SEGA AGES 13: OUT RUN
(PS2: Sega/Japanese import)
Bought from www.play-asia.com for
about £15 (inc shipping)
It's testament to
the total rubbishness of internet gaming sites that as far as your
reporter is able to ascertain, this is the planet's first actual
professional review of
the latest title in the Ages series, even though it's a game with a
hugely popular lineage and your reporter had to buy a shop copy from
halfway across the world in order to play it. But anyway.
Mystifyingly, Sega have opted for some rather
grainy-looking low-res textures.
There have been
a lot more Out Run games than you think there have. Discounting
direct ports (though some of them were in reality so different to
each other or the original coin-op that they're new games in all but
title), Sega Ages Out Run is the tenth distinct game to carry the
name. While previews have dismissed it as merely another conversion
of the original but with tarted-up graphics, the truth is that this
is really a proper sequel which just happens to have the original
game attached, a bit like the way Ridge Racer Revolution contained
the original Ridge Racer tracks if you played it in link-up mode.
The default starting option in Out Run
Ages ("Arcade") is indeed just the original game with a new look.
You get the same 15 courses in the same triangular formation
(although there's the option to choose between the coin-op's "Japan" and
"Over Sea" settings, in which the courses appear in different
sequence and some of the courses themselves are quite different)
and the same three evocative musical soundtracks to choose from. The
only differences are that the graphics are in proper 3D, you're
driving a different car (one with a rather fatter rear, which makes
the hill-crest sections of several courses, where the car obscures your view of
traffic, even harder), and you can choose from three remixed
versions of the music tracks as well as the originals. The real meat
of Out Run Ages, however, and what lifts it into sequel territory,
is the "Arrange" mode.
As compensation, visually, the roadside scenery
is prettier and there's some quite nice lighting.
Arrange mode is essentially a whole
new Out Run game, featuring mostly new courses (though a handful of
the old favourites do make cameo appearances) and one major new
feature which, while not the most world-shattering innovation, does
add something novel and worthwhile to the gameplay, something you can't always say for
sequels. There are 16 courses instead of the original 15, but
they're arranged in a diamond formation (1-2-3-4-3-2-1) rather than
a triangle, which means you can theoretically see every course in
just four plays rather than five. (Though on the downside you now
only get one end sequence.)
The main gameplay change, however, is
the addition of the Rival drivers. You face one of these in the
initial stage, with an additional one joining in at each checkpoint.
Your job is to overtake them and stay in front, and for every one
you're leading at the end of the last stage, you get a
1,000,000-point bonus. (Sadly, there doesn't appear to be any
exciting additional bonus for beating all seven of the Rivals,
except for the extra million points.) They're
all fast and skilled opponents (even the ones who are challenging
your Ferrari in dirty great trucks) who stay close on your tail even
after you've passed them, and if you have a major spill you may well
find five of them whizzing by before your car's stopped
somersaulting across the fields. (Or, less fairly, just smashing
straight through you if you happen to be in their way and
going slower than they are.)
On the whole, though, it's noticeably less good
looking than the 18-year-old original.
The most interesting characteristic of
the Rivals, though, is that if one is leading you at the end of an
individual stage, you have to follow the route they choose at the
intersection, otherwise they're lost forever. So if you're trailing
behind the first stage's Rival, for example, and he chooses the
right-hand fork at the intersection but you decide to take the
easier left-hand route, the maximum number of Rivals you'll be able
to pass before the end of the race is now only six, whereas if you
follow him you'll still be able to get the maximum seven..
(One other noticeable change in the
new game is that Out Run Ages seems to have tangibly beefed up the
difference between the left and right paths. The original Out Run
was easier if you took the left forks at the junctions, but there
wasn't a lot in it, whereas in this new version you'll really feel
the difference if you choose the right-hand routes.)
The extra twist to this, of course, is
that should you (after Stage One) be foolish enough to let more than
one Rival beat you to any given checkpoint, you face the very real
danger of them splitting up and taking a fork each, in which case
you'll no longer have any chance of attaining the maximum.
(Something which you also risk if you let even a single Rival lead
you to the checkpoint by such a margin that you don't get to see
which way he went.) It's a small change which adds a huge amount to
the game's addictive qualities, because even when you've reached the
Goal by all possible routes (something which seems, in Normal mode,
somewhat easier than the original ever was), you've still got the
challenge of winning the race "properly" by not just finishing
inside the time limit, but finishing in first place.
Mind you, new-born babies ARE generally less
attractive than 18-year-olds, so hey.
Speaking of time limits, there's one
more additional mode in Out Run Ages, namely a Time Attack in which
you race the courses (in original or Arrange variants) against the
clock with no other traffic at all (though you still have to beat
the time limit in each stage to get your timer extended), which
makes for a different style of play, or simply a comparatively
relaxing way to get a better look at the game's scenery.
So that's the structure, but clearly
it'd all be as worthless as the Dreamcast version of Daytona USA if
the handling wasn't right. Fortunately it is - the steering is
adjustable, but the default is perfect as it is, responsive and
highly playable, either with the analogue stick or with the d-pad
for digital purists like your reviewer. Visually the game is fast
and super-smooth (something you'll really appreciate if you go back
to the original game after a play on the Ages version), and while
it's not the crispest or the prettiest, it does look significantly
better in real-life action than it does in screenshots.
Out Run was never your reporter's
favourite racing game, but this version's probably the most
enjoyable and compelling Out Run outside of the recent coin-op
sequel (coming to home platforms next year, which is probably why
Sega didn't go to town with the graphics on this version) and at the
price for which you can have one swiftly delivered to you from
several thousand miles away (in this writer's experience, stuff from
Play-Asia usually arrives within three or four days, for about the
same as the Post Office would charge you to send it to Swindon),
it's yet another highly-recommended bargain buy for anyone wise
enough to have had their PS2 modchipped.