SEGA AGES 13: OUT RUN (PS2: Sega/Japanese import)
Bought from 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.


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