This next game o’ the’ decade is a racing game and it’s one of the most entertaining, accessible and, above-all, fast racing games I’ve played. Strictly-speaking, I’ve chosen Outrun 2006: Coast to Coast because, for me, it pips the original Outrun 2 but only just and most of the things I’m going to mention in this article apply to both.
You know the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” Well, the people behind Outrun 2 took that to heart and thank flippity-flop they did.
The original Outrun arcade game was a sensation when it first appeared in 1986. Basically, the player controlled a Ferrari Testarossa (unofficially, at least, Wikipedia claims that the game was never licensed and the likeness of the Italian supercar was used anyway) as it sped along five successive courses (which, with the exception of the first were chosen by the player as the road forks at the end of each course giving two separate options and meaning there are various routes through the game and several different endings) against a time limit; if a course is completed before time runs out then the timer is extended, if not then it’s Game Over. Whilst bombing along the roads trying to beat the clock the player also had to contend with other vehicles (all driving in the same direction as the player, interestingly enough) and try not to crash into them or, indeed, the roadside scenery as doing so would cause the car to either spin or, in the case of a serious crash, to flip into the air in a still-impressive bit of animation leaving the driver and his girlfriend sitting dazed on the road.
That’s basically it – this was a pedal-to-the-metal driving game; there wasn’t very much call for careful racing lines and realistic car handling as seen in most modern driving game which take more after the Playstation smash-hit Gran Turismo. And yet, when Outrun 2 appeared in 2003 it might have had all the fancy trappings of 21st century gaming but it played more like the original than the realistic racing games that were most of its contemporaries for which we all ought to be thankful.
Something that strikes you about the original Outrun when you play it even today – it’s fast, really really motherfunking fast. This is one of the reasons that the various home computer versions, which appeared in 1987 following the success of the arcade game, were so disappointing – they couldn’t possibly recreate the arcade game’s sense of speed. One of Outrun 2‘s main joys is that it has the original arcade game’s exhillarating sensation of rushing headlong along a long, winding road through some stupendously beautiful, almost fantastical, scenery. It handles a little more realistically than the original and there are (optional) manual gears but in its heart this is the same game that appeared in the arcades in the mid-80s. Add to this brilliant extra features, challenges and unlockables on the home console versions (including new courses, from the Outrun SP arcade game, on the Coast to Coast release) and an all-new “powerdrift” dimension to driving which allows the player to drift at collossal speeds around sharp bends (highly unrealistic, if exhillarating, which is why you’ll never see it in Gran Turismo) and you have one of the most enjoyable driving games yet seen.
Outrun 2 can probably be picked-up for a few quid second-hand for XBox or PS2 these days and, if you can’t do that, then there’s always the new version on XBox Live Arcade. Whatever version you get, it’s worth owning if you pine for the days of old-fashioned arcade-style racing when the only gears were “high” and “low” and when the brake pedal sat largely-neglected underfoot.