Developer: Sumo Digital
Release Date: April 15, 2009
It comes as somewhat of a surprise that it's taken three and a half years for Outrun Online Arcade to make its way to the Xbox Live Arcade. Even more surprising is that the version of Outrun we're getting isn't the original 1986 arcade game. While it's a little disappointing that we're not getting a brand-new Outrun title, getting a port of what appears to be Outrun 2SP is the next best thing.
I cannot imagine what kind of gamer would have managed to miss Outrun, but for those select few, Outrun is an arcade racing game in which you race against the clock more so than racing against other cars. In a fancy Ferrari, you will drive across five different stages as quickly as possible, drifting around turns, dodging other traffic, and showing off in the name of impressing the incredibly demanding blonde woman in the passenger seat. Each stage lasts for about a minute of driving, and at the end of it you need to choose to go toward the easier stage or the harder stage. With five stages worth of driving to deal with here, you have a total of five different endings and 15 total stages through which to drive.
Fifteen stages that last for 15 minutes of driving sound pretty light by anyone's standards for a driving game these days, but it's a testament to how well the 23-year-old formula of Outrun holds up that the 15 stages, split up into five-minute gameplay sessions, still remain a blast to play to this day. The driving, while as far removed from reality as possible, remains just as entertaining as its always been, and while the five-minute gameplay sessions don't really make for a title that's fun to sit down and play for hours at a time, the setup of the XBLA edition of Outrun is a fantastic way to kill 20 minutes.
Outrun would get old very quickly if the standard Outrun mode was all that came with the game. Thankfully, the Heart Attack mode introduced in Outrun 2 has made the cut. While in Heart Attack, you're still driving obscenely fast over five courses, and the focus has changed from making it to the goal on time (which you still need to do) to impressing your girlfriend. At several points in each stage, your girlfriend will make a request of you. Sometimes it may be as simple as passing by a lot of cars. Other times, it may be a bit bizarre, such as when the road is suddenly littered with coins that you have to pick up. Each time a task comes up, you're graded on how well you perform it. The optimal grade is AAA, and there is an Achievement to work toward if you can manage to get AAA on every request that your girlfriend makes over the course of a single play session. While Heart Attack sessions also last for all of five minutes, there's significantly more replay value here because the scoring system feels much more involved than the main Outrun mode, so most players will want to come back to get those high scores.
Rounding out the game modes is a Time Attack mode that grades you solely based on how quickly you can complete the five courses. Finally, if you feel you're willing to sit down through 15 minutes at once, you can tackle all 15 courses at once in both Outrun and Time Attack modes. None of these modes are particularly compelling, and you'll probably be done with them after one or two plays of each.
One of the things that fans were looking forward to with Outrun Online Arcade was the addition of online play. Finally, we'd be able to race against something other than the clock. Real people, real competition — it sounds like it would make the Outrun formula fresh again … except it's not new. Online has been in Outrun before, and it ends up feeling more like a nice afterthought rather than something that's been fully developed. Races top out at six players, and that's all there is: six cars and a five-minute track in front of you. The route is determined before the race even starts, all the traffic has been removed, decreasing the intensity of the racing, and even collisions with other players can be turned on and off. While I never saw this, apparently there were many problems with the online ranked match mode when the game was first released; since then, a patch has been released to remove ranked matches from online play. With that patch, the game may play reasonably smoothly online, there isn't a ton of fun to be had with the way it's set up.
At least Outrun Online Arcade looks good for a arcade title. As far as I can tell, the game is a port of the PS2 version, and it holds up pretty well. While it obviously doesn't stand up to any retail game for the 360, compared to the usual basic 3-D or 2-D graphics employed by most arcade games, 720p output of a PS2 title looks spectacular for an arcade game. The eight different Ferraris you can drive look fantastic, with environmental reflections and a high level of detail to them. The environments get the job done, whether you're driving through a bright and flashy casino town or on the Golden Gate Bridge, the detail is usually fine for something that you'll be driving past at 200 miles an hour. My only gripe is that the port could stand some optimization. When things start to get a little hectic on-screen, especially in the casino town stage, the game will start to chug and the frame rate will go into the single digits for a few seconds. In a game that's all about split-second reactions, frame rate hiccups like that can ruin the experience. Overall, though, Outrun is one of the more visually impressive titles on the arcade.
The sound is about what you'd expect from an arcade game. Up-to-date versions of the three songs found in the original Outrun are here, as well as the four new songs that showed up in Outrun 2. I find those four songs to be the more fitting of the bunch, although I can't say they're anything I'd be willing to listen to outside of the game. Otherwise, you get just about everything you'd expect: loud beeps to confirm things, terrible voice acting and mediocre audio mixing. If nothing else, the sound gets the job done, and it never got on my nerves, which is more than I can say about a lot of games that I've played.
Outrun Online Arcade is largely the same game that it's been for the last 23 years, which is to say that it's a simple and fun arcade racer that works great as a time killer, but it's nothing that's going to entertain for hours at a time. It looks good, plays great, sounds OK, and has just enough replay value to keep you coming back for more every now and then (Heart Attack mode, I'm looking at you). While the online portion fails to amount to anything worthwhile, the game as a whole is still a worth a look. It's not the best Outrun game ever released (that goes to Outrun 2006: Coast to Coast), but for $10, it's hard to go wrong with this edition.
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