Sega Ages 2500 Series Vol.13: OutRun

This remake of the arcade sprite scaling stunner OutRun is another entry in the Sega Ages 2500 series that is probably hindered as much as it is helped by the legendary reputation of the game it’s trying to recreate; OutRun’s staggering popularity ensuring everyone with even the mildest interest in the game has a clear enough idea of what it should be to know in their bones when a home port gets it even slightly wrong.

Happily it’s clear by the arcade mode’s first beachside turn this polygonal reimagining of the 1986 racing phenomenon gets it right, and in spite of all the superficial differences—the controller, the hardware, the expectations of era, the graphics—this is still the same OutRun the world fell in love with.

Like Vol.10’s After Burner II this game uses repetitively placed and completely identical 3D models to create an excellent approximation of the original’s sprite-created environments, rather than try to rebuild them from scratch to look more “natural” or show these familiar details from angles other than the front, and the end result is a practical and effective compromise between the old game and more modern standards, even if it does inevitably lack the immediate impact of OutRun 2‘s (also released on PlayStation 2) impressive vistas.

The experience of driving through this lightly connected mix of environments is as pleasurable as it’s always been, the weight and responsiveness of the not-Ferrari in your care guaranteeing every last one of OutRun’s sweeping curves feels silky smooth, human and machine in perfect sync as the world effortlessly scrolls by.

If you happen to disagree with the statement above then you’re in luck, because nestled in amongst all the usual options menu tweaks that allow you to alter the general difficulty, the amount of time you have to clear each stage, and switch between manual and automatic gear shift, lies a choice of cornering settings. Do you feel the car’s not drifting as languidly as you wanted it to, or would you hoping for something a little snappier? The choice is truly yours. It’s even possible to casually switch between the Japanese and overseas course layouts here too—a lot of easily missed effort’s gone into making sure this release is not just OutRun, but your kind of OutRun.

This remake even bothered to recreate the arcade game’s gear changing bug. As I understand it (the manual mentions it but doesn’t actually explain anything, which I thought was a sweet nod to the whispered rumours of old), if you quickly change from hi to lo gear and back again just as you go off-road, you’ll be able to maintain your current speed, and if you’re really good you can repeat this trick as you drift between road and the dirt/sand to the sides, which means you never have to drop below the best part of 300km/h all drive long. Can I get this ancient magic to work? Can I heck. But that’s to be expected (I am an astoundingly incompetent OutRun player) and it’s great to see they thought to include it for those with the skill to pull it off. Best of all one of the new arrange mode courses seems to have been made with this in mind, the stage-long train tracks off to the side of the road practically begging gear shift masters to show off their skills.

These new arrange mode courses have the same sort of hyper-exaggerated take on a very thin slice of reality the standard stages do, which helps the transition between them and the regular areas in arrange mode’s remixed map feel entirely natural—it’s just more OutRun to drive through. The only real noticeable difference is that these new courses seem to stretch into the distance more often than the standard arcade courses do (which occasionally results in some charmingly nostalgic pop-in), although being asked to look at a long ribbon of road wiggling its way towards the horizon is hardly a mood-breaking issue. To keep this extended combination of the old and new from turning a breezy road trip into a tank-emptying marathon the familiar course map triangle has been turned into a diamond with four rather then the usual five choices at its thickest point and just one final stage to drive through. It ends up a little longer than the standard game (seven stages, instead of the usual five), but not excessively so, and especially not when they only take about a minute to drive through even for someone as crash-prone as I am.

Arrange mode also adds a few nondescript rivals on the road for you to overtake (or accidentally bump into) along the way, with the game dishing out a large points bonus at the end of the race for each randomly-assigned nemesis passed along the way. To keep things interesting these cars don’t vanish as soon as they’re out of sight but instead lurk in a rubber-band limbo behind you, ready to overtake the instant you make a mistake and deny you the new high score you could’ve had (assuming you don’t catch up with them again). It gives the game a little personality and unpredictable friction without spoiling the basics, setting arrange mode apart without ever crossing the invisible line into “That’s not OutRun!” territory.

And if that’s all too much effort there’s always time attack mode to play. This clears out the traffic and lets you speed to your heart’s content through either the arcade or arrange maps, with the game naturally keeping track of your individual course and overall clear times. Perhaps the only issue here is that although the game does show route you took on final high score table it makes no attempt to separate the times out, even though some routes will always be (barring accidents) faster than others. Still, it’s such a nice drive it’s hard to muster more than a shrug at this nitpicky oversight.

However you play, the original music is still there to accompany your trips—selected via the car radio, as nature intended—alongside an optional trio of arranged versions of the tunes. These flesh out the eternally hummable melodies with some appropriate guitar riffs, a “deluxe” version of your favourite tracks rather than a wild reimagining. It has a sort of live band atmosphere about it: a bit punchier, but always recognisable.

Like After Burner II’s remake three 2500 Series volumes ago, nobody really needs this. It’s not accurate in the ways most people want their arcade ports to be, and the convenience of using a PlayStation 2 to play old Sega games has faded with time.

But that doesn’t make it a failure. The game perfectly captures the sheer joy of feeling of the wind in your hair as you race under vibrant blue skies. In fact all the skies mimic the saturated wonder of their arcade counterparts: the pinks and oranges of an infinite sunset can only be described as “juicy”, and the deep reds and midnight blues found elsewhere bring a certain intensity to the “late night” segments. Each moment is as beautifully Sega as any cherished ’80s arcade memory, and this disc deserves to be praised for successfully finding the impossible midpoint between the old, the new, and the game’s indomitable racing spirit.

[Ko-fi support made this article happen! Please consider leaving a small tip if you can!]