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OutRun Online Arcade

11:2824/04/2009Posted by David Scammell5 Comments

In the late 90s and early 00s, the mere utterance of the phrase “arcade perfect” was enough to send a shiver down the spine of even the most apathetic gamer. It was a time when the pipedream of capturing the visual fidelity and thrill-a-minute gameplay of the arcade cabinet on your 14” portable was slowly becoming a reality. And it had all of us enthralled. Nowadays, of course, with the advances in home consoles removing the need for the once-superior arcade cabinet, those two words bear little meaning. But every once in a while something comes along that makes us pine for the days when the arcade was king; when the notion of five minute fun and sheer escapism was at the forefront of every developer’s mind.

outrun1OutRun Online Arcade is one such title. It’s a driving game that refuses to bow to the pressures of the modern day racer, instead choosing to play on its twenty-three year old heritage to great effect. It’s a game where the suggestion of racing lines and engine tuning is met with a raucous guffaw. A game where the idea of slowing down to take a corner is as well received as Fred Phelps at a Gay Pride parade. A game where the biggest decision you’ll have to make throughout is choosing which Ferrari you want to get behind the wheel of. OutRun is simple, but it’s oh so effective.

Of course, that’s always been the key to OutRun’s success. It’s a barebones arcade racer, stripped even of a starting grid filled with rival drivers. Instead, it builds a racing model based around the underlying principle of the arcade – that of keeping you captivated long enough to pinch every penny of your worth. The result is an inspired fusion of score chasing and against the clock racing, balanced perfectly by an in-game difficulty selector cunningly (and beautifully) disguised as a dynamically-changing route. Take a left at a road fork and you’ll be presented with an easier location, take the right and it’ll be slightly harder, filled with tighter bends and an increased level of traffic – aka more points. The idea of racing against the clock may not sound as riveting on paper as competing against other drivers, but when it’s implemented as well as it is here, it’s difficult to be critical.

outrun2Equally vital to OutRun’s success is the game’s sublime handling model, which despite being far from typical, is just as intuitive as it is exaggerated. Here, the brake pedal isn’t used to reduce your speed, but to swing your car at a 90 degree angle. Drifting has, of course, always been an OutRun staple, but in the twenty-three years since the original it’s been tweaked to within an inch of perfection. Its superb execution in Online Arcade makes driving an absolute pleasure; it’s the perfect videogame representation of a laid back Sunday drive, where you’re not just in it to beat your rivals to a finish line, you’re there to soak up the sun, take in the sights and feel the wind in your hair, all the while racking up a few extra points.

It’s disappointing, then, that we’re still recovering from the sun burn after having seen all the sights Online Arcade has to offer before. We were expecting to find a tired, worn-out concept simply put on the market to exploit naive HDTVers, and to an extent that’s what we found. Save for a slight graphical update and reinvigorated online community (we use the word reinvigorated lightly – during the course of writing this review we struggled to find an online lobby with more than two players present), there’s very little reason why any OutRun 2006 owner — a game which we must remind you is backwards compatible — would want to shell out the 800 MS Points required for Online Arcade.

outrun3It lacks any of the (few) extra features found in 2006, instead limiting itself to OutRun Mode, the game’s core race mode, a Time Attack option and Heart Attack Mode, which mixes up the racing by introducing challenges like driving through rings and overtaking vehicles. Heading online pits you up against five other drivers in a race to the finish, but there’s no reason to head back to it other than just for fun. Online Arcade is entertaining while it lasts, but unfortunately the game’s lack of content is undoubtedly its greatest downfall.

But perhaps we’re missing the point somewhat. Xbox LIVE Arcade is, after all, flooded with HD remakes of ‘fun for five minute’ classics, and it would be unjust of us to label OutRun as an exhausted concept – it is, after all, just as entertaining today as it always was. And should we really be complaining about a game’s longevity when it costs the equivalent of a couple of pints? Probably not. It’s a burst of sun-soaked, smile-inducing nostalgia, albeit a short-lived one.

So despite its promise of fast cars and buxom blondes suggesting otherwise, OutRun Online Arcade isn’t quite the game our dreams are made of, but it’s damn near close. While we hope that SEGA are holding back the much-needed content for a ‘proper’ next-gen revival, the world of OutRun has never looked quite so inviting and, more importantly, the race has never felt quite so good. The days of the arcade cabinet may very well be numbered, but its legacy certainly lives on.

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