Greetings, and welcome back to The Amiga Gaming Retrospective. First, I'd like to apologize for not keeping this series going as consistently as I would like to. It can sometimes be difficult to find the time to dig out an old game, play it for a while, and then do a write-up. I'll try to be more consistent in the future, however.
March and April are going to be "The Cars Convention" here at The Amiga Monitor. This month, I'm reviewing OutRun, and next month...well...you'll just have to wait and see ;).
OutRun was a big hit in the arcades back in the mid-to-late 1980's, and Sega released their Amiga version in 1988. I honestly don't know how successful it was in the Amiga community, as I was not paying terribly close attention to things back then, but I fondly recall many long hours spent racing against the clock with the bright, colorful three-dimensional vistas streaking by onscreen and the music pouring out the speakers. I could almost feel the wind blowing through my hair...well, OutRun may not have been that realistic, but it did well for its time. More on that later...
So what's this game all about? Well, it's a fairly simple car racing game. You are equipped with a Ferrari Testarossa at your control and your girlfriend by your side (yes, they were a bit presumptuous about the car's driver, but, ah well, times were different...). You see everything from a behind-the-car point of view. You have to pass through a five-leg race in order to win the game; each leg takes only a couple of minutes to complete. Your opponent is the clock, and there are other, slower vehicles traveling the course that are there purely for the purpose of annoying you.
You may have noticed that I did not include any screenshots with this review. There's a good reason; OutRun is, unfortunately, another one of those "take over the whole machine" games with everything including its own floppy access routines. Most of the contents of the disk are not even visible to AmigaDOS.
Amiga OS 3.1 (and probably 2.x and above) are out of the question. Attempting to boot from the floppy under OS 3.1 resulted in some rather strange video effects, something akin to an old "Outer Limits" intro, or perhaps a modern MTV video, only worse. So I was fairly well convinced that I would need to use the good old five-second reboot that would instruct MultiStart to activate the 1.3 ROM. It works just fine in that configuration.
I also had the GVP A530 turned off while playing OutRun. A few times, it seemed to work, but there were some screen glitches, and it ran very slowly (I've seen this in a few other instances, and generally I assume that the program is using Chip RAM for everything, which, in the case of the A530, results in a tremendous bottleneck between the accelerator's 32-bit, 40MHz bus and the A500's 16-bit, 7.14MHz bus). Later, it didn't work at all. Yes, I thought that was rather odd, but I figured I'd just run it on the 68000 and get better performance anyway.
So the test machine was, essentially, a plain old A500. Well, it had 2MB Chip RAM, but other than that, it was just the 68000 and AmigaDOS 1.3. Yes, it is annoying that OutRun and other games like it were programmed this way, but it's a sign of the times. System-friendly games were by far the exception, and even today I would hesitate to say they have become the rule. Well, in any event, playing OutRun really took me back, and a few times, I had to even flick the switch on the back of the display enhancer just to re-experience those good old scan lines.
As was the case with many such games, the game controls are simple. You can control the car with the mouse or joystick. In either case, you can control the acceleration/speed, direction, and gear (of the car's two, Lo and Hi). Top speed is 293 km/h. On some sections of road (the amount of which is greater in lower levels), you can go full speed around any curve; the tires squeal, but you stay right on track. In other sections, staying on the road requires more judicious use of the car's power. The game can be paused, and doing so brings up a series of Amiga-like, but clearly custom-coded, menus. They allow you to see the game/programmer information (with a "by-line" list, including, at the end, "PLAYED BY YOU"), select the music track, control some attributes of the game, run a demo, restart, show the high score list, and switch between mouse and joystick.
One little "secret," perhaps, that I have noticed is that if at the start of the race you gun the engine, you can rev it to high RPM's before the car starts to move. When it does go, the tires squeal, and you go forward. Okay, that wasn't the secret. The secret is that if you switch to Hi gear any time while the tires are squealing, the car will very quickly get up to speed, as opposed to normal conditions, under which switching to Hi gear any time before the "right" range (about 100-150 km/h) results in very poor acceleration until you reach the right speed, just like in a real automobile. That's just a neat little tidbit to save a bit of time on takeoff.
At the aforementioned start, your car is sitting next to a jeans/tee-shirt/sunglasses/baseball cap-type with a checkered flag. A red, yellow, and green light brighten in sequence, and then you go.
As previously mentioned, there are many other vehicles on the road whose job, of course, is to get in your way. There's a whole assortment of types including Volkswagen Beetles, Porsche 911's, some Sega trucks, and at least two other kinds that I cannot identify. Anyway, they all just provide a source of annoyance, or something to crash into.
Speaking of crashing, some features of OutRun are not particularly realistic. That's not necessarily a bad thing; if a certain amount of "unrealism" is suitable to the game as a whole, then it works, as is the case here. For one thing, a two-gear Ferrari transmission is not something you run across every day. And when you crash, a number of things can happen, depending on how fast you're going: the car may slow down, stop, spin out, roll over (hmm...starting to sound like a well-trained dog here), or perform a series of aerial somersaults (nah...not a dog after all) which results in you, your car, and your girlfriend sitting upright, if not a bit disoriented, on or next to the road (if memory serves, in the arcade version, she would get upset with you...gee, I can't imagine why...). None of this hurts you or your car, but only takes up valuable time. In that respect, OutRun is like MarbleMadness!; having your marble fall off the edge only takes up time, and hurts your score a bit. So in OutRun, you can keep going until the clock runs down. Something else you won't see in the real world is an engine capable of running at high RPM's in low gear without sustaining any damage, particularly in contrast to the game I'll be covering next month (a hint for all you aficionados of older Amiga games out there). Again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing; in OutRun, the focus isn't upon the car, but upon your driving skills. In fact, when you crash, you can sometimes maneuver your way out of it and continue along your way with a minimal loss of time. It's all part of the skill of handling the vehicle.
At the end of each level (which, incidentally, vary greatly in terrain type and scenery), the road splits into two sections separated by a row of plants, and then merges once again before leading up to an overhead arch or gate. If you make it through there before time runs out, you advance to the next leg (although sometimes there is a short delay of a few seconds, and other times the next level continues immediately; why this occurs, or what the pattern is, I have not yet been able to discern). From each leg, there are two possible continuations, and which one you follow depends upon which side of the gate you go through. Over the course of the race, each road section splits into two throughout the five legs of the race, but some merge later on, resulting in five total possible ending places.
I would tell you what happens at the end of the game, but I don't exactly remember, and I haven't been able to win yet since I got it out the other day (have to progress along that whole learning curve again...). I think the last levels are really interesting, and at the end, you get a trophy of some sort. I can say that playing this game again has piqued my interest, not only to win but also to explore all the possible routes to the end, something I never previously did, so if I have the time, maybe I'll play it a bit throughout the month and let you know what happens at the end in the next issue.
If you "die" (run out of time), the game displays a Course Map, and shows a little model car moving along short sections of roadway representative of the various legs of the race.
One other interesting little detail is that if left untouched, the game runs a demo, and displays the OutRun logo at the top of the screen, a flashing "PRESS BUTTON TO START!" in the middle, a "C1988 SEGA" sign in the lower right, and a "CREDITS: 1" sign in the lower left corner. Hmm...yep, definitely feels like an arcade port.
So just how realistic is OutRun's gameplay? Remember that it was introduced in 1988. At the time, it was quite good, and even today, it holds its own. No, it certainly won't keep up with something that takes full advantage of a 68060/AGA (or better) system, for example, but just the same, it has a good element of realism. It uses some methods that were fairly common at the time in order to construct the three-dimensional world: the sky and background are two-dimensionally scrolling pictures, and various objects, including the car, are "sprites" (more appropriately termed "bobs" on the Amiga, as its sprites are, by definition, hardware-controlled) which show the objects at various sizes and points of view in order to simulate 3D. In fact, the only part that truly is 3D is the road, and perhaps some of the areas alongside it, while the rest is simulated in order to save on computing power. If you're not spoiled by modern 3D, texture-mapped games, you may very well not notice at first. The result is a game that runs well, even on a 68000 (although with an Amiga, the OCS/ECS effectively adds the power of something like a 68020 to the system). Frame rate seems to max out at about 10, which is not too shabby. I'm sure it would run a good deal faster if my 68030 had its way, but unfortunately, the game does not seem to use the Fast RAM like it would have to do in order for that to occur.
The game includes some sound effects for the engine, tire squeal, and collisions. While the game is occurring, one of three user-selectable music tracks which, in my opinion, are very well-done, play in the background. It's a pity about the disk's non-standard filing system, because otherwise I might try to copy the music files elsewhere for safe storage. After all, due not only to copy protection, but also to the custom DOS, I cannot copy the original disk. If it ever dies, that's no more OutRun for me, perhaps forever. Oh well...again, a sign of the times.
Most of the multimedia effects make full use of the machine in ways you generally don't see today, particularly in other platforms, where there is so much raw processing power that some capabilities are probably left unused. The game does make good use of the Amiga, doing things like momentarily disabling some audio tracks to accommodate a sound effect, and other things like that. It makes it seem as though there are more audio channels than there actually are. All things considered, it includes many of the characteristics that made many early Amiga games so great.
Some games are just games; others actually take you somewhere, and let you feel like you're really there. Through its effects, scenery, music, and general layout, OutRun has a bright, happy, warm-and-sunny-California-like feeling to it (hmm...I've never been to California, and yet I "know" what a California-like feeling is; I guess that's TV for ya). This game has a pleasant ambiance. The feeling of cruising down the highway at 7.14MHz, the bright blitter sun at your back, the bitplanes streaking by beneath you...heh, well, you know what I mean. Seriously, though, there is one brief section of road that really feels realistic, and I mean really. It lasts for about five seconds, but during that brief time, You Are There. Now how many games can do that? Better yet, how many nine-year-old games can? OutRun establishes itself as a unique endeavor.
Playing OutRun again tugged a bit on the memories, in my case, because it reminded me of not only when times were good and the Amiga was in some ways on top of the world, but also of when I was younger, and life was simpler. For goodness sakes, I had to dig my joystick out of the closet just to play OutRun! I don't even have a games directory on my hard disk anymore. It's only been nine years, you say? True...but look how much can happen in nine years, such as in the case of the Amiga. Things like this just go to show why we should make the time for fun things like this on occasion, and not let life's worries and troubles pull us down. A good thing to make time for is an older Amiga game, if you have one. Some of them sure were ahead of their time. It's a good remedy for the type of Amiga-induced depression that sometimes sets in after seemingly every company the machine has touched has gone under in some way, and you begin to wonder if the difficulties will ever end.
Without getting all emotional and melodramatic, now, let's just bring a sense of closure to this look back through Amiga gaming history by saying that OutRun was indeed a great game. It may not be the best-known of all time, but it certainly made its mark on the Amiga's legacy. I recommend that anybody who has the opportunity try it out (although you would have to have a sufficiently degraded system). It's the right combination of simplicity with depth, of ease with intrigue.
As always, any people out there who remember this game are more than welcome to write in to share their impressions. But that will be all for now, except, of course, for our customary review breakdown. We'll let the table tell the rest of the story.
OutRunSimulated automobile racing game
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTSAmiga, AmigaDOS 1.2 to 1.3, 512K RAM, input device (mouse/joystick)
sound system, joystick