Sega’s arcade racer extraordinaire has seen some pretty poor outings in the past, but is this release a winner, or headed for the scrap heap? Well on the surface, OutRun looks like any other arcade racer, albeit a lot more straightforward than modern, feature heavy stablemates such as Fuel, Pure and the Need For Speed franchise. Presented with one map of branching courses, the player is invited to select from a range of classic Ferrari supercars, a few colours, automatic or manual transmission and the song they would like accompanying them on their five minute or so long race. That’s it. No bodykit modifications to rude up your ride, no wealth of tracks, no nitrous. To say this game’s design is a little dated is an understatement, there are Nintendo 64 games with more customisation options! After laying down your hard earned cash (or space bucks, if you swing that way) it’s easy to feel a little cheated by OutRun’s ballsy ‘take me as I am’ mentality, its limited range of modes, and its lack of design extravagance. Flowing through the laid back, very utilitarian menus, accompanied by the serene sound of softly lapping waves, you opt for the single player ‘OutRun’ mode, which brings up a brief, very rudimentary loading screen. What happens next though, is very special…
From this tranquility explodes colour and movement and sound. Quickly glancing at your Miami beach-like surroundings, light reflects harshly from the sun bleached white sand. A large, rotund man grabs your attention, he’s holding something… it’s a flag… the announcer begins to say those four words that pump the octane enriched blood of any racing fan faster, ‘3, 2, 1… GO!’ the flag comes down, your tyres squeal against the perfectly smooth tarmac as you realise your fingers have instinctively hit the accelerator, and you’re away on the drive of your life.
Everything in OutRun feels very familiar, and arguably doesn’t add anything new to the gaming landscape. A race from start to finish without needing to really touch the brake button, dodging in and out of slow moving traffic, practically no progression system to speak of, and a game graphically about as sophisticated as a high resolution XBOX game, isn’t really what you’d call innovative. Like the BMW MINI to the original Austin model however, OutRun Online Arcade plays respectful homage to it’s forebearer without ever truly ripping it off or relying on it’s good name. Even without the fond memories of listening to Splash Wave years ago, OOA is still a quality product very much in it’s own right.
The game’s big play mechanic is powersliding, i.e. letting the back end of your car edge out to the point where, at times, you’re driving sideways. Trying to control the car while whipping round a high banked curve, is a gentle game of balancing, meaning you never feel you can let your attention slip, you can never take your eye off the upcoming track, and this edge-of-your-driving-seat play style means the mechanic never outstays it’s welcome.
To add an additional layer of freshness, and actively balance the difficulty for the player, there are branching sections of track at the end of each segment. Plenty of time on the clock? Make a right at any course junction to take a more scenic, more outlandish route, and in doing so nudge the difficulty up just that little bit higher. Getting to the, fairly surmountable, ‘Goal A’ is one thing, but seeing Lady Liberty at ‘Goal E’ is a challenge every time. Each corner counts on this run, and only dedicated players will consistently make the finish line on this harder difficulty path.
And this is where OutRun Online Arcade makes sense and, for the second time, does something very impressive indeed. Playing it truly feels like the ‘arcade experience at home’ console makers were harping on about so often during the eighties and nineties. OutRun has that ‘one more go mentality’ for sure, something that the game over countdown screens of yore invoked, but it’s presence as a digital download and quick loading times makes it a delicious little morsel of gaming to be savoured, whenever, in short bursts. Improving your own game reaps very obvious rewards, most notably in it’s online leaderboards, creating intense rivalries with friends and fellow gamers the world over, again very much like the queues of gamers lining up to beat ‘that kid’ at Street Fighter 2. All in all then, this is one of the best implementations of digital distribution yet realised, and British studio Sumo Digital have, once again, excelled themselves with their handling of the OutRun franchise.