Snotty girlfriend strikes back...
Yu Suzuki might have left as a game designer at Sega, potentially killing any hope for the release of the last chapters in his grand adventure series, Shenmue, but his established arcade franchise, OutRun, still lives on in OutRun Online Arcade.
[image1]Firmly based on two past Outrun releases for the original Xbox, the feeling of speed and simple yet fun gameplay of the arcade classic is retained in this downloadable title. This is a ten-dollar version of a game that would cost twice as much if it had been released through Xbox Live's original Xbox titles program - with a few conspicuously missing features and modes, but updated with HD graphics.
OutRun follows Suzuki's obsession with Ferrari - the man loves the manufacturer so much that he made two series based on it. Outrun is the arcade racing sibling to Ferrari F355 Challenge, which has an ultra-realistic approach to driving a red screamer on Gran Turismo tracks. What sets OutRun apart from other arcade racers, besides surviving for more than twenty years, is how it's played. In all the modes in the game, tracks are made of a continuous road that splits into different scenic paths, providing different options that vary in difficulty and the time it takes to complete the race.
Drifting is the name of the game in OutRun. The trick, however, is not just drifting for the sake of drifting, since it's immensely easy to pull it off, but when, where, and how long to drift. While it is possible to race without relying too much on drifting, it's the technique to master if you wish to reach better and better lap-times.
While retaining a strong arcade feel, the game has a slightly more realistic factor that can also be used to gain an upper hand in races: slipstreaming. By driving behind a speeding car for a certain amount of time, your speed increases, letting you make quicker passes and providing another source of extra points.
[image2]You'll get to drive, drift, and slipstream in a variety of Ferrari models - ranging from modern machines like the Enzo and F50, to older, classier types, like the 288 GTO and Testarrosa. Yes, your chance to relive your childhood fantasies of being Thomas S. Magnum is finally here (Higgins not included). Sadly, the omissions begin right at the car list, with two missing Ferrari models that used to be among the unlockables in past versions of the game. However, all cars are available off the bat, without the need to unlock them like before.
There's also the ability to choose from two types of driving in particular game modes - normal and tuned versions. Normal cars drive... uh... normally, with lower speeds, while tuned rides are faster but trickier to control. There's also the hilariously present stick shift or automatic transmission option to choose from, but seriously, when will you ever shift down gears in this game? This is true arcade racing - cars easily hit top speed, and stay there for practically the entire race - if you avoid messing up that is.
The lean, mean, Italian machines are put to the test in five game modes. OutRun mode is a race against time, with rival racers and common drivers cruising along the road, your road, that you'll need to pass. Time Attack mode is your run-of-the-mill time trial mode that rids the road of rivals and other cars but retains the multiple alternative forks on the track. Heart-Attack Mode turns your co-pilot girlfriend into a snotty brat that is not satisfied by you already driving an expensive ride, demanding you to complete various challenges, like passing a certain number of cars in a particular stretch of time [Should have been called PMS mode. ~Ed]. However, there's only one snotty girlfriend to choose from out of the three available in past games.
There's also a Continuous Race mode, split into a variation of OutRun mode and Time Attack, where all the sections are stitched one after another, in a long 15-stage race that is hard as hell to complete. Some of the extra stages featured in the second Xbox OutRun, Coast 2 Coast, and mirror versions of the tracks, are sadly absent. The optional challenges given to you by the flag carrier are also missing, but to be honest, they were boring back then and would probably be considered needless filling these days.
[image3]While not a new feature (OutRun 2 already had it on the original Xbox) there is an online portion to the game. It features the same style of play found in single-player OutRun mode, with up to six drivers racing against each other and the clock. Okay, mainly the clock, since touching any car lowers your speed dramatically. Besides slipstreaming and cursing over voice chat, it's a bad idea to mess with other racers during online races.
On the other hand, most of the time you won't get a chance to, due to horrible stability issues that lock the game on loading screens between the lobby and the actual race. Enjoying the online mode rests on the apparent coin toss of it working, rather than actual, skillful racing - which is a shame since when it does work, it's entertaining.
OutRun still looks great, considering the original OutRun 2 is a five-year old game already. The graphics received a slight up-scaling to HD, and the cars look shiny and squeaky clean. Lens flare and a slight light bloom are also present, making OutRun Online Arcade one of the better-looking 3D games on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network. Menus, as in most of Sega's titles, are still cheesy, with lots of gold and '90s-era voice samples.
Glaring, suspicious omissions and a mostly broken online multiplayer aside, OutRun Online Arcade is a solid conversion of an already fun arcade and Xbox game. Considering the original game, OutRun 2, and its pseudo-sequel OutRun 2: Coast 2 Coast used to cost fifty dollars a piece, and are now relatively difficult to track down, paying ten bucks is a steal. Even though Sega will probably try to make us fork over more cash for DLC additions for the missing modes and cars, it's still well worth having yet another heart attack while grinding a three hundred thousand dollar car down the track at 300 kilometers per hour. Now, if they'd only give the same treatment to Daytona USA...