Driving games, as a genre, may be as oversubscribed as the clichZ goes, but they're becoming harder and harder to pin down. Into just what kind of pigeonhole does Burnout 3's turbo orgy of destruction fit? Third/firstperson risk-based action combat racer? Interactive snuff porn for metallurgists? There's no longer any pigeonhole, bar the one it's carved for itself. Modern driving games carry personality beyond genre, possibly thanks to the need to stand out from the crowd. And so it is to OutRun 2, which is as much a driving game as Ikaruga is a shoot 'em up; it is, of course, but that definition alone does the game weak justice. OutRun 2 is Sega at its best - uncompromising, disciplined and coolly brilliant - as much as it was when the original OutRun seduced a generation of gamers.
OutRun 2 is manna for powerslide fetishists. It's built around a simple, but effective, idea - the ability to perform supernaturally long and severe powerslides with little loss of speed. In Ferraris. Around supernaturally long and severe bends. In Ferraris. It's not so much a one-note mechanic, though, as a one-inch punch of game design - snappy and compact, and the better for it.
OutRun 2's arcade mode is represented by a fine conversion from UK devco Sumo, with gleaming roadside detail that's pretty enough to impress but repetitive enough to never cause too much of a distraction. The Heart Attack mode lends the game's diverging 15-track structure another burst of life, as players amass love hearts by performing tasks dictated by the (surprisingly aggressive) female passenger. OutRun 2's main mode is deceptively subtle, packing a lot of slight strategy into what first appear to be shallow, pointlessly overblown and brutally unrefined powerslides. A gentle tug on the brake is enough to send your vehicle into a sweeping skid that, through judicious steering, can be used to change lanes or clip the apex while your car is nearly side on to the screen. That subtlety can be hard to detect and direct, but it's brought home deftly by OutRun Challenge Mode, a cavernous series of mini-missions and tasks.
The challenges themselves, at least initially, are excellent. Imaginative without feeling like novelties, and challenging without feeling cheap, they're built around the game instead of being mindlessly dropped in. One style of challenge has you taking bends at the optimum angle at which to photograph nearby giant heart balloons. Other fiendish missions require the player to multitask heavily, memorising a series of fruits or perform arithmetic as they drive; it's these mind-tearing challenges that prove some of the more compulsive as your aching synapses refuse to be beaten by what is the videogame equivalent of rubbing your stomach while patting your head. Even the less outrageous challenges prove consuming as you find yourself eager for a new excuse to squeeze out ever more graceful slides. The reward structure and the sheer proliferation of bonuses - new cars, tunes, reverse tracks and even whole multi-part special stages based on certain other Sega racing games - only add to the initial addiction.
The latter stages of the mission mode do grate, however. They're just coarse elongations of earlier tasks, and they can become crushingly hard, with a single mistake forcing a restart and minutes of play to be wasted. And it means that, while Sumo has made a valiant attempt at extending the longevity of the game, it can only postpone the feeling of limitation for so long; OutRun 2 breathes ample life into a single idea and the mission mode takes it to its logical conclusion, but the feeling of repetition during extended play is inevitable. The harsh criteria for progression doesn't help matters: grades vary from A to E, with AA and AAA available for masterful performances - but the minimum grade required to pass a stage is A. Project Gotham Racing 2's flexible difficulty gradient, where skill is rewarded but lack of it isn't punished, would be far more welcome. The frustration isn't helped, either, by the sensation of persecution that results from the player seemingly left worse off for any collision with a rival, regardless of whether you're ramming or being rammed.
Still, OutRun 2's heady caricature of driving is some kind of high-water mark for how much beautifully slick, instantly fluid and, thanks to the excellent use of joypad rumble, gloriously tangible play can be squeezed into five minutes of flamboyant autoerotica. The only thing it's bothered with simulating is uninhibited and gratifying videogaming, even though it's a thrill whose long-term hooks are limited to high-score whittling. Regardless of genre or pigeonhole, OutRun 2 is in excellent company, comparable to anything offered by the best of the Ridge Racer series and, fittingly, any of Sega's most memorable racing games.
OutRun 2 powerslides into the shops on 1 October