I'm going to throw a word at you now, and please take a moment to see how you react. Are you ready? Okay. Here it is - arcade. How does that make you feel? Warm and nostalgic maybe? Or perhaps you're too young for it to mean anything of any consequence whatsoever. Either way, here's what the word means to me. It doesn't really conjure up images of smoke filled rooms, populated with delinquent teenagers, though I have many memories of that nature. For me the word arcade represents a style of game, a design ethos, an ideal that whilst not especially fashionable today still holds dear many of the things that I love about gaming. Gradius V is an arcade game. So are Gungrave and Metal Slug. Games that can be enjoyed in short, sweet bursts. Games that don't require 80 hours to see through to their conclusion, but instead that can happily pad out the time between getting home and heading down the pub. Maybe this sentiment doesn't appeal to you, and if that's the case then fair enough. To me however, the ideals of arcade gaming are very dear. It's because of this that I absolutely adore Outrun 2. Why? Because it's as close as I've seen in a long time to being the perfect arcade game.
Forget expansive career modes, customisable vehicles and the current obsession with all things "bling". Outrun 2 is about the race, and it's all the better for it. You can also forget about the ideal braking point or adhering to the racing line. What we're talking about here is the art of the drift. In gameplay terms the closest comparison I can draw is with Super Mario Kart. Do you remember what it was like racing with Bowser or Donkey Kong, trying to shave hundredths of a second off your lap time on Ghost Circuit 1? Outrun 2 is like a modern day replication of this, except the cutesy Nintendo characters and scenarios are replaced with stunning backdrops and lots of sumptuous Ferrari's.
Whilst not as visually active and refined as the fantastic Burnout 3 (more on that comparison later) Outrun 2 has an immediately obvious yet thrillingly lush arcade feel to it. Backgrounds are bold, colourful and look every bit as wonderful on the Xbox as they did in the arcade original. Happy to hurl reality out of the window, a typical race will take you from sea swept beachside roads to ominous, shadow filled forests to arid desert swept vistas, and everything you can imagine in between. Later in the game you can expect to unlock even more quirky offerings that draw influence from Sega's rich gaming history. The same variety is not offered when it comes to cars, but as long as you're into Ferrari's you're quid's in. From the Enzo to the F50 amongst many others, over a dozen vehicles are on offer, some of which require unlocking. The differences in control are quite understated in comparison to the GT3's and TOCA 2's of this world, but differences in cornering ability, acceleration and top speed mean that choosing the right motor for the right course is often key to achieving a AAA time. Also great are the modern versions of the classic score that featured in the original and better still they're actually really decent - Magical Sound Shower in particular never sounded so good.
As much as Outrun 2 is an unashamed celebration of all things arcade, that's not to say that the game hasn't been enhanced for its Xbox incarnation. Alongside the traditional arcade modes (including the horrendously addictive Heart Breaker Mode) an added challenge mode offers a welcome addition to the line-up. 101 challenges await you that have you visiting each location on the sprawling Outrun map. Each level poses another challenge, varying from the more standard races and time trials to more adventurous game modes. One of the more memorable is a challenge that requires you to indulge in some relatively simple mental arithmetic whilst racing - subsequently you must drive through the gate brandishing the correct answer. It may be simple on paper, but try basic addition and subtraction when you're drifting around a corner at 180mph! So far my worst display is having an answer of 36 in my head, only to be offered a choice between 12 and 14 at the end, though in my (somewhat feeble) defence it was two in the morning and I had been playing for six hours.
Also on offer is Xbox Live, and whilst lacking the depth and brutal competition of Burnout 3, racing other people as opposed to CPU bots will always add an edge to a game. Catch-up can be turned on for a more competitive race or turned off so as to let skill be the greatest deciding factor. Also available are ranking tables for each track and downloadable ghosts so you can test your own skills against the best in the world. At the time of writing the lobbies are still feeling a little empty, but as soon as the title hits shelves Stateside expect this to change. Nonetheless, the somewhat shallow options still leave Burnout 3 as the premier online racer, though it is worth noting that unlike with the EA server, getting online with Outrun 2 is effortless and trouble free.
Criticisms are few and certainly there is nothing here of note that aggrieved me to any significant extent. Obviously proud of the official Ferrari license, Sega seem happy to ram it down your throat to a somewhat annoying extent. Completing missions in the Mission Mode unlocks cards, though unfortunately most of them constitute little more that listings of various Ferrari branded goods available on the firm's website. This quickly becomes annoying and as a result I began to ignore the cards very early on. It was only later that I discovered that some cards offer goodies such as extra vehicles, additional tracks and a great selection of new tunes, including exact versions of the arcade originals, cheesy Euro Remixes (not the highlight of the game by any means) and even some original offerings. It is true that the frame rate does on occasion drop ever so slightly, especially when racing online, but never to an extent where it seriously affects the game.
The big question though is how it compares to the other fantastic arcade racer that was recently released - Burnout 3. There's no denying that Burnout will most likely be the popular man's choice. It's a superb title and online it simply can't be beaten. Burnout also presses many of the right buttons; a huge career mode with multiple options and loads of unlockables, manic speed, lots of destruction and the typical big-budget EA presentation. However, for my money Outrun 2 is the superior game. Outrun is pure, not dressy. Unyielding, not snazzy. Although the two will be bracketed into the same category, they're really two very different beasts. It may take hours to unlock everything Criterion's title has to offer, but for those who value raw arcade gaming these man-hours can easily be plunged into Outrun 2 with equal rewards. Not in the hunt of unlockables you understand, but instead because of the thirst for the racing and that perfect lap time. It's true that Burnout 3 beats Outrun 2 online hands down, but if you're talking about racing and the total package, you'll find me standing by the Ferrari.
This title is a very rare breed - an arcade update of a treasured original that not only dignifies its memory but actually improves upon the formula. In much the same way that Doom 3 stayed loyal to the roots of Doom, Outrun 2 takes everything that was great about the original arcade classic, builds upon it and delivers a brilliant game that's a worthy successor. Forget about Halo 2 for the moment - now there's another reason why you really need to own an Xbox. When will those crazy Japanese realise what they're missing out on?