ferraris that drift sideways around cliff-top hairpins at 250kmh while bleach blonde girlfriends fist pump the air in swooning admiration.
Like its 1986 originator, OutRun Online Arcade has but one race: a single, branching route across picture postcard renderings of the American states. Broken into five multiple-choice segments, each one lasting just a minute, you arrive at the finish line in what seems like a blink, breathless as after a funfair ride. From the unmistakable Californian start line of Sunny Beach through San Francisco’s Bay Area, Vermont’s Big Forest, Alaska’s Ice Scrape, the Texan Casino Town and New York’s Skyscrapers, every stage is distinct. A touch of the brake or a quick downshift and a long, graceful powerslide will see you round each stage’s sweeping bends without loss of speed, the feeling as much one of guiding a missile to its target as driving a car.
All of this, of course, will be familiar. Since OutRun 2’s 2003 debut in the arcade, Yu Suzuki’s final arcade game has been iterated on and ported to multiple consoles, Sega so confident in its timeless worthiness that it’s rarely been out of the refinement workshop. A remix of the OutRun 2 SP cabinet, which introduced slipstreaming and Americana-dressed courses, OutRun Online Arcade should be definitive. In terms of cost, as the first to give its buyer change from a £10 virtual note, it’s irresistible. But in terms of value the game lacks the feature set of its forebears. Perhaps in an effort to allow the previous full price releases to retain their sense of worth, we’re limited to the game types featured in the arcade version, rather than any of the console-specific bonus modes.
The default OutRun mode is a straightforward sprint to one of the game’s five different finishing lines, while the 15-minute Continuous mode presents them all in sequence. Once you’ve seen all fifteen vistas, it’s time to hit the leaderboards, which require you to drive both fast and stylishly, the latter trait awarded with points crucial to unlocking some of the hardest-won Achievements and Trophies yet seen.
Heart Attack mode, meanwhile, unlocks your girlfriend passenger’s tongue, which issues two or three on-the-fly challenges for each stage of the race: keep drifting as far as you can between markers, collect the coins, don’t hit any other cars and so on. Your performance for each micro-task is graded, as is your performance for each stage and the overall race. It’s the strongest of the supplementary modes, encouraging you to change the way you play the game while entirely maintaining OutRun’s underlying the race structure.
Finally, a Time Attack mode eliminates the traffic, removing with it the aid of slipstream suction but upping the clarity of the challenge with ghost cars. Copious leaderboards ensure long-term challenge for the dedicated, but by hiding your closest rival’s time away from the in-race HUD in time honoured fashion, their immediate relevance is diluted, post-Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2.
A weak multiplayer mode allows up to six players to compete but without rankings or leaderboards it’s an undernourished feature. Hosts, who are inexplicably always granted pole position, can opt in or out of catch up and collisions, but here the game’s elegant trim tips into thriftiness. Slowdown and bugs familiar to those who played the original Xbox port further undermine the experience, perhaps revealing a limited budget on the part of developer Sumo Digital.
Menu design that betrays its 4:3 roots and low-res screen furniture also bespeak the game’s age and a cut-price attitude to this new port, even if the sheen and robustness of graphics elsewhere are fundamentally timeless. These shortcomings are forgivable in the context of the game’s cost, but it’s disappointing that the port does little to meet the technological headroom of its new console homes. Nevertheless, such technical blips do little to mark an otherwise blemishless horizon, one as appealing as it ever was. OutRun 2 remains a pinnacle of the arcade racing tradition, a peak that, through both design and circumstance, may never again be topped.