Outrun Online Arcade is Outrun. More specifically, it’s basically a stripped-down version of Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast, which is no bad thing as Coast 2 Coast was (and indeed, still is) wonderful, and remains probably the happiest game based on domestic abuse I’ve ever seen.
For the uninitiated, Outrun doesn’t worry about realistic handling. Outrun doesn’t worry about realistic anything, really. From the way cars bounce off walls with only a small speed drop to the huge one-way courses, this is a game based around pure breakneck pace and looking stylish while doing it.
Both of these things are flawless. The pace is as fast as it ever was, with pretty much every car capable of cornering at 180mph, albeit mostly through insane drifting, but none of this is particularly difficult. Drifting is a simple matter of tapping the brake while turning, so haring through the fifteen environments at high speeds doesn’t require much in the way of muscle memory.
Those fifteen courses, too, are beautiful. Admittedly some of the textures are a bit off, and if you stop and stare then you’ll doubtless find flaws, but if you stop and stare you’re doing it wrong. When you’re bombing down a beachfront at a silly speed, or cornering rakishly through a jungle, all you get is the wonderful impression of the beautiful panorama around you, helped largely by an emphasis on big shapes and vibrant colours rather than tiny details.
Come to think of it, even the courses bear very little resemblance to reality. When was the last time you drove through a beachfront paradise, hopped onto the motorway for about two miles, and within the next five minutes had gone through a national park, a canyon, an ice floe, and then a floral village? All with big wide roads that have manageable curves and a lot of traffic, naturally.
I love Outrun. And that’s why Outrun Online Arcade is a bit of a disappointment.
In part, it’s because of what I expect from the series. You can still choose your own route through the fifteen courses to get to one of five end locations, you’ve still got the Heart Attack mode in which your girlfriend makes demands (“Drift more!” or “Hit the blue cones!” or “Don’t hit anything!” or…) that you must fulfil to make her happy and score points, and Time Trial is present and correct. You’ve got an endurance race which takes you through every single one of the fifteen courses in a row. Splash Wave is still on the soundtrack, which makes me happy.
What you don’t have is anything in the way of unlockables, or much in the way of references to the past. Previously, the Outrun 2 series had things like collectable cards, or unlockable cars, or the original music. Here, everything is open from the off. The cars have been rebalanced in such a way that it’s hard to tell much of a difference between them, and there’s no original arcade version of Magical Sound Shower. There’s no Outrun Miles from Coast 2 Coast that basically rewarded you for driving, no matter how badly you did.
The multiplayer, too, is a tad broken. I had one or two solid games with a low latency, but attempts to play with Americans – who appear to be the majority of the players – led to crippling lag problems, to the extent that the second course never loaded, leaving me floating in a blue sky and ramming into invisible walls. There are even a few problems with slowdown, most prominently in Heart Attack mode.
But sod it, because this is Outrun.
There aren’t many games I’d call “relaxing.” Outrun is one of them. It’s beautiful, it’s fast, it’s happy, and it has such a feeling of pure fun about it that there’s little stress involved. You’ve got tight time limits, but you don’t panic about them. You’ve got a hairpin coming up, but you can drift around it. Outrun is all about the sheer enjoyment, and the brightness of the environments and happiness of the upbeat soundtrack contribute to making that feeling of enjoyment overwhelming.
If you have a soul and haven’t bought Outrun 2 or Outrun 2006, you’ll ignore the score below and buy it anyway. If you have a soul and own one of them but haven’t played them in awhile, you’ll ignore the score below and buy it anyway. I’m making a plea to ignore the numbers and read the text. The score breaks my heart, because considering the flaws it reflects the quality of what’s on offer, but it doesn’t reflect how much I love this brilliant series. This might not be the best Outrun game, but all the things that really matter – the courses, the speed, the drifting – are present and correct. This game makes me feel good about the world.
Even though your incredibly demanding in-game girlfriend beats the shit out of you if you lose.