|Source // Hardcore Gaming 101|
Back in my childhood I had two racing games for the Game Boy, F1 Race and Race Days. They weren't played too much thanks to the likes of Super Mario Land, but I enjoyed how simple they were. The road ahead would bend and straighten out in front of you, and all you needed to do was keep your car in the middle and avoid whomever was in your way.
What I wasn't aware of until much later was that I hadn't got a clue about the racing game to popularise this gameplay - OutRun. Although it's not a racing game according to its designer, which makes sense seeing as you don't have any competitors out there on the road.
So what do you have? A time limit, a death wish and a blonde to impress. Time to put the pedal to the metal.
OutRun is incredibly easy to get into. I'm playing the Sega Master System port where it takes quite a hit to the graphics, as well as the number of on-road obstacles for you to avoid, but still captures the sense of speed and fun as you chase down the horizon ahead.
Except that I just can't go fast enough to make it to a checkpoint in time, no matter how clean my run is. There are five stages to complete, and while getting to the next is simple enough, getting far enough into it to trigger the checkpoint isn't. I'm always a few seconds short.
And then I notice that there is a choice of gear, low and high...
Sure enough, sticking it into high gear allows you to rocket through the stages at nearly 300km/h, and doing so turns OutRun from a leisurely drive into an exhilarating one. It was already enjoyable, even if I couldn't reach a checkpoint, but since getting into gear makes it addicting.
Cars in the distance shoot past you as you overtake them. A second or two of road signs warn you of the route ahead, be it a tight turn or a dreaded S-bend. Hills appear out of nowhere and can cause panic. You can drop down into the low gear as and when you want, and if you crash you'll have to remember that you'll restart in that low gear too. Crashing isn't always the end of a run, but don't do it too often - time is at a premium here.
Upon reaching the end of a stage you come to a fork in the road. Drive down whichever takes your fancy - you're still driving like a maniac at this point, we've not hopped into a menu - and you progress to the next stage. Both stages are harder, but the road to the left will be easier than that to the right. Follow this through five stages and you've finished your drive, which also means there are different endings depending on the route you ventured down.
If you want an easy game, go left. If you want a challenge, go right. You won't know what's coming up until you see it on the horizon (and then see it rapidly approaching you at 300km/h) but knowing this allows you to go on the drive you want to take, not the one that a developer wants to put you on.
As designer Yu Suzuki mentions though, it is a driving game, not a competitive racer. It's about having a good time and enjoying the scenery whiz by. It's about feeling the adrenaline of narrowly missing a slow driver or a static tree on the roadside. You can even change the radio station if you want to mix up your music.
Sure there are high scores, but that doesn't mean you need to pay attention to any of them. It's an arcade game, of course there are high scores. Speaking of arcade game, if you can play the arcade version, play it above any other version. It looks superb and sounds great. If you've got to settle for a port, don't worry about it, just enjoy it.
To me, OutRun screams 'America', but a two week vacation to Europe provided the inspiration for many of the stage designs.
OutRun, developed by Sega AM2, first released in 1986.
Version played: Master System, 1987, via emulation.
Version watched: Arcade, 1986 (World of Longplays)