OutRun Online Arcade
A name is a wonderful thing, a descriptive name is ever better. I don't know about you but I get more than a little tired of the convoluted titles some games appear under. Street Fighter has only recently hit number four despite it actually being approximately the five hundredth in the series and every other sequel these days seems to need a longwinded subtitle rather than a simple numerical increase. So, it's refreshing to find that the latest Outrun game has eschewed such silliness and instead kept things pleasingly descriptive. OutRun Online Arcade as it's known, is an OutRun game that plays the same as the arcade version and allows you to race online. See, easy isn't it.
As an impulse buy-priced XBLA download it's very much a streamlined, no frills, OutRun which proves to be both a good and bad thing. While it's hitting home consoles under a new (and perfect) name OutRun Online Arcade is actually a home conversion of the Outrun 2 SP arcade machine which itself was simply OutRun 2 with new American-themed courses and a slipstreaming mechanic.
Anyone familiar with the arcade version, or indeed arcade racers in general, will be right at home from the off here. Pick from one of ten licensed Ferraris (all unlocked from the outset and available in normal or 'tuned' varieties), choose a transmission type and some music (all horrible if you ask me) then away you go.
OutRun is a simple A to B against the clock racer, hit the checkpoints to extend your time, mess up and let the clock run down to zero and it's game over. One thing slightly unusual about the OutRun games is their branching courses. At the end of each stage you'll come to a kind of motorway junction, take the left slip road and you'll drive into one track, take the right and you'll drive into another. This adds a welcome degree of replay value once as it broadens your options to get between the aforementioned A and B but in reality, other than varying the scenery, it doesn't offer much more in the long run.
In addition to the basic OutRun mode there's Time Attack, which includes ghost cars to race against, and Heart Attack mode which sees your in car girlfriend (this is OutRun remember) challenge you to meet certain objectives during the race. These aren't wildly inventive, ranging from things like coin collection and passing certain other cars to taking a particular line through corners, but they are a sliver of novelty in a game otherwise lacking in such things.
With a glaring lack of modern racing game bells and whistles it's crucial that the OutRun driving experience itself has remained enjoyable and thankfully, for the most part, it has. OutRun has always been far more about driving at high speed, weaving through traffic and sliding round corners than it has been about realism or simulation and that tradition is followed to the letter here. This is arcade racing at its purest where the break pedal is for wimps and you simply accelerate and steer. Think Ridge Racer with traffic, in a good way. There's a thrilling sense of speed when you get into the groove and the action can become strangely hypnotic as you weave and slide your way through the traffic to rival cars before slipstreaming them and waiting for a chance to pass.
The problem any OutRun game comes up against in this day and age is that there's simply no escaping the fact that it's not particularly sophisticated. The driving model can be pretty much mastered in a few minutes and there's only so long you can drift around corners at high speed and dodge traffic before it all starts to become a mite repetitive. This is accentuated in OOA by the fact that there's really nothing else to do, no change to the formula at all, once you get bored you'll probably stay that way as the game has nothing else to tempt you back with. While throwing everything it has in your face inside the first sixty seconds is essential in the arcades, where people need to be instantly gratified, it does wear a little thin after extended play in your front room where we've become so used to racers with a little more substance.
As one third of the title is keen to inform us this is OutRun taken online and good fun it is too although you can't avoid the feeling that more could have been done to beef this side of things up. Races can support up to six drivers while the host is able to tweak a few options, such as turning catch up on or off and allowing collisions, to give races a different flavour. While this all works well enough and is probably where the game is at its best (especially when played against friends), there's a disappointing lack of ranked races and other competition style options which curtails the competitive edge somewhat.
The OutRun 2 SP arcade machine this 360 version is based on is coming up for five years old now and showing its age in the graphics department. Sure the cars themselves have been given a new HD spruce up but that's barely papered over the cracks leaving scenery and track detail looking distinctly last generation. The collision detection, especially with the scenery, is also either very forgiving or very dated whichever way you want to look at it. To be fair it may be intentional, an arcade machine that doesn't virtually always bounce you back onto the track when you crash would probably be frustrating when you're paying a couple of quid a go, but sat in the comfort of your front room this forgiving nature comes across as dated.
If you've always fancied the idea of having the genuine OutRun arcade cabinet experience with added online support then OutRun Online Arcade does exactly what it says on the tin while managing to be a lot of fun to boot. Extended play shows up the limitations with the formula but to be fair, as the title explains, this is an online arcade experience and an aging one at that, so to expect Burnout Paradise or Grid is more than a little unfair. It's not perfect but taken for what it is there's a lot of fun to be had here, just don't expect the moon on a stick.