Sega AM2’s 1986 arcade driving classic OutRun is one of my favorite games of all time. This is despite the fact I did not actually play it until the early 2000s, when it appeared as a bonus game in Shenmue II along with a number of other classics from Yu Suzuki. Even though by that point the original game was positively ancient and the impressive-for-1986 visuals (OutRun uses the same Super Scaler technology as Hang-On, Space Harrier and After Burner) took some getting used to, the core gameplay had held up surprisingly well and OutRun was simply a joy to play. And remains so, even today.
If you’ve somehow found your way here without knowing what OutRun is (aside from a rather excellent 2013 album by French synthwave artist Kavinsky), the basic idea is that you’re driving a Ferrari Testarossa across stretches of roads based on various exotic locales, dodging traffic and trying to reach one of five goals before the timer runs out. You always start out from the beach stage, but after every stage you come across a fork in the road and must choose the left (easy) or right (hard) path, and these choices determine your eventual destination and ending. In total, there are fifteen routes through the game, with each run taking you through five stages.
Despite being extremely challenging (this is an 80s arcade game, after all) OutRun gives off a rather laid back vibe. There’s no race for first place here, no opponents wanting to ram you off the road (although the traffic does a decent job at that). You just drive on towards the horizon, see the wind catching in your character’s and his girlfriend’s hair, and listen to some smooth and relaxing tunes (at the start of each run, you can pick either Splash Wave, Magical Sound Shower or Passing Breeze. Magical Sound Shower supremacy) on the Testarossa’s radio. It’s all about the beautiful journey, as OutRun is occasionally called.
The original OutRun has been ported to just about everything over the decades and received a number of sequels and spin-offs of varying quality. Turbo OutRun (1989) and OutRunners (1992) are fine arcade driving games in their own right, but neither of them quite managed to capture the feel of AM2’s original 1986 classic. That would not happen until 2003, when AM2 released OutRun 2 in the arcades. Since OutRun 2 runs on the Xbox-based Chihiro hardware, a port to Microsoft’s black monolith was always likely, eventually materializing the following year. That port, co-developed by UK-based studio Sumo Digital, is the version we’ll be looking at today.
At its core, OutRun 2 is a modernized remake of the original OutRun, meant to evoke the feel of the original while taking advantage of vastly more powerful hardware. Everything I said about the original game still applies here — the overall structure of the game is the same, the style is the same, even the music is the same (albeit redone with actual instruments, of course, and featuring some new tracks nobody cares about), everything simply looks and feels more modern. This is the true sequel to OutRun, and it’s absolutely fantastic.
OutRun 2 is a beautiful game. Once again, you’re driving your Ferrari (a properly licensed one this time) through various exotic locations and weaving through traffic that just refuses to get out of the way, and this time it all happens at a rock-solid 60 frames per second. Starting from a sun-baked Spanish coast, you pass lush forests and snowy mountains along the way, and eventually finish your journey in some equally gorgeous destination such as Athens or Paris. None of the stages are named after the real-world locations, but it’s quite obvious what they are supposed to represent. Reaching all five goals unlocks an emulated version of the original 1986 OutRun.
The driving itself is of course smoother than ever, and is improved even further by the one major gameplay addition to OutRun 2 — the drifting. Braking while turning will send your Ferrari into a controlled drift, allowing you to retain more speed than you normally would through tight turns. I can’t even begin to describe how satisfying the drifting in OutRun 2 feels, it’s somewhat reminiscent of Daytona USA but doesn’t feel nearly as fiddly as it often did in that game.
As I mentioned, OutRun 2 now has the official Ferrari license. There is a total of twelve cars to choose from, including the F40, F50, Enzo, and Daytona (a nice bonus for Miami Vice fans), each with their own stats for handling, speed and acceleration, and a number of different colors. That being said, this is OutRun, and if you aren’t driving a red convertible Testarossa you’re doing it wrong. You can select automatic or manual transmission, although you’ll mostly spend your time in top gear regardless so it doesn’t matter all that much.
Along with the original arcade game, OutRun 2 also features time attack and “Heart Attack” modes, with the Xbox port adding some extra modes to the mix. Heart Attack tasks you with impressing your girlfriend with some fancy driving, and the better you do the more hearts you earn and the higher your rank will be. It’s quite fun in short bursts, but I prefer the arcade game.
The Xbox-exclusive modes are the Xbox Live multiplayer which no longer works, and “OutRun Challenge” which includes 101 missions for you to sink your teeth into. Completing missions unlocks content such as cars, music (the Euro Remix versions of the original arcade songs are fantastic, and you can even get the original 1986 music), and even bonus tracks from SCUD Race/Sega Super GT and Daytona USA 2! These tracks can be used in the Rival Races, which are… well, races against rather tough AI opponents. Not really my thing either, but they’re there if you feel like challenging yourself.
In 2004, OutRun 2 got an upgraded arcade version known as OutRun 2 SP. This version features 15 all-new stages (set mostly in the US, so it’s sort of like Cruis’n USA but actually good instead of so awful it’s good) as well as the OutRun 2 stages in a separate mode, even more music — including the tracks from Turbo OutRun, so you now have an excuse to drive the F40 instead of the Testarossa — and various tweaks, most prominently the new slipstream mechanic that allows your car to reach much higher speeds than the usual 293 kph (all cars in the arcade version have the same top speed, which isn’t the case in the home ports) when following other cars closely. This release also adds the Continuous 15-Stage Mode, which is what it says on the tin and is available for both the old and new stages.
Speaking of home ports, OutRun 2 SP came out on the Xbox, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable and PC as an even further enhanced port known as OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast. Along with all the content from the arcade game, this release features a new Coast 2 Coast challenge mode and a bunch of added stuff. A lot of the content has to be unlocked by earning “OutRun Miles” and passing missions in the Coast 2 Coast mode, but if you’d rather not deal with any of that you can simply choose to play the OutRun 2 SP arcade game from the menu. Also in 2006, arcades saw the introduction of the DX and SDX versions of OutRun 2 SP. These were special multiplayer cabinets using Sega’s new Lindbergh hardware, supporting four and eight simultaneous players respectively and running at a higher resolution than the original release.
Coast 2 Coast kind of makes the 2004 port of OutRun 2 obsolete, but really, you’ll have a great time with either of the two versions. The Xbox release of Coast 2 Coast is also getting very expensive, regularly commanding 100-200 USD for an NTSC copy. The PAL version is not quite up there yet, but it’s not exactly cheap either as most copies seem to go for 45-50 euros these days. The PC, PS2 and PSP versions are definitely more affordable and more or less as good as the Xbox version, although some of the graphical effects have been scaled back and the PSP version only runs at 30 frames per second.
In 2009, OutRun Online Arcade was released digitally on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. This is essentially an HD port of OutRun 2 SP, lacking the OutRun 2 content and the extra modes from Coast 2 Coast. While this version looks absolutely stunning and still plays like a dream, it has sadly been delisted from both Xbox Live and the PS Store after Sega’s Ferrari license expired in 2011. If you bought the game when it was available, it can still be downloaded and played, but if you didn’t get it back then you’re now completely out of luck.
It’s hard to say whether or not OutRun will ever make a comeback. Even if we ignore the fact Yu Suzuki no longer works at Sega, arcade driving games just aren’t very popular these days. The last time Sega tried to revive one of their classic arcade racers (with 2017’s Daytona Championship USA) didn’t turn out particularly well for them, either. Still, who can say? Perhaps one day, the beautiful journey will return, and we can drive our Testarossa into the sunset while listening to Magical Sound Shower once more.