Outrun Online Arcade Review (Xbox 360)
Longtime fans of the racing genre no doubt have some experience with Sega and its storehouse of legendary arcade racers. After all, there was the original OutRun cabinet that used to line the walls of Dairy Queens and Pizza Huts in the 1980s, the Daytona USA multi-cabinet grids that would rake in quarters at skating rinks and putt-putt golf courses, and the more niche Sega Rally games that eventually crept into the then-massive Chuck E. Cheese franchise.
Simply put, the company's presence in the arcades over the last two decades has helped to create lasting memories for those who are old enough to recall a time when arcades had more to offer than an endless number of Dance Dance Revolution and Deer Hunter variants.
It came as no surprise, then, to see that OutRun Online Arcade, a port of Sega's most recent update to the classic arcade racer, quickly found its way to the top of the Xbox Live Arcade "most popular titles" list during the week of its April 15 release.
However, now that the new car smell has become less potent and the shine of the initial wax job has started to fade away, does OutRun Online Arcade still have enough gas in its tank to last more than a few laps on an Xbox 360 circuit that is already crowded with a number of talented racers?
The answer, for most gamers, will likely be no. While OutRun Online Arcade is a fun title, it is also chock full of technical issues and does not have enough gameplay modes to compete with Xbox 360 veterans like Burnout Paradise, Forza 2, Project Gotham Racing 4 or even the backwards-compatible release of OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast -- just to name a few of the system’s top-ranked racers.
While some might argue that it is unfair to compare a $10 arcade game to a full-featured retail release, the comparison seems just in this instance, given that virtually all of the Xbox 360’s top racers can, at this point, be had for about that same $10 price -- if not cheaper in the case of Forza 2 and PGR4.
But the real problem is not that OutRun Online Arcade simply lacks the features of its competitors, the issue is that, unlike older entries in the series, this latest version of OutRun does not have the same charm or personality to make up for its lack of options.
Like the girlfriend sitting in the Ferrari's passenger seat, OutRun Online Arcade is long on looks but short on substance.
Since OutRun has always marketed itself as more of "driving" game than a "racing" game, part of the series' appeal was that it was always a thrill to step behind the wheel and take one of the game’s high-performance sports cars out for a trip through exotic, European locales.
While the beach, canyon and mountain paths are all accounted for in OutRun Online Arcade, the forms they have taken this time around make them feel more like drives down memory lane and less like exciting trips through unexplored territories.
The game's colors may be bright, and its lighting effects may be in full bloom, but the creativity of OutRun Online Arcade's course designs is completely bare. And, no background, no matter how high the polygon count or how sharp the rendering, can match the personality of the game’s classic Coconut Beach stage.
There are also no twists or turns in the game’s miles of generic roads that feel as sharp or as dangerous as the curves from OutRun tracks of old. Instead, OutRun Online Arcade’s courses all have a sort of sterile, plastic look. Basically, it makes me feel like I am simply stepping into a computer booth and driving through a "generic locale simulator" rather than hopping into a rented Ferrari and driving across the countryside.
Yet, as much of a ghost town the single-player portion of the game sometimes feels like, the multiplayer experience feels even lonelier. This is all because Sumo Digital, the company responsible for OutRun’s recent resurrection on the Xbox and Xbox 360, has decided to completely remove pedestrian traffic from the game’s online play.
Presumably, the exclusion of traffic in the multiplayer modes was a means of curtailing the latency inherent to six-player online races -- which for the record, do run pretty well on connections with a "moderate" or "open" NAT -- but in reality, all the removal of traffic really does is reduce the game’s signature character.
Without traffic, a major part of OutRun Online Arcade’s gameplay formula (slipstreaming) gets tossed right out the window. So instead of weaving in between slow-moving cars and trucks, players spend the majority of multiplayer races driving in straight or slightly curved lines, with only the occasional drift to alleviate the onset of boredom.
Not included in the game's soundtrack (but probably should be): James Taylor's "That Lonesome Road"
With multiplayer being somewhat of a bust, all that leaves, aside from the standard arcade mode, is the fairly innovative Heart Attack mode and the more pedestrian Time Attack mode.
What really sells the Heart Attack mode is its personality –- it is the one place where the signature style still shines through –- lending new excitement to OutRun Online Arcade’s bland course designs by having the in-car girlfriend call out various tasks for the driver to accomplish. She will yell things like, "knock down the cones" or "stay inside the painted area" as the car passes through gates, and the driver receives grades for how effectively he has satisfied the girlfriend’s demands.
Unfortunately, for as cool a concept as Heart Attack mode is, its execution completely fails thanks to the mess of slowdown and frame-skipping specific to the mode, which essentially negates any of the excitement that the mode is able to generate.
Even Time Attack mode, as well-executed as it is -- complete with leaderboards and rival ghosts to race against -- seems limited in its appeal to the hardcore fans of the series who are not interested so much in the game’s "driving" experience but rather its "racing" side.
Ultimately, for "driving" and "racing" fans alike, there are better games to spend $10 on both outside the OutRun series (Forza, Burnout) and inside it (OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast), which makes it difficult to recommend OutRun Online Arcade to anyone but the hardcore Time Attack fans.
And if series-creator Yu Suzuki was still around, I am sure he would be upset to see that this version of OutRun has completely lost its mainstream appeal.
On the Pavement: Drifting around corners and slipstreaming through traffic is as fun as ever. Unfortunately, half of that fun (slipstreaming) gets thrown out the window in the online races.
Graphics: Much like the series' iconic, in-car girlfriend, this version of OutRun is a real "looker," only with little in the way of actual substance or personality.
Sound: The classic OutRun remixes will get you pumped, but the newer songs will make you cringe. Also, the overall lack of music to choose from (seven songs in total) and inability to switch songs mid-race will have most players firing up a custom soundtrack in a matter of minutes.
Online: Despite Sumo's good intentions of keeping the online as lag-free as possible, it's just not OutRun without the traffic. And since the game's simplistic course designs aren't lively enough to keep the online races entertaining sans traffic, online play is essentially a bust.
Entertainment Value: The hardcore Time Attack fans will get more than enough value out of their $10 purchase; everyone else should consider some of the 360's other top racers.
Learning Curve: No brakes needed here, just learn how to drift and you can keep the accelerator glued down from start to finish.
Score: 7.0 (Good)