The 10th of October 2004 was a Wednesday. As it was a Wednesday, I wouldn’t have been in university. Instead, I should have been at home working on my research.
As it was November 2004, I wasn’t working on my research. I was playing Outrun 2.
I don’t exactly remember how i stumbled upon Outrun 2. Had I played the arcade version at Trocadero already? Was it based on the fond memories of Spectrum Turbo Outrun? The level of enthusiasm reached over at now-defunct UK:Resistance? I can’t remember. Either way, I remember that I definitely was not going to be easily dissuaded: on Friday the 1st of October I spent 40 minutes milling around the chilly streets of Romford, waiting for the local independent shop to get their blasted shipment in.
Over the coming hours, days and weeks I plowed much more time into the game then I probably originally intended. At first i was just getting to grips with the drifting model, then the manual gear shifting. Finally it was taking on the world online and pursuing the perfect run. Funny game Outrun 2. It might only take five minutes to complete, but, on and off, it’s been occupying my time ever since.
So what makes it so good, exactly? Well, the handling is an obvious starting point. Where as previous versions of Outrun relied on more traditional straight forward cornering (i.e. keep the car facing forward and going as quickly as you can go while also staying on the track,) The handling of Outrun 2 is based entirely on its drift mechanics. In reality, “drifting” sideways round a corner is a complicated, demanding and largely pointless skill. On top of this, its massively inefficient, with lots of precious momentum being lost to heat, smoke and tire squeal and (unless done in the middle of a skid pan) it comes at the very real risk of very serious injury.
Cleverly, drifting in Outrun 2 is entirely divorced from this. In Outrun world, drifting is a tame and incredibly useful tool in the players arsenal. Initiated with a tap of the brakes, it comes with no speed penalty, is quite controllable and is generally the quickest way to get from the entrance to the exit of a corner. That’s not to say it is easy to use effectively by any stretch (In fact, there’s still a great level of skill in hitting the most efficient lines for each corner) but it is very easy to pick up. From a design point of view this is genius: Atari-founder Nolan Bushnell once claimed that perfect arcade games should “[be] easy to learn and difficult to master. They should reward the first quarter and the hundredth.” The drift mechanics of Outrun 2 are the mechanic that allows it to meet both sides of this fundamental law. They are the glue that binds Outrun 2 together.
Glue, of course, isn’t worth having unless you’ve got something to stick. Outrun 2 has lots and lots to stick. While it may seem a light in these days of 20-hour-campaigns, what Outrun packs in spades is a perfect distillation of the Outrun formula. While it may have seemed strange to call a game “Outrun 2” when there are (at least) 2 other games in the series, it actually makes perfect sense: everything before Outrun 2 is, in comparison, merely a rough prototype. The features that worked have been retained and expanded (such as the multiple cars originally found in Outrunners,) features that didn’t have simply. been dropped (like the linear progression found in Turbo Outrun.)
The end result, then, is nigh on perfection. The game presents the player with 15 environments which represent the best of every other Outrun game, both in terms of ingenious track design AND in looking stunning. On top of this, you have a choice of a number of the worlds most desirable cars and a number of remixes of one of gaming most iconic soundtracks. Everything in Outrun 2 has a purpose and has been engineered to perfection. From the look to the feel to the sound EVERYTHING is perfect. It is the Haute Cuisine of video gaming.
In a nutshell, then, Outrun 2 is the perfect template for how to update a classic. The new elements could easily be used to underpin a fantastic new game (what ever the license,) while the Outrun IP itself is used in a way which helps build on the original, rather than merely using it. The underlying mechanics maybe completely different from the 1986 original, but it manages to construct the same happy care-free vibe. This is probably why I’ve returned to it more times than I have any other modern video game.
But we’re not just talking about the arcade game, of course, we’re talking about the Xbox version I purchased on that chilly October day. And that’s a different kettle of fish entirely.