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OXM Retrospective: OutRun 2

Where better to start with OutRun 2 than the evocative words from one of its in-game songs? “Everything a surprise /Your beautiful machine never slows/Never stops/This was really neat!”

Hang on – that’s actually absolutely terrible. I completely forgot that OutRun 2’s song lyrics are silly enough to make your eardrums clamber out of your ears and dive onto the mute button themselves. Let’s do better.

OutRun 2 is a great big exclamation mark of a racing game that’s as pure a reimagining of Yu Suzuki’s 1986 original as it’s possible to imagine. It’s got its daddy’s big blue skies, and the same absolute dedication to speed, sights, silliness and samba. It’s not even a racing game really: just a drive from A to B (or A to E, as there are five stages in total) with nothing against you except a sprinkling of traffic and a central reservation between areas that panics me into a head-on collision with it every single time.

Booting it up again now, I’m dripping with bias. I grew up gawping at the then-astonishing OutRun 86 in the seaside arcades of North Wales - that glowing red Ferrari Testarossa, the hypercolour scenery tearing past, the static crash of breaking waves over the radio selection screen. So this sequel is a one-two punch of nostalgia – everything I loved about OutRun 2D, taken apart pixel by giant pixel and lovingly rebuilt in the quaint 3D triangles of the mid-2000s. And with a killer remix of Magical Sound Shower.

But even through the nostalgia goggles, OutRun’s driving has dated a bit, it’s true. The core mechanic – slingshotting your Ferrari around parabolic curves like you’re an Olympic ice skater rather than a bloke in a car – is still glorious. But we’ve all been spoiled by the constellation of missions and distractions that blankets the open maps of The Crew and Need for Speed. OutRun 2’s simple branching map – always starting with the same stretch, always with you moving steadily forwards (and sideways) – seems vaguely unfulfilling today. Even at the time, OutRun 2 was overtaken by the unstoppable juggernaut of Burnout.

But. Sumo Digital poured their hearts into this, knowing that a direct dump of SEGA’s arcade machine onto your home console wouldn’t do. Xbox OutRun 2 is more OutRun Squared – overflowing with mad modes and missions. Heart Attack mode grabbed attention at the time: your bonkers girlfriend sitting in the passenger seat and demanding you smash up traffic cones. But it’s the challenges that have stood the test of time: Sumo wringing every drop of fun from OutRun’s mechanics with 100-odd mini-missions of cone dodging, photo taking, and maths problem solving (no joke). There’s even – gasp – proper races.

Visually, OutRun 2 was a blast of fresh air straight into the eye-holes in 2004, arriving as it did in the midst of gaming’s Brown Era – when developers were backing a dumptruck full of mud and slate onto every game world. The vast skies and wide ocean views look a bit scratchy and flat now, sure. But it’s so fast, and so big somehow. It’s a camera trick, we think – a slightly fish-eye lens makes the turns go widescreen and the views stretch for miles. I’d completely forgotten about Cloudy Highland – it knocked me sideways again, with its oppressively low cloud layer that clears as you crest a hill to unveil what seems like the entirety of Scotland ahead.

That’s the thing: SEGA always wanted OutRun to be “the incredible journey”, and its sweeping harbours and sunset Colosseums and humbling rock chasms make for one heck of a holiday, even if the views are slightly marred now by the ageing polygons. There’s no better tribute to the staying power of AM2’s imagination than the genuine downer as you powerslide into the weakest stage, Industrial City – a bland bunch of realistic grey factories. That’s exactly the kind of thing your average 2014 racer would build an entire half of its map out of.

So in the resonant words of OutRun 2’s Night Flight: “This is paradise/It is very nice/Go as I dream all that’s come and gone/Yeah!” Ah, never mind.

Influenced by… Xbox itself, Arcade OutRun 2 ran on beefed-up Xbox hardware.

Influence on… Sonic & SEGA, All-Stars Racing, OutRun with weapons.

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