It may already have been out for some time, but I’ve only started playing it recently so I haven’t been able to laud its praises until now:
OutRun 2 is The Best Driving Game Ever.
I anticipate that a lot of people are already either zoning out into the astral plane whilst they scroll down, or clicking the “Back” button to make a hurried escape. That is a statement that you’d expect from the incontinent drivel of an ignorant prepubescent, not from an educated adult who’s well-steeped in gaming history. However, I demand that you remain and listen, because for all of the opprobrium that that blanket statement has attracted in the past, in this instance it remains the inviolable, incontrovertible, gospel truth - OutRun 2 is a peerless racer! It veritably pole-vaults over what has gone before, and establishes a fearsomely lofty bar for the future to match.
One of the infamous urban legends of the games industry is that Yuji Naka is paid in Ferraris. Whilst this myth only has a limited veracity to it - Yuji Naka was given a Ferrari as a golden handshake to persuade him to rejoin the Sonic Team when he left in the early 1990s - It can’t be denied that Sega does have quite an ardent love affair with the Ferrari company. We’ve seen brief, fleeting glimpses of this passion in the past with titles like F355 Challenge, but in this game it finally blossoms out into an open engagement - the game proudly proclaims itself to be a “Ferrari Official Licensed Product” whilst loading up.
The original OutRun caused an absolute sensation and swept arcades by storm when it graced the Earth on its release in 1986. Incorporating such innovations as hills, multiple routes, and a gear lever, and a good deal of graphical flair, OutRun was hailed as a tour de force by critics and gamers alike, who pounded coins through the machines in a tinkling, golden shower of effusive praise to sink into the fertile loams that lined the road on which you took “The Beautiful Journey”.
In OutRun 2 these two entities have encountered one another. We have Ferrari - considered by many to occupy the pinnacle of car design and the apogee of style and desirability - and Outrun - a celebrated classic fondly remembered by gamers everywhere - conjoining to produce a product which exalts their common factor of speed. This might be considered cause for concern when viewed from afar - licensed games don’t exactly enjoy a burnished pedigree, for one (stated mildly), and when the game was being developed a lot of alarm and consternation was generated with knowledge that the console-porting work was being handled by a company called Sumo Digital, whose portfolio is occupied mainly with programming exercise bicycles. Yet all of these concerns are splashed away by the effusion of colour that swells up onto your television screen when you boot up this sterling title - it is not a clumsy, grotesque, incongruent welding, but rather a harmonious, seamless, immaculate symbiosis, and one that inspires nothing less than wonder.
The original acclamation of “The Beautiful Journey” is more than satisfied in the sequel. The amount of detail that has been lovingly lavished on this game is truly splendid, with every one of the marvellously diverse environments that comprise the fifteen stages (plus bonus stages which hearken back to other Sega racers like Scud Race and Daytona USA) being rendered in truly astonishingly and gloriously comprehensive attention to detail. This is true whether it be the scintillating aquamarine jewel of the sea at Palm Beach, the fair emerald slopes of the Alpine climes, the brilliant golden haze which glows warmly in the Industrial Complex, or even such small but appreciated details as the traffic which forms your obstacles indicating at they change lanes, or the burning wash of acrid haze that sweeps across the screen as you power up your engines. On several occasions I’ve screamed right into a head-on crash because I’ve been preoccupied with gawping at all of the luscious scenery whipping past!
This disarming sense of magnificence is transmitted to the vehicles themselves. Classic Ferrari designs from throughout the company’s history are faithfully recreated, and as the sun gleams and pulses off their perfect hulls you can see how Ferrari has ascended in the perceptions of motor enthusiasts the world over - I’ve often felt a sensual thrill shiver through me as pure, untainted light slips across the paragon forms of their warm metal skin like silk… and these are only cars, and not even real ones at that! OutRun 2’s design is not merely sumptuous but voluptuous.
This supremely high standard of quality is maintained when we proceed into the domain of sound. The effects used in the game are perfectly realistic, whether it be the soft, yielding purr of an engine as it builds up to speed, the bestial, tortured howl as you ram it to the very limit of its endurance, and the shrieking squeal of flayed rubber as you whip round a hairpin and gouge your tyres into the road (and in all these cases the X-Box’s controller shudders in perfect synchronisation), or the rapturuous cheering of the crowds as you complete your journey. Even the dull, unimpressed thunk! as you sloppily shunt another car is something that is becoming to the ear. Even the menu jingles and the voice which announces the options you select are bright, enthusiastic, positive and cheery. The music is also more than worthy of commendation. The tunes which accompanied the first ‘Outrunners’ in the 1980s are faithfully recreated with real instruments (and if you’re the sort who insists that nothing is like the originals, you can unlock those as rewards for progression through the game), and expanded on with the addition of several new tracks (including two vocal pieces). All of the music promotes different styles and forms, too, so there’s something for everyone regardless of your musical tastes and the choice is only expanded further by a propritious number of remixes that become available as you play further.
All this is very well and good, but it amounts to naught if the racing itself is absolutely excruciating and appalling. Happily, though, OutRun 2 certainly doesn’t disappoint. There’s a genuine and honest sense of speed as your car throbs with power, and the handling of the vehicles is tight, secure and consistent. More importantly, though, this game is challenging. A flaw of a lot of racing games is that some players can just slam down the accelerator and expect to come through anything - not so in OutRun 2. This games no less than demands skill, sense and control - if you don’t know how to powerslide, you’ll be hard-pressed to manage past the third corner. The courses are also quite demanding, hurling hooks, chicaines, twists and hairpins at you with eye-weltering fury without barely a pause for thought. The computer is also relentless in the Rival Races - there’s no such thing as leaving people for dust, as opposing vehicles will be hounding, harrying and nipping at the heels of the leader throughout the entire race, and one error can slam you to the back of the grid before you’ve even had time to blink. This may sound punitive, but the description should rather be “harsh but fair” - the difficulty level is demanding, but when you fail it’s your own fault and not because the computer’s cheating.
OutRun 2 is, of course, a conversion of an arcade game, and that imports the encumbering baggage of some negative prejudices - that it’s designed only for short blasts, fun for five minutes but shallower than a puddle in the Sahara. Yet I can tell you that this game has eaten up hour after hour of my time, and that is because OutRun 2 is so much more than a simple arcade game. The basic arcade OutRun Mode is compelling enough, and the Time Attacks are par for the course as far as racers are concerned, but in addition to this you can enjoy the entertainingly varied Heart Attack Mode, where your success depends on your abilities to woo the girls with your skills rising to challenges set throughout the journey (incidentally, is it wrong to feel attracted to a computer-generated person?). The OutRun Challenges, however, are what truly allows this game to be so absorbing, imparting a hundred-and-one separate missions with entertainingly varied objectives (ranging from having to work out arithmetic sums whilst dodging traffic, or photographing hearts in the countryside about you) that also exert a truly stupendous degree of pressure on your driving ability if you want to succeed. It’s not merely an aside, either, because good performance here provides you with additional cars, music tracks, routes to play in Rival Races and even Ferrari merchandise (only photographs, unfortunately, but it’s still a nice thought!). There’s even an emulated version of the original OutRun available for the persevering OutRuner to unlock and enjoy.
There’s no split-screen two-player mode (given the amount of graphical detail in OutRun 2 it would have been difficult to make feasible without having the console explode), but you can link-up X-Boxes and also participate in races over X-Box Live. I may not have as much to comment about here, but that’s because it gives you all the joy of OutRun 2 with the additional pleasure of experiencing it with a friend (and beating him into the ground, naturally!).
We tend to associate emotional impact with story-driven games that typify the RPG genre. Yet OutRun 2 is so transcendent that it’s made me roar with rage and whoop with joy, cry with shame and sing with pride, scowl in fury and weep with pleasure all in one session, and each one is welcomed and cherished by my mind and heart alike. OutRun 2 is captivating.
Take it out for a spin. There’s lots to see during The Beautiful Journey…!