For a company that apparently lost faith in the Saturn within two years of launching it in the West, and ditched its entire console hardware business when things went wrong next time around, SEGA's been remarkably persistent with its sixth-gen OutRun reboot. Despite middling sales of every previous home version of OutRun2 and its immediate follow-up, OutRun2 SP, this year marks another return, once again under the control of conversion supremos SUMO Digital and this time on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, where consumers may be more at ease with the game's singular focus: five minutes of threading Ferraris sideways along perilous one-way motorways amidst improbably condensed abstract background details.
Playing a seemingly finished build of OutRun Online Arcade for Xbox Live Arcade reveals that it is, as expected, roughly half the content of OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast. It's the 15 courses of OutRun2 SP, with ten licensed Ferraris to drive (the F50, Enzo, 360 Spider, F40, Testarossa, 288 GTO Evo, 512 BB, Dino 246 GTS, 4 Daytona and 250 GTO, all unlocked from the start), in traditional OutRun, Heart Attack and Time Attack modes, alongside continuous, 15-stage versions of OutRun and Time Attack. The controls return perfectly to analogue or d-pad steering (with a sensitivity slider in the menu), and whipping your choice of Ferrari through outrageous high-speed corners with the back sliding out for power-slides is as urgent a thrill as ever.
What OutRun Online Arcade isn't, however, is much of a visual upgrade. Although the game is rendered in high definition, those hoping for a stealth OutRun next-gen will be disappointed to discover that once the retouched, beautifully reflective Ferraris wheelspin past the camera into their starting position, the road ahead is carpeted and surrounded by texture work largely comparable to its excellent Xbox and PS2 predecessor. There are few new incidental effects either - although the translucent mist looks a bit Johnny-come-lately - but at least nothing looks out of place, probably because the eclectic OutRun universe has always been the peak of arcade abstract.
Not that I found the familiar graphics or tracks grating once I was gliding around the courses at 300kph listening to the best of Richard Jacques (the music selection is Splash Wave, Magical Sound Shower, Passing Breeze, Risky Ride, Shiny World, Night Flight and Life Was A Bore). SP was always a fine set - the usual pyramid branching from a seaside town staring out on an epic blue ocean, across a suspension bridge into a San Francisco facsimile, past the roar of Niagara-style falls, under the thick boughs of fallen trees in a dark forest, and along a Vegas-style strip illuminated by gaudy neon casinos, among 15 mostly distinct North American locations.
As with Coast 2 Coast, in addition to maintaining speed by keeping out of the way of traffic in OutRun mode, and threading your Ferrari within the grass verges (and sometimes worse), you can take advantage of other road users to slipstream and creep up to the magic 300kph, while purists can get rid of traffic altogether in the addictive ghost-car-patrolled Time Attack, and there are online leaderboards for each game mode (one for each "goal" stage, plus continuous layouts). Heart Attack, which adds mini challenges to each stage - like cutting lines between cars, drifting excessively over a short distance, passing traffic cars, collecting coins, and so on - remains a delicious thrill, your female passenger responding increasingly orgasmically as the triple-A stats rack up
There are also some pretty fierce Achievements to gun for, and PlayStation Network will have equivalent Trophies. Reckon you can hold 300kph for ten seconds? I couldn't. Nor, with the game yet to be released, was I able to test out the six-player online racing mode, but I could see that there only appear to be Player Matches. You can specify the course (Goal C, 15-stage, etc.), pick between normal and tuned cars and turn catch-up and collisions on and off. There's also a button to seek out Xbox Live Party sessions.
Some will presumably quibble with SEGA's decision to cut Coast 2 Coast down in order to jam it onto XBLA and PSN, but providing the price is right - around seven quid wouldn't be that unfair - it's hard to stay angry with something so adorably honest and compulsive. Swivelling a Ferrari pinned to the foreground through conveyor belts of SEGA's maddest landscapes under its bluest skies has never lost its edge, or been bettered, and this is a great opportunity for anyone who missed out on the last round to lower the barrier for entry. So let's hope the signs are right, and the persistence pays off, because we'd love to see SUMO commissioned to bring OutRun up to speed with the best of modern console visuals in the future.
OutRun Online Arcade is due out for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network within a month or so.