OutRun2 (Xbox) review
"Though your car flips end-over-end after a collision and lands on the roadway pointed exactly where you need to drive, such diversions cost you precious seconds you canít possibly afford to lose. While your female passenger looks at you and asks you what youíre doing, or if youíre going to give up, youíll find yourself mashing the accelerator in frustration, to no effect. But this isnít a flaw in the gameís design. It simply means you need to drive better."
I didnít even know that I wanted Sega to make OutRun2 until the announcement came that they were doing precisely that. Suddenly, it seemed like the perfect idea. Iíd certainly enjoyed the original, even in the form of the (likely butchered) Tandy port I played years ago. It was easy to see how playing that game in re-imagined form could be all sorts of cool. I kept a close eye on the game, right up to its release. Then, like just about everyone else, I didnít buy it. Until recently, that is. Spurred toward the purchase by the discís acceptable $20 price tag, I took the risk. Was it worth it? Most definitely!
The reason OutRun2 works is that it doesnít try abandoning everything that made the original so great. This isnít a Sonic rehash that suddenly plods along at a snailís pace between occasional bursts of speed. The heart of OutRun2 hasnít changed at all. You still speed away from the starting line amidst a cloud of smoke while the radio blasts the musical selection you chose. You still swerve your way through five legs of a race. Most importantly, you still choose the direction to take at three critical junctions. A trip through the arcade game can end in less time than it takes to complete a single track in some racers. This is precisely as it should be.
Yet there are additions, and Iíd be hard-pressed to find a flaw in any of them. The most noticeable wrinkle is the drift mode, which feels like it was borrowed directly from the Ridge Racer franchise. Head into a corner and youíre looking at lost time if you ease off the accelerator. Braking is the only way to go, but instead of stopping your car on a dime, it sends the vehicle into a drift. At this point, you must steer into the corner, hardly losing any speed at all as you continue to accelerate. Pulling out of such a maneuver is difficult, to be sure, but therein lies at least a portion of the gameís charm. The procedure seldom feels like a chore. Instead, youíll delight in getting just that slight edge on the competition. Or rather, the timer.
The timer is not your friend here. You start with 80 seconds on the clock (more if you drop the difficulty level, less if you raise it). Reaching the first checkpoint wonít be all that difficult, but from there things quickly grow more taxing. To make it through the whole race, you must avoid making even the minor errors that wouldn't matter in other games. Though your car flips end-over-end after a collision and lands on the roadway pointed exactly where you need to drive, such diversions cost you precious seconds you canít possibly afford to lose. While your female passenger looks at you and asks you what youíre doing, or if youíre going to give up, youíll find yourself mashing the accelerator in frustration, to no effect. But this isnít a flaw in the gameís design. It simply means you need to drive better.
And just when you overcome one challenge, thereís always another. Suppose youíve whipped through the game on one route. Youíve raced alongside castles in an English-looking countryside. Youíve watched sailboats slip across a glass-like bay. Maybe youíve sped through a thick forest, or along a desert area that looks like it came straight out of Egypt. All of these locations are melded seamlessly together, and itís good fun to see if you can drive well enough to experience them all.
Then you find that youíve done precisely that. Itís at this stage that lesser games would lay the cards on the table and walk away, satisfied that they managed a competent arcade-to-console port. However, that didnít happen here.
Besides the arcade mode, there are other diversions. Chief among these is the Challenge Mode. Itís a bonus that I didnít particularly care for (it can really suck up your time), yet it does a lot to add to the gameís longevity. Here you can unlock alternate vehicles (you start with four of eight available). Here you can challenge yourself to master drifts, to race elimination-style against the computer, and so forth. Youíre still racing on the same courses, but the new mode breathes new life into them all. And of course, there are time trial modes and multi-player options (including a system link, for those of you who are independently wealthy).
Sega also was kind enough to include an Xbox Live mode. I was excited at the prospect of playing against people online. I practiced up on the single-player area, familiarized myself with the whole system, then stepped online with nothing but anticipation. The lobby is competently designed. Itís easy to create a game and choose settings, or to just join a game someone else created. The problem I found was that no one else was online. When I say this, Iím being quite literal. I waited around for several minutes, tried creating my own lobby just in case. Nothing. Like one of the courses, OutRun2ís online realm is a ghost town.
Thatís sad. Thereís really no reason it should be the case. OutRun2 deserves better. With its solid racing engine and plenty of gorgeous environments in which to test the limits of your skill, the game is every bit the delight it should have been. Perhaps it just released at the wrong time. Maybe the moon wasnít properly aligned. Whatever the case, far too many gamers are passing by without giving this gem a second glance. Donít make the same mistake.
Staff review by Jason Venter (February 19, 2005)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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