There's nothing like a good, broad, sweeping statement to start off an argument so let's make it a big one: Modern video games have almost universally forgotten about the fundamental importance of movement. I'm talking about how it feels just to experience a game in motion. Super Mario 64 does it right. The original Sonic the Hedgehog does it right. And OutRun has been doing it right since 1986. By which I mean the original, then Turbo OutRun, then OutRunners (man, I love that game)… culminating in the series' magnificent pinnacle: OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast. But the successful realisation of that continuum was massively unlikely.
Think about it. I first experienced OutRun at the Sedgemoor Splash leisure pool in Bridgwater, England, sometime around 1987/88 (pretty sure my dad had to operate the pedals and hold me up so I could steer) and the mesmerizing sensation of pseudo-3D motion has never left me. The freedom of that analogue steering wheel, the scenery sliding by and the gorgeously smooth undulation of the track… they are forever embedded into my very being. But such landmark, formative gaming memories are problematic because: a) as you get older your critical appraisal becomes more objective and b) the 18 years between the two titles saw the biggest revolution in technology and game design we'll likely ever see. The likelihood of a new game living up to expectations is near zero.
Which is why a 3D sequel to OutRun seemed unlikely. In fact, I remember playing Crazy Taxi in 2000 and thinking that the highway section was incredibly reminiscent of OutRun (possibly deliberately)… but that actually it was the dullest part of that game. Like Spielberg making a modern sequel to E.T., maybe OutRun would be best left to stay awesome forever and not have its memory sullied by modern trends. Indeed, this was confirmed by the straight 3D remake of OutRun on PS2's Sega Classics Collection… which is abysmal (just look at it below). Some things should just be left alone.
But then the impossible happened. AM#2, the arcade development team responsible for the first game and headed up by Yu Suzuki (who has been every bit as important to our industry as Miyamoto, I don't care what anyone says), created a new, 3D OutRun for the arcades. It couldn't have been done in 3D any earlier as the technology wouldn't have done it justice. It managed to meet even my lofty expectations, but - even better - it was also only the beginning of this story.
The core gameplay of OutRun 2 is fundamentally identical to its 1986 father in that you drive as quickly as you can, 'outrunning' other cars as you attempt to reach the next checkpoint before your time runs out. At the end of each stage, you're presented with a choice: do you take the left fork, or the right? With five stages to complete in each run, that means it's impossible to see the whole game in one go. This longevity and joy of discovery as a previously-unseen set of scenery appears works a treat for repeat plays in the arcade, but also acts as a difficulty option. Left is easy, right is hard.
There's also a brilliant moment of fan service during the stage transition, with scenery lowered and raised afresh before your very eyes. OutRun 2 never forgets its roots and always remembers it's a video game. Reality is boring. Most games have forgotten that.
And so there would be an argument for OutRun 2 on its own appearing on this list, but again that isn't the end of the story. The work of Sumo Digital should not be understated. Tasked with converting OutRun 2 to the original Xbox, the team added a wealth of fantastic extra content. Heart Attack Mode is the addition that immediately springs to mind, in which you have to try to drive while your avatar has a coronory episode. Not really. You actually have to impress your girlfriend by fulfilling increasingly strange tasks. "Keep passing cars" and "run through blue" are fine, but "hit the blue cones"? Hmmm. I must say, one holiday, I did stick OutRun's Magical Sound Shower on the car stereo and tell my then-girlfriend (who was driving) to 'hit the red cones' during a patch of roadworks on the motorway. Which she didn't like. She was too tempted.
We've got an amazing core game and a delicious platter of extra stuff for the home conversion. We're still not yet at OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast. That's because a second version of OutRun 2 appeared in arcades: OutRun 2 SP. It had another 15 stages and more music. And to bring that to home consoles (now on PlayStation too) OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast combined the whole lot.
So you've got a beautiful racing game that sounds amazing, moves like a dream, has 30 tracks, the biggest powerslides in gaming AND caters for both modern and retro tastes. Incredibly, despite all the technological wizardry, Sumo even mnaged to get the entire experience running on PSP, which meant I could play it on the train. It's not quite as smooth-moving, but not one drop of gameplay is left out. And then, when I got home, I could transfer my progress to the PS2 version and continue playing what basically amounts to the arcade game and more in my house.
While I still play the SP-only tracks of OutRun Online Arcade in lovely HD (now sadly unavailable due to Ferrari license expiration), it's literally half the game that OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast is. Coast 2 Coast is one of the best games of all time and, like the 1986 original, will always be a beautiful journey. Not to mention one of the 100 best games ever.