Sega AM2/Sumo Digital
Before I begin this review, I would like to give a HUGE thank you to RD Reynolds, owner and writer of Wrestlecrap.com (a website I have followed since my early teenage years), published writer, and huge OutRun fan (owner of arcade cabinets for both OutRun 1 and 2). It means a lot that a writer I've followed even before I found a love and talent for writing myself took time out to read this review and give it his blessing. That's totally awesome.
So, in last week's post listing off My Top 80s arcade games, the #2 entry was something particularly noteworthy. It was Sega and Yu Suzuki's arcade masterpiece, OutRun. In what Suzuki claimed was a “driving game” (making a point not to call it a “racing game”, though that's naturally the genre it is often placed into), Sega had a major arcade hit on their hands. Sure, Space Harrier was a decent hit and Suzuki's prior game “Hang-On” was warmly received, but this game was on a whole new level. Offering scrolling courses, multiple songs...not 60-90 second loops but 3-4 minute musical pieces...that the player could select at the start of each session, and controls that were slick as butter for the time while still requiring skill to navigate the courses (in fact, OutRun's default time limit was rather strict), OutRun was unlike anything being offered at the time and hit all its notes in a way many games couldn't touch for many years to come. Hell, I'd argue it took Sega themselves to truly step it up in the forms of Virtua Racing and Daytona USA well down the line.
There's no understating how influential OutRun was to both the arcade racing genre and Sega itself. And hey, it's available as a bonus unlockable in OutRun 2!!!
It would be over 17 years until Yu Suzuki provided a true sequel to OutRun. Sure, there were successors; Turbo OutRun was a technical step-up from the original that offered an opponent to race against, a turbo boost and an upgradeable vehicle, and OutRunners offered a multi-cab multiplayer feature as well as stepping up the graphics and sound tech yet again. But it seemed off that the game Suzuki was so adamant about being a “driving” game as opposed to a “racer” went off in that direction.
OutRun 2 arrived in arcades near the end of 2003. It seems almost ironic to me that the game came out at this time. OutRun 1 missed the window of what many consider the Golden Age of arcades in the early to mid 80s, and OutRun 2 was released in a time when many considered the arcade to be a dying commodity. I had rented the original's Genesis port a few times, knowing it was an oldie but thought for an original Genesis game it played alright. I also tended to get it mixed up with “Lotus Turbo Challenge”, a clone from EA that, back then, just didn't measure up in my opinion.
The biggest reason I missed the arcade release of this was a combination of both not having my driver's license yet and not having an arcade nearby. It took a trip to a local theme park, “Worlds of Fun” to finally try this out for myself. I had a decent amount of fun with it, but never thought it was anything special at the time. I just hit the gas and “went” without getting into the fundamentals of the game.
Fast-forward to my 21st birthday, and I took a trip to Las Vegas, specifically the GameWorks arcade on the Vegas Strip. To be perfectly honest, I found the arcade to be rather forgettable. In fact, I preferred the much-less hyped arcade within Circus Circus. "The Galloping Ghost Arcade" this was not. But the highlight of that stop was an OutRun 2 SP Super Deluxe cabinet that leaned into the turns (and even moreso into drifts) as you played. Finally being patient enough to learn the game myself, it was a total blast and one of the best arcade experiences I'd ever had. Trust me folks, if you see OutRun 2 SP (especially the SDX edition) in an arcade, drop what you're doing, give it a try, and then thank me via Twitter once you're done...and if it's somewhere in the KC area, tell me where it is!!!
Outrun 2 eventually arrived in homes as an X-Box exclusive in 2004. This was yet another reason why I never had a chance to play it as, until a couple of years ago, I'd never owned an X-Box. And by the time the second edition of the game, "OutRun 2006; Coast 2 Coast" dropped on PS2, I had already moved on to the PS3.
I believe it's worth starting off with the game's sound and music. Right from the first menu, you're hosted with beach ambience, a pretty relaxing way to set up the game in contrast to the action that will ensue once you're in, and a smart design decision. Suzuki wanted to create a “driving” game that emulated the fantasy of driving a European dream-car in amazing locales, and that noise puts you right into it. The music in the game consists of mostly modern remakes of OutRun 1's music, with a few added tracks to boot. One great thing about the soundtrack to both games is, despite full runs of this game being 4-5 minutes long, the music never seems too repetitive (at least in the arcade mode) and actually consists of full songs as opposed to a 1-2 minute loop, common in other arcade racers. You can eventually unlock jazzier "euro remixes" of particular songs (I'm listening to the song on the right, "Passing Breeze; Euro Remix" as I post this), the original OutRun 1 songs themselves, and other versions of the game's newer original songs (which aren't terrible, but don't hold up to the more traditional faire). But I personally like to stick to any rendition of Passing Breeze (all 3 versions in this game are fantastic), with the OutRun 1 rendition of Magical Sound Shower if I wanna change it up.
The cars in this game are all Ferrari models from different eras. The beginner level cars can enter/exit drifts with ease but have trouble keeping their speed up (remember this for later), intermediate cars (including OutRun 1's Testarossa Spider) have faster speeds but are a little tougher to control in a drift. You'll eventually unlock expert level cars such as the famous Enzo Ferrari that have incredible straight-line speed but drift around corners with reckless abandon. Drifting is essential to success in this game, right from the beginning; so if you don't have the drift mechanics of this game down pat, stay away from the Expert machines, even if you've done enough to unlock them. Regardless of if you pick a classic machine or a more modern Ferrari beast, the lineup of automobiles is slim yet fantastic, each one being a dream car that nobody reading this will likely have the experience of driving in their lifetime, and that's something I believe Suzuki knew when he created OutRun and something he kept with him into OutRun 2. It's about the fantasy of driving a supercar with a woman in the passenger seat around “nowhere else in the world” landmark after landmark.
The Testarossa Spider, OutRun 1's sole machine, is available from the start in OutRun 2 and is a solid all-around car.
Regardless of if you select one of the more tame Beginner cars or decide to strap in to a more difficult car, the control in OutRun 2 is absolutely fantastic. The sense of speed is pretty on-the-money, it feels like you're hitting 150+ MPH when you're zipping down the roads, unlike a racing sim like Gran Turismo's slower sense of speed or the Burnout series, where you feel like you've got a rocket strapped to you even at 100 MPH. And the drifting is smooth as can be. It becomes addicting to see how long you can hold a drift and/or hold a drift through multiple turns. It becomes so addicting, that I started to drift into turns that would have been better managed by not drifting at all. To this day, I've yet to play any...A-N-Y...racing game that makes sliding your car around a corner feel as amazing as OutRun 2 pulls it off. If Suzuki was out to make the driving in this game feel like a joy and put a smile on the gamer's face, mission accomplished and then some.
Even the Expert-level Enzo Ferrari and its whiplash drifts are a tremendous joy to control.
The OutRun Arcade mode is easily the best mode of this game and the easiest to describe; it's literally the arcade edition of OutRun 2 laid out before you. After you've selected your car and your song (no changing songs mid-game I'm afraid, though once you find the songs you like this isn't much of an issue), you begin in a beachside city. This course is pretty standard and gives you a few long turns, giving you time to ease yourself into how your car handles into these turns, ending with an S-turn near the end to give the course some challenge aside from the traffic. From here, you'll hit a fork in the road where you can select either the left or right turn. Going left will send you down an easier course, whereas going right sends you on a more challenging track. This is where much of the replay factor of the arcade mode comes in. Each track section splits, offering multiple ways to arrive at multiple destinations at the end (assuming you can keep up with the time limit). An extra “Heart Attack” mode rewards drifting and gives the player various challenges as the session goes on, giving you a letter grade on every challenge and section you drive through. This is also a pretty fun shake-up to the arcade mode, while keeping the main focus of the game intact.
Multiple routes ranging in difficulty give the OutRun Arcade mode a good amount of replay value.
The OutRun Challenge mode is where most of the game's extra content is hidden. In this mode, you are given a set objective that you must pass. Once you clear a set of challenges, you'll unlock a set of extra content; new vehicles, new courses for the free play mode (not nearly as fun as the arcade mode), new songs, etc. The game even contains the original arcade edition of the first OutRun game, which is definitely worth a playthrough or three if you haven't tried it (though the time limit is MUCH more strict). Some of these challenges even include races against other cars. While I did sortof dog on the quasi-sequels to OutRun for going in the direction of being a "racing" game, it's still pretty fun to race other CPU cars, even if their AI is pretty simple and doesn't vary from driver to driver. They serve as a simple time-trial obstacle, which is perfectly fine to be honest. It'd be jarring to have aggressive drivers in a game like this.
This Challenge mode, however, is where the game starts to show a few weaknesses. The biggest sin of this is some challenges demand certain cars to make them easier. One early challenge demands that you drift through turns maintaining your speed at a high enough level. On my playthrough, these speed restrictions were so demanding that, even with the faster medium difficulty cars, it was possible to wreck my run right from the start. And since the speed limits keep rising and demand that you maintain momentum, you will likely go through the next 3 or 4 turns not even being close to the speed you need to be hitting. The easy solution would seem to be selecting an expert level car that can scream out of corners much quicker, but these challenges will appear before you're ever able to unlock any expert level cars, leaving you to just retry and retry until you get a flawless run...and in a game where the pacing is SO important, challenges that demand perfection and therefore restart after restart are a pretty violent shift. This isn't to say some challenges aren't fun, but when some have very difficult demands even in early difficulties, as well as some goals only slightly changing (some will line up cones on drift lines that you'll need to knock over, while others will just ask you to build up hearts, of which drifting is by far the easiest way to collect them), you'll either be itching to go back to the OutRun Arcade mode (where you can't unlock any extra content) or just shut the game down. Whereas something like, say, the Crazy Taxi games had a wide variety of crazy challenges that tested you in different ways, OutRun 2's Challenge mode has a wide variety of crazy challenges that test you in the same ways.
While some trials such as "Math Mayhem" provide some fun, some of OutRun Challenge Mode's tests are pretty dry and can hurt the pace of the game.
The constant loading/reloading of the challenges forces the music to restart several times as well. THIS is when the music can become repetitive, as instead of letting the music play through on retries, it starts the track over, meaning (especially in the earlier short-burst challenges) you'll hear the same first minute of the same song unless you back out completely and swap songs. This isn't to say there's no fun to be had with this challenge mode; I found the math challenges (yes, math challenges) where you had to pay attention to a set of floating numbers and then pick the correct path at the end to be a lot of fun, and even the races (as much as I dog on when OutRun tries to become a “racing” game) can be a blast as well. But many of these challenges will have you itching to just play the arcade mode. It's a damn shame so many unlockables are hidden behind this, and aren't unlockable via OutRun Arcade. Thankfully, these is a cheat mode where you can enjoy the unlockables without playing through the challenge mode if you hit a brick wall, though this demands that you re-enter the code each time you turn the game on. I hate to be the kind of guy that encourages this, but I found myself mentally checked-out of OutRun Challenge long before I unlocked everything.
It's also worth mentioning right quick that the game did include X-Box Live multiplayer, but thanks to X-Box Live no longer being active on the console, there's no way for me to give that a spin.
When viewed in the vacuum of just its gameplay, OutRun 2belongs in the all-time best racing game discussion and is a game any arcade racing and Sega fan must have in their collection. Fortunately, OutRun 2 on the X-Box can be obtained for around $10-15 and is easily worth every penny and then some. One fact that's absolutely worth noting, the game was later re-released as “OutRun 2006; Coast 2 Coast” on PS2 and X-Box with a few tweaks (slipstream boosts, extended courses, extra songs, etc.). While the PS2 edition of this re-release can be snagged for $15-20, the X-Box version stands as one of the single rarest games on the console, often demanding over $100 for a copy. You can easily snag the PS2 console itself and its version of Outrun 2006 instead for a cheaper price (and if I come across it myself and decide it worth revisiting, you bet I'll be back to discuss it). And if you happen to own a PSP, OutRun 2006 is also available on that system for a pinch more money than the PS2 edition. Obviously there's some graphical liberties taken, but to have such an excellent game on the go with minimal reservations, I think it'd be difficult to not drop a few more bucks for a portable OutRun 2 experience.
OutRun 2 on the X-Box is an amazing driving game that plays like butter and is addictive as can be. The only thing holding it back from being the best arcade racer of its generation (I'll get to that one day) is how much re-inventing the wheel the game tries to do through the Challenge mode, and the fact that having the game's unlockables hidden behind it instead of OutRun Arcade means you'll just have to trudge your way through. Regardless, if you own an X-Box (or an X-Box 360, as the game is backwards compatible), have even an inkling of interest in arcade racing games, and don't have this game, do what you've gotta do to get this game in your collection.
RATING – 4.5 out of 5