The New Outrun

Author’s note:  this article was written in 2004, originally designed to appear in ugvm07.  It didn’t appear then, nor in the Christmas special, nor in ugvm08.  It was written before Outrun 2 had been released, and in fact the arcade game was first announced just as the article was finished.  Everything’s moved on significantly since then.  So, is this article redundant?  We’re publishing it for the same reason that Edge has recently reprinted material from its first three years, and GamesTM has reprinted its reviews and retro features.  It gives an insight into videogaming history, of how genres can evolve and die out, only to be revived.  We hope you enjoy it as such.

Magical Sound Shower.  The tune bops along without a care in the world, elegant pauses from time to time to remind you that it’s not in a hurry.

But you are.  Pelting down the road in your red Ferra…generic sports car, weaving in and out of traffic.  Under huge stone pillar-type things.  By the side of the sea, over bridges, past odd fuzzy huts at the side of the road. Don’t crash, or you and your pretty lady friend get thrown out the car – you’re not wearing a seatbelt.  But you’re not going to crash.  Past that blue Pors…other generic sports car.  Past that grey saloon.  Get to the end of the stage – will you go left or right?  Better choose quickly …

Outrun is a landmark in arcade gaming.  It’s a formula that many games have tried to copy, but most come nowhere near.  The home conversions of Outrun were originally on underpowered hardware, but recently near-arcade-perfect versions have cropped up on the Saturn, on the Dreamcast (in Shenmue 2), and on the Gameboy Advance.  For now, we don’t care about them.  We want to know: what is the new Outrun?

Lotus Turbo Challenge (Megadrive)

Graphically, it’s great.  OK, so the Lotus isn’t exactly the most exciting car ever, especially when viewed from the back.  And given that every other car on the road is also a Lotus, and you’re actually supposedly racing them instead of just avoiding them, there’s already a distinct difference from Outrun.

It’s fun to play though, and the time limits are tight enough to create a great deal of panic, while still being possible.  The changes in scenery are lovely, but you don’t get to choose where you race.  But … it’s just a bit soulless.  There’s none of the free-riding coolness.  This is not the new Outrun.

Daytona USA (Arcade)

Everyone knows the tune.  Daytona!  Let’s go away.  But nobody does go away – instead, people clamour to be the next to play one of Sega’s finest games.  Time limits are present, and towards the end of a race, they get pretty tight – this is, after all, an arcade game, and it’s designed to keep the money rolling in.

But you’re not racing the clock so much as racing a field of 39 other cars. You can get to the finish line, but why bother if you’re just going to come 15th?  You don’t want to just avoid the other cars, you want to beat them. It’s frantic, stressful, and as a result this is not the new Outrun.

Ridge Racer (Arcade/PS)

Perhaps the biggest game on the Playstation when it was first released, and you can see why.  Superbly good graphical effects and a great game, even if there is only one track and a distinct lack of balanced opposition.  Like Daytona, you’re racing the clock, you’re in the sunshine, and your game’s never going to last long.  Unlike Daytona, you’re able to relax, and enjoy the scenery.

In fact, you’re relaxing too much.  You recognise the track, there’s no reason to get further and push yourself to the limit.  It’s not cool just to be seen on the last lap, because it’s easy to get there.  You have to prove yourself outside the game, and not be totally immersed in it.  This is, therefore, not the new Outrun.

V-Rally (PS/PC)

It’s a rally game?  Maybe, but the similarities to Outrun are there.  By default, you’re up against the clock in a single-player mode – that’s how rallies are run.  You have to stay to the centre of the road, sliding around corners, but it’s too easy to lose control.  There are no other cars on the road.  Your vehicle tips over like it’s made of paper, and sometimes it rains.  You’re made to feel miserable,  and due to that more than anything else, this is not the new Outrun.

Daytona USA (Saturn)

It’s not a bad game.  But it’s a travesty.  Graphics are dire, music is fuzzy (though the actual music’s great), and handling is too tricky to adapt to.  You’re racing against other cars and the timer, which means there’s none of the simplistic watching the clock of Outrun – you have to try and overtake certain other cars and prevent them overtaking you.  Granted, the sun’s shining, there’s seagulls and grass, but this is nothing like the new Outrun.

Sega Rally (Arcade/Saturn)

One direct opponent car – one bad mark already.  But with a game this refined, and this much fun, that doesn’t matter.  Sega Rally shares many qualities with Outrun – the handling of the car, the sun, the ambiance of the racing – that it captures the pure fun element in that game.  It’s relaxed and frantic at the same time – you can powerslide around a corner without a care in the world, but you’ve got to be thinking of how to straighten up for the next section.  You can look cool playing it, and you feel cool playing it.

This is quite close to being the new Outrun.  But it’s not, because it works best as a two-player game, and it’s lap-based, and you don’t get to choose your progression through stages.  Close, though.

Sega Rally 2 (Arcade/Dreamcast)

It’s not as good as the Saturn original.  This is not the new Outrun, by any means.

Burnout (GC/PS2/Xbox)

No Rage Racer?  No Daytona 2001?  No F-Zero X?  No.  Fine games, yes, but none of them are the new Outrun.  Burnout, on the other hand … almost is. There are a number of areas where the games are wildly different – you have cars you’re racing against, you race around laps of the circuit, you have a boost meter which you build up by driving dangerously.  Burnout’s music isn’t a shade on Outrun’s.  The setting is hardly utopian, and there’s no girl in the car.  So why is it that many have seen Burnout to be the nearest to Outrun we’ve seen of late?  Maybe it’s the entire ethos of driving close to traffic, aiming for style over technically perfect driving.  Maybe it’s the spectacular crashes, with your car flying and spinning and skidding. Maybe it’s the fact that you need to relax while driving, so the game flows and you don’t panic.

Burnout, and its sequel, are superb games.   If it wasn’t for the stupidly tight time limits on some of the tracks, and the fact that the computer cars don’t seem to need to abide by these limits, this could be the new Outrun.

F-Zero GX/AX (GC/Arcade)

Set in the future, hovering “cars”, gameplay involving destroying competing cars as well as just overtaking them.  Not the ideal candidate for this article, surely?  Indeed not.  However, when F-Zero AX/GX was being developed by Amusement Vision, much was made of the “rhythm” in the game – corners last for the right amount of time, you weave left and right in time, and the whole experience takes you in.  In this way at least, the game is reminiscent of Sega’s 80s classic, but in every other way this is not the new Outrun.

Outrun 2 (Arcade)

Well, obviously this should be the new Outrun.  Expectations are high.

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