[It’s time for another Monthly Musing — the monthly community blog theme that provides readers with a chance to get their articles and discussions printed on the frontpage. — CTZ]
A lot of games constitute escapism. You get to run away from your real life, no matter how sucky, and get lost in another world where your real life worries or problems may not seem like such a big deal. You’re also put into a position where you can deal with the problems you face. Whether it is Valkyria Chronicles, where you control the happiest group of soldiers ever or Grand Theft Auto, where you are in the middle of the world’s most apathetic city, a city where you have complete control not only over yourself, but over the world at large.
However, while these games and most games like them are fun, they do not really offer a sense of relaxation all the time. In fact, they might cause you to become frustrated. There are only three games I can think of when I think of a “perfect world.” Those games are Animal Crossing (which despite the happy tone and inhabitants unfortunately also has the debt collection system to deal with) Flower (which is almost Zen like in its serenity, at least until you reach the second to last level) and my personal favorite form of escapism: OutRun.
OutRun has an interesting world and an interesting philosophy. It is not technically a racing game. While you do pass rivals, and you are against the clock, it constitutes a “Driving Game” according to Yu Suzuki. The premise is essentially living a dream. In the world of OutRun, the whole world is connected by a series of small highways and you are given the freedom to explore them all. You don’t have to really earn anything. Sure you can always unlock more cars and girls, but the thing is, no matter which version of the classic OutRun style games (exempting the spin offs Battle Outrun, 2019 and Europa), you always start off with two things most guys dream of: a Ferrari and a hot girl. The girl is kind of annoying and more selfish, but she’s hot, and you have a Ferrari.
The world of OutRun isn’t all about relaxation though. It’s also about high speed drifting. This is most notable in OutRun 2006 and its clone, OutRun Online Arcade. If there wasn’t some challenge, the game just wouldn’t be fun, and the later goals of OutRun features plenty of challenges in its complex stage layouts.
Part of the challenge with these stages though, is trying to focus on the road when the backgrounds are so beautiful. Whether you’re in the first stage, which is basically easy turns, your Ferrari and the beautiful beach, or the hardest stage, which is basically New York, the stages are all beautiful and are places I would mostly love to take a Ferrari and a hot girl to. Each stage has its unique twists, the Casino Town (Vegas) stage has all the bright lights and advertisements you’d expect to see, but the wet streets and wicked U-Turns make it one of the most fun levels in the game. The Milky Way (Kennedy Space Center) stage is the second hardest goal stage in the game, with large concrete barriers jutting out on the long curves of the course. This stage is worth the run, as it is probably the most beautiful stage in the game since it takes place at night time in the Kennedy Space Center wildlife reserve under a starlit sky during a meteor shower. It looks awesome. Many of the stages are dream destinations. The original game had Egypt, 2006 has Easter Island and each game had many more awesome places to go.
A funny thing did happen to me in one stage. During the Ice Scape (Alaska) stage, I noticed something. The level starts off beautiful, with snow dusted roads and large mountains. Then, as you round a U-Turn around a picturesque ski resort, something juts out at you, and you race under the Alaskan Oil Pipeline. The pipeline itself doesn’t mar the beauty of the stage or the game, but rather, it just looks a little awkward, which is what I believe it is supposed to do. However, the end of the stage is a series of hectic and harsh turns through a massive and not-beautiful oil refinery, which the pipeline runs straight into. This was a bit of a shock, not because my first few times through the course I wrecked hard on these corners, but because they are the singular point in the game where the game is not attempting to blow your mind with the awesome location’s you’re visiting, but rather is the world trying to make a statement that, when combined with the fast pace of the gameplay, actually seems subtle. It should also be noted that in OutRun Online, this part can only be reached after traveling through throw other national parks, so while it is only one stage, it is interesting to note that maybe even OutRun has a social conscience.
The rest of the game though is all beauty and driving an expensive car with your hot girl.
Another thing that OutRun seems to profess is its tendency towards freedom of choice. While the game isn’t quite open world, there were two things it did that were ahead of it’s time. You got to choose things in the original game. These of course were the stages, which you would choose at the forks in the road, and perhaps more iconically, the music. Splash Wave, Magical Sound Shower, Risky Ride and the others, even the awesomely bad (but still awesome) Night Flight and Life Was a Bore are all excellent driving songs, because they help promote the theme of relaxation and the feeling of just sit back and drive. The music of OutRun is second to none because of its messages of just relax and drive, as well as it’s differentiation from the usual driving music we get in games. Its rock based calypso with a twist and each song is a great song to drive to in real life.
If you don’t believe me, have a sample of the glory that is Magical Sound Shower:
What I love about OutRun’s world is its single minded simplicity. Whether you are just in OutRun mode, trying to get from point a to point b in the world, or playing Heart Attack mode where your girl becomes impressively selfish, the game still keeps it’s simple minded goal in hand. The world of OutRun is directly tied into its goal: look at these beautiful levels, drive your awesome car as fast as possible, listen to some great music during the ride and get a goofy ending with your girl. Most importantly, be happy.