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    12-09-2022 02:35 PM

It's Outrun, but without the fun.

Outrun. Chase HQ. Powerdrift. Turbocharge. If these names mean anything to you, then you'll know what to expect in this retro-inspired racer: Striped roads, scrolling horizons, 2D scaling sprites for trackside objects and a synth-wave soundtrack to drive along to at ridiculous speeds.

80's Overdrive has all of that, but it doesn't have the thing those other games have: Heart.

The main meat of the game is a mode which sees you selecting point-to-point races from a map, races you have to pay to enter. Finish on the podium in those races and you win more than you paid to enter. Build up your bankroll to upgrade your car, or buy a new one from the half dozen or so which are on sale, enter the next race, and do it again until you've won all 30+ races.

Occasionally you'll get a randomly selected mission prior to a race starting. Accomplishing these gives you a cash bonus, on top of your race winnings, should you be able to combine the two feats. Missions include damaging opponents cars by ramming them, beating select racers or collecting items which appear out on track by driving through them.

As you progress through the "story", traffic gets denser, tracks get tighter, the opponents get faster and more aggressive and police vehicles start to show up. These are easily avoided by switching lanes as soon as they appear though, so present more of an annoyance than a challenge as you hope the truck in front of you doesn't decide to switch lanes just as you move to avoid the cops.

Separate from this is the Time Attack mode, which is pure Outrun: Make your way across a map, choosing directions when the road splits and trying to reach the next checkpoint before the timer expires. There is one neat trick though: You can near-miss traffic, Burnout style, to gain more seconds on the clock. This mode is purely about getting high scores and fast times.

Finally, there's the creation mode: You can't actually make your own tracks, but you can select parameters such as twistiness, environment, traffic density, and hilliness to have the game create a track for you. Each track is given a long alphanumeric code, so if you wish to share them with friends you can. Of course, you can input codes too.

So what's wrong with the game? It sounds like it ticks all the boxes for an Outrun style racer, right?

I mentioned before that the game doesn't have heart; it's that which really drags it down.

The graphics are bland an unoriginal. Every car has a generic 80's silhouette: The Ferrari Testarossa. The Lamborghini Countash. The DMC DeLorean. The Porsche 911. They're all unlicensed copies, obviously. Trackside objects are equally generic: Palm trees. Apartment blocks. Roman-Greco pillars (they were always in these things, for some reason).

The tracks themselves are incredibly bland, long and boring. Most of them are completely flat - one of the thrills of Powerdrift was going up and down the rollercoaster tracks. Here, the hills and dips are few and far between. Sometimes you'll get a bit of bumpy road - tiny hill after tiny hill - but it's very rare you'll get a proper dip and climb.

There's nothing surrounding the races or your part in them: When you select a track, you simply get an overlaid traffic light system, and you're off. The other racers have names and pictures on the leaderboard you climb as you rack up race wins, but there's no personality to them. No speech, no scenes, no animations; nothing. Every time you overtake someone you just watch your position counter decrease until it reads 1, and you cross the line and win.

This lack of personality is everywhere. The tracks all follow the same basic construction, narrowing and widening from three to seven lanes, with corners sweeping left and right that can easily be taken at speed. Each race is its own thing, so there's no favourite tracks you'll get to love: They may as well be randomly generated. Even the person who gives you the occasional missions is featureless. It's just "collect four videotapes!" Or "Beat [insert forgettable driver name here]!"

The music is great - at various times sounding like Hammer, Vangelis or Jarre, the kings of 80's synth. But all of the music has been created by unknown underground artists, so it's no credit to the developers.

It feels like a game which has been created by an AI. The parts of 80's racers have all been fed in, a game has been constructed around them, and a familiar looking finished product has been spat out the other end. There isn't a single human touch anywhere, not a sprinkling of personality across the whole game. You can go to a fake arcade in Yakuza 0 and play the original Outrun there, complete with its iconic soundtrack, and have twice as much fun as this. So why does this exist? I don't know.

You'll have to do a lot of everything to get the completion, including winning all the races, upgrading all the cars, finishing all missions, the time attack mode, and creating and playing to completion at least two stages (one 'manually' and one via a code). Not at all difficult, just a little time consuming. But time is all it takes.

I enjoy this style of racer a lot - going as far back as Chase HQ on the Speccy, in fact. But there are quite a few retro racers available on Xbox now, and this one does nothing unique at all. The only thing it has going for it is its soundtrack, which is fantastic.

If you get it on sale as I did for 90% off, you can't really argue; I mean, it cost me less than two quid. But there are far better options out there if it's Outrun style fun you're after.
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