Nothing quite beats the feeling of a beautifully managed drift in any racing game. It's akin to pulling off a massive combo in Street Fighter or getting a M-M-M-Monster Kill in Unreal Tournament. Pure gaming satisfaction. The roots of these simple pleasures can be traced back to the games we grew up with. That's not to say that we don't find these features in recent games, but the proliferation of 'simulation' games can alienate some. This is why Outrun 2 is such a breath of fresh air.
The original Outrun is a fondly remembered classic. The iconic image of a red Ferrari speeding down a strip of road with palm trees whizzing past is firmly fixed in a lot of gamers memories. It's been 15 years since Outrun though and capturing the adrenaline-fuelled gameplay of one of gaming's true classics is a challenge, to say the least. Outrun 2 in the arcade lived up to this promise, the two player cabinets providing the kind of arcade thrills not seen since Sega Rally. It looked fantastic too; bright colours, beautiful cars and great tracks. How could you translate something like this to a console without making some serious compromises? Well, it seems Sega made the right decision choosing British studio Sumo Digital for its conversion, as they've done a superb job.
The opportunity to play a LIVE enabled demo of Outrun 2 couldn't be passed up. Giving us the first 3 easy stages and a choice of only 2 cars, it's a filthy tease, but it's still damn enjoyable. The single player is a time trial across these three stages. It's initially challenging, but once you've learnt the track and mastered the drift it becomes a joy, trying to beat your own best time, over and over again. The traffic is nicely implemented too. Not as good as Burnout 3, but still convincing and maddening at the same time - especially when it has just ruined that otherwise perfectly good corner you've just taken.
The LIVE aspect of Outrun 2 is something else entirely. It currently only supports 4 players (the full game will allow 8), and the 3 stages previously mentioned, but it's more than enough to whet your appetite. LIVE play doesn't support traffic unfortunately; however you don't tend to notice its absence once you're jostling for position with 3 other Ferrari's (and grinning as your passenger shouts 'bye' when you overtake your competitors). It seems to have been perfectly optimized for LIVE play too, with minimal lag and a convenient lobby system. There are bugs though, particularly with the 'Catch up' feature, though this has been noted by Sumo Digital and will be fixed in the full release. Even with this limited demo, it's compelling, and only points to what the full version has in store for us. It is common to find people who have popped on to see what the game is like, and are seen still playing hours later....
Visually, it's perfect. Really. It's comparable to the arcade, and Sumo Digital should be commended for squeezing this much out of the Xbox. The cars and tracks are the finest eye candy and just add another appealing layer to the game.
Outrun 2 is something special. It captures everything that's good about arcade racers and adds a superb LIVE component. The extra challenges the full game will offer should also provide us with something we can get our monies worth out of, whether offline or online. Things are about to heat up in the racing game market, with the next 6 months pitting some key titles against each. Though, even at this early stage, Outrun 2 has the name, the gameplay and the looks to give everyone a run for their money. We eagerly anticipate the full game.