Old School. We hear this term a lot nowadays. It seems that anytime something is released resembling the games of yesteryear, people blindly lump them into this category. The problem with this practice is that not everything fits the classic mold so easily. I can think of at least a dozen games that have been erroneously labeled as such *glares at Shinobi for PS2*. OutRun 2, however, is one title that lives up to its old school heritage where it counts and doesn’t rely solely on nostalgia to entice gamers.
At a glimpse, many people have mistakenly compared OutRun 2 to other racing powerhouses like Project Gotham Racing 2, Need for Speed Underground, and the ever-popular Gran Turismo series. To say that this is a misconception is something of an understatement. About the only thing all these games have in common with AM2’s classic series is the basic concept of competition (though OutRun 2’s challenge mode is slightly reminiscent of PGR 2). No, this isn’t a racer in the same vein as those that are so widely popular today. What we have here is a game that takes a tried-and-true formula and catapults it into the 21st century. This can be a double-edged sword, however, as what makes OutRun 2 so much fun could also severely limit its appeal to those who aren’t fans of the series.
Before we delve into that, let’s examine those qualities which should be embraced. OutRun 2 is very straightforward in concept, giving players the task of racing against the clock over five stages in arcade mode. Based on the Xbox-based Chihiro hardware, this would at first appear to be the same game you played in arcades. Pick from a multitude of great-looking Ferraris; including the F50, Spider, and Testarossa. About a half-dozen are initially available and you can change their color with the X button. That’s about the extent of customization, but thankfully, you don’t really need to do much more. Accelerating and braking are your only real concerns and you can choose a manual transmission if you’re so inclined. This makes things a bit trickier at the beginning, but can really pay off once you get the hang of it. Once you’ve picked your ride, the fun begins and you’ll need to get through each checkpoint before the time expires in order to enter the next stage. Choose your path from a total of fifteen different stages comprised of five possible final routes. If you’ve played the original OutRun installment, you’ll recognize the dynamic flair instantly and fans will be delighted that the trademark arcade style of play the franchise which defined its world-reknowned fame has made the jump to the modern-age virtually intact.
Racing fans should take note -- if you’re looking for realistic driving, search elsewhere. OutRun has never truly been about realism and trust me, that’s actually a good thing here. This franchise has always been about jumping into the action and that concept looms over every facet of the gameplay. Each playable vehicle handles fairly equally, albeit a few distinctions in acceleration, handling, and maximum speed. This tends to be somewhat misleading on occassion, since a car with low handling may not necessarily control as poorly as you might think. The main difference between OutRun 2 and its predecessor is the inclusion of drifting. Rather than just skidding through a curve, players can now exercute a controlled drift by letting off of the gas, tapping the break, flooring the gas very quickly, and then turning hard into the curve. Again, this shouldn’t be confused with the drifting technique as featured in such games as Project Gotham Racing. And in actuality, there really isn’t a need for it be, either. Since none of the cars necessarily drift better or worse than any other, you won’t really find yourself in a position where the only way to win at the end is to drift past someone. Drifting is mostly necessary for avoiding the shoulder, which sometimes gives the impression of being magnetized. Prevailing in a race is more a matter of picking the right car for each course.
Visually, OutRun 2 is remarkable. While it may not have the same caliber and intricate detail as PGR 2, it certainly can hold its own against other conventional racers. All the courses are truly beautiful and many feature neat little weather effects, like sandy winds in the desert or snowy roads (complete with vibration) on Snowy Mountain. Night stages will even automatically turn on your headlights! My favorite stage is unquestiously Paris, complete with the Eiffel Tower looming just to the left of a turn (a deadly distraction, perhaps?) along with its soft, white lights lulling you into a false sense of security. Other minor details include clean, shiny cars, (have you ever seen a dirty Ferrari? I didn’t think so) along with turn signals as cars change lanes were very pleasing to my eye. Everything zips along smoothly and really gives you that sense of speed that's so vital in a racing game. On another note, coming out of a hairpin turn onto a narrow bridge can be a bit harrowing at times, especially if there’s some traffic on the road. There can be an occasional dip in the frame rate when too many cars bunch together, especially on tight curves. Fortunately, this is a minor hiccup that bears little effect on the gameplay.