1992 and al that

Out Run Europa logo

US GOLD * £25.99 * 1/2 meg * Joystick * Out now

Racing games. Hardly a rare commodity are they? They come and go like a kangaroo stuck in a revolving door. And slap me down with a tub of low fat yoghurt, if US Gold haven't released yet another Out Run game to fill up our eager Yule-tide stockings.

Unfortunately for US Gold, the Out Run games have a reputation for being, well, a little crap actually. To say the original game was slow would be like saying the Pope is a bit religious, and Turbo Out Run wasn't exactly turbo charged, was it? So Out Run Europa really has to be the wasp's armpits to prove itself. Has it succeeded? Read on and find out.

To break the rather predictable racing game style, US Gold have incorporated a 'plot' into the game. Plot? Ha ha ha! It's not really a plot, just an excuse to try out other styles of graphics. Anyway, for the purists amongst you here, in all its glory it is.

The Plot: you're supposed to be a secret agent, blah blah, exciting car chases, bla blah, dangerous missions, bla blah, Out Run with different sprites, blah blah. And there, as they say, you have it.

What this all boils down to is a multi-level drive-'em-up in which you leap from motorbike to jetski, to sports cars to speedboats and thunder across Europe with police and enemy agents in hot pursuit. Every now and again an enemy agent or cop will zoom up behind you and try to knock you for six. You can knock them back, but the best course of action is to use one of your limited turbo boosts and zip out of range. Wow.

The graphics are decidedly average, looking like they haven't quite been finished, and this lends the game an unpolished feel. This is the sort of presentation we'd expect from a budget game, not a big Xmas title from a major software house.

Thankfully, things have been speeded up from the previous two escapades, but that can act against the game, especially on the Jetski level. As you sweep from side to side, rocks can suddenly lurch out of the distance and send you flying before you get a chance to react, which knocks precious seconds off your time limit.

The sound, for those who need to know, is exactly what you'd expect from a racing game. Uninspiring tune, chundering engine noise and squeaky skid effects. Ho de hum hum hum.

The first time I played the game, I hated it. Yes, I'll be honest. I couldn't stand it. It felt sloppy and poorly planned out, almost as if US Gold had released it without testing it properly in time for Xmas. But surely they wouldn't do that? Further playing didn't really do much to change my mind.
Despite all the different sprites it's still a run of the mill driving game. It's not as bad as first impressions might lead you to believe, but it's still a long, long way of being as good as it should be. Alongside competition like Lotus Challenge 2, Out Run Europa looks positively laughable.

Doubtlessly people are already buying it in droves, but the more discerning among you would be wise to fork out for a game that concentrates less on self-gratifying hype and more on playability. As average as average gets.

Out Run Europa logo

You wouldn't have thought that the novelty of racing through glorious sunshine in a Ferrari Testerossa, with a beautiful blonde right by your side, would wear off that quickly. But this is the world of computer games, not some boyish Utopian reality, so those far-sighted people at US Gold have wisely decided that the third in their series of Outrun titles would benefit from some gameplay overhaul.

The trusty Testerossa (low mileage and one careful owner; well maybe not) has been part-exchanged for a whole Bully's prize board of transport including a motorbike, a jet-ski, a speedboat, a Porsche 959 and a Ferrari F-40. The race is now run over seven rubber-burning stages including five European countries and two water stages. Oh yes, and there's a plot too...

You are secret agent Simeon Kurtz. You had a mission and you fluffed it. A homing device informs you that your chocked-to-the-gills-with-secrets briefcase is presently whizzing its way towards Dover on its inevitable journey towards Berlin. That's no problem, it will probably turn up in some second-hand shop soon enough (one for all you current-affairs fans out there), but your Ferrai F-40's been nicked as well.

HQ are angry, but you handily spot a motorbike with the keys left in the ignition. So off you go, hurtling towards Dover. This is stage one. Stage two is the English Channel, which you go bobbing over on a jet-ski. Stage three is a quick Porsche 959-propelled dash through the French countryside (overtaking Renault 5s), leading you to stage four: a quick detour into Spain. Stage five is a speedboat cruise around the Mediterranean, then it's into your F-40 for stage five: Italy, and lastly stage seven: Germany (overtaking VW Golfs).
Unfortunately, the graphical variations between stages are merely token, and your driving technique needn't be tailored for each stage. Just keep your foot on the pedal and grit your teeth.

Around the world in a Ferrari F-40
So is it any good? Well, as a high-tension spy thriller Outrun Europa is a very good driving game. Yes, the plot is completely superfluous, it doesn't even make a half-hearted attempt to create a Chase HQ kind of atmosphere. But then it's the high-speed death-defying driving element that's the important bit.

Without a doubt, Europa is by far the best of the trilogy. The action is much faster and the graphics are smoother. The various scenarios rush past at break-neck speed as the road rolls, twists, climbs and plummets in front of you. The graphically impressive water levels include a shoot-'em-up element while bollards, buoys, rocks, yachts, etc all combine well to create congestion that the M25 would be proud of. And although they cannot be entirely dismissed as merely a token novelty gesture, they are largely awkward and detract from the rest of the game.

Europa comes in as quite expensive at £25, especially when you compare it to some of the budget drive-'em-ups that are around at the moment. But for die-hard fans of the genre it just manages to hold its head up against the likes of the full price Lotus Turbo II or Indy 500.

If you completed the original, enjoyed its turbo-charged sequel and are just itching for plenty more of the same then you probably won't be disappointed.

Out Run Europa: Introduction to Level
Simeon gets his motorbike running and heads out on the London-to-Dover highway.
Out Run Europa: Introduction to Level
Dumping the jetski at Calais, secret agent Kurtz nabs himself a particularly tasteful yellow Porsche.
Out Run Europa: Introduction to Level
Fail to make the checkpoint in time and you get busted. And the moral of this story? Crime doesn't pay!

Out Run Europa logo

In der nunmehr dritten Auflage des Arcade-Klassikers ist aus dem beschaulichen Ferrai-Ausritt eine wilde Hetzjagd quer durch Europa geworden - der rote Flitzer wurde nämlich gemopst, aber wir sind dem Dieb dicht auf den Fersen!

Wer sich an das Game aus der Spielhalle nicht erinnern kann, braucht keine Knoblauchpillen: Out Run Europa ist eine Eigenproduktion von U.S. Gold. Eigentlich sollte der Startschuss bereits vor zwei Jahren fallen, aber dann kam Segas Automat "Turbo Out Run" dazwischen.

Die Lizenz wollte man sich nicht entgehen lassen, also landete die Europarundreise vorläufig in der Schublade.

Jetzt haben sie die Programmierer wieder rausgekramt, ein bißchen aufpoliert und eine kleine Story drumherum gestrickt: Simon Kurtz ist zwar Top-Agent der Abteilung sechs aber seinen Ferrari F40 hat er sich trotzdem klauen lassen. Zum Glück befindet sich ein Peilsender im Wagen und ein vereinsamtes Motorrad vor der Tür - das klaut er nun seinerseits und nimmt die Verfolgung auf.

Die wilde Jagd führt durch sieben sehr unterschiedliche Level, mal zu Lande, mal zu Wasser. Gestartet wird in England, wo Cabbies, Straßenrowdies und verhaftungswütige Polizisten den flotten Byker behindern. Wie gehabt kostet jede Kollision Zeit, wer das Etappenziel nicht im Limit erreicht, muß eines der drei Continues in Anspruch nehmen. Fünfmal darf der Booster zugeschaltet werden, es sei denn, man hätte ein paar der herumliegenden Turbo-Kanister (was immer das sein mag...) aufgesammelt, dann kann die Beschleunigungsorgie natürlich entsprechend öfter stattfinden.

Auch ein paar Waffen haben fürsorgliche Gamedesigner auf der Straße vergessen, brauchen kann man sie allerdings erst bei der Überquerung des Armelkanals. Hier geht es auf einem Wetbike weiter, wobei sich Segelboote und Leuchttürme in der Weg stellen den zuvor aufgeklaubten Raketen läßt sich das eine oder andere Hindernis elegant beseitigen.

Turbolader hat so ein Waterbike natürlich keinen, dafür sorgen im Wasser dümpelnde Tonnen mit Atommüll für Zusatz-Speed (Greenpeace dürfte von diesem Ideenreichtum begeistert sein...). Frankreich und Spanien werden dann im Porsche Turbo durchbraust, das Mittelmeer per Motorboot durchquert, bis man in Italien schließlich wieder in seinem geliebten F40 sitzt, um fürs Finale in Deutschland gerüstet zu sein.

Grafisch präsentiert sich Out Run Europa zwar nicht ganz so bunt wie seine Vorgänger, dafür um vieles detail- und abwechslungsreicher. Die 3D-Landschaften zoomen in einem Höllentempo heran, die (abschaltbaren) FX sind leidlich, die Musiken aufpeitschend - ja, hier kommt echtes Arcade-Feeling auf!

Da die Sticksteuerung keinen Grund zur Klage gibt und die Nachladezeiten sich trotz der animierten Zwischensequenzen in erträglichen Grenzen halten, macht es auch (fast) nix, daß diesmal auf eine Schaltung komplett verzichtet wurde. Out Run Europa ist ein sicherer Tip für jeder Arcade Racer! (rl/ml)

Out Run Europa logo

US Gold make their third bid at producing the definitive OutRun game, this time forsaking the wide open plains of America for the more extravagance of Europe.

Of course, the title of OutRun Europa gives the game away a bit. This is exactly what it sounds like - OutRun set in Europe, a mad illegal dash through the home counties and London, across the Channel, and then through France, Italy and so on in various vehicles (ranging from motorbike to Ferrari). It's even more unrealistic than the basic high speed race format of the real OutRun (you have to ignore the realities of geographical distance for a start) but what it clearly has over the original game is a) that there're a greater number of vehicles to drive and b) that there are such spectacular backgrounds - not only are they more complicated and involved than most (perhaps any?) of the type, they're generally evocative of the places they're meant to represent.

OutRun Europa, though? You've been racking your brains for the last paragraph, I can tell. It's not exactly the most common coin-op around, is it? In fact, you probably don't remember seeing one at all, do you? That is, of course, because it doesn't actually exist, which provides the perfect cue, before we go any further, for three things you really should know about the game:

No. 1) It might sound like it's a coin-op conversion, but it's not. In fact this 'third' OutRun game is an original creation of well known arcade converters Probe, originally mooted (and, indeed, developed) two years ago, but totally reworked for this eventual release. The thinking behind it is much the same as that behind the recent Gauntlet III, another game which never actually appeared as a coin-op.

No. 2) It's very much a traditional-style driving game. That means bright, very Amiga-looking graphics, a stage system where you've got to make it through a level in 85 seconds or less to continue, hopelessly unrealistic speeds and so on. Old fashioned in the face of the likes of Formula One Grand Prix and Indy 500 then, but not necessarily crap - I remember the original OutRun conversion (despite its iffy quality) being played for months where I used to work, and that's simply because the formula is so accessible and, well, fun.
This sort of thing is the Baywatch or Beverly Hills 90210 of computer games - fun and jolly and bright and rather crap, but fun nonetheless.

No. 3) It's impressively quick. I'll get onto that in a moment, but in many ways it's one of the most important elements of a driving game, and whatever you might think about OutRun Europa, you couldn't call this game a slouch.

Yes, yes, yes, you're no doubt saying, but is it any good? Well, by the standards of previous OutRun games, yes it is. On reloading the Amiga conversion of the first game I was amazed at how poor it was. Funny, flattened looking graphics, little sense of speed and an ultra-wide roadway for much of the game (making crashing all but impossible) make it a very disappointing experience - OutRun Europa has none of these faults. Turbo OutRun was a lot better - it looked really good and succeeded in being pretty playable, but OutRun Europa quite clearly has it over that one too. By the standards of the Christmas of '87-'88 then, when the first OutRun game came out, this is quite clearly a very good game indeed.

This sort of thing is the Baywatch of computer games

By the standards of 1991 though it does come across as sort of lacking. These days for this sort of price you can pick up Geoff Crammond's new Formula One Grand Prix or EA's Indy 500, a couple of super-fast 3D driving games that make Europa look straight out of the stone age. Or you can get Gremlin's Lotus II, with its more controllable car and neat visual effects.

The only thing Europa really has over these other games is the tourist novelty of all those European settings, and it has to be said that once you've enjoyed the pleasingly English feel of the first stage, Europa starts to disappoint in increasing amounts. Here, then, are some of the things that are wrong with it:

a) Both boat levels make up for the lack of there being any clearly defined roadway by simply throwing obstacles at you and adding a shoot-'em-up element, so you get the ridiculous image of the English Channel or Mediterranean simply jam-packed with next-to-unavoidable boats, rocks and lighthouses.

b) The graphics guy has obviously had more problems visualising the rest of Europe than he did the UK. France and Spain are almost identical, Italy looks to be one big desert, and only Germany manages a non-cliché driving game look, mainly by its use of sombre dark greens.

c) Absolutely no attempt is made to give you any interesting visual effects - exactly the sort of thing that gives a driving game variety and makes it a real challenge. You'd think somewhere in Europe there might be snow, or rain, or something, but no.

d) The possibilities of having different types of driving for each geographical area are ignored too. Switzerland or the Pyrenees would have made for excellent tight mountain road sequences (in the style of the spectacular recent coin-op, Rad Mobile), miles of European coastline lend themselves to a chase along a winding coastal road, oodles of large European cities lend themselves to a stop-start sort of city driving, but none are taken advantage of. What's here is just boringly average.

e) The tagged on secret agent plot, with a rival driver in a variety of black cars keeping pace with you (annoyingly, he goes exactly as fast as you, making his appearance a regular pain in the ass) is no substitute for the good time feel of cruising in your supercar with your best girl by your side. All the spy sub-plot does is push the game in the direction of Chase HQ without giving you another car to chase.

By the standards of 1991 it comes across as lacking

So where does that leave us? Well, while this is in my mind without doubt the best of the OutRun games, it does struggle to justify the £25 price mark. Games inarguably far superior to this are selling at the same price, while all its most obvious rivals (OutRun, Buggy Boy, Super Hang On) come in at around the eight quid mark. Even if you ignore the awkwardness of the controls - for much of the time this game doesn't Feel right, though you'd probably have to play it yourself to know exactly what I mean - and the laziness of the design, you'd still be hard pushed to point out areas where it does anything significantly better than the best of these older games.

Despite the graphical cool points OutRun Europa comes across as a game out of time - next to modern rivals, it seems thin, uncontrollable, cartoony and just a little childish.

At Dover (1) you get off your bike, remove your bike leathers to reveal a wetsuit(!), hop on your jetski, get in this Porsche (2) in France, drive to Spain, get in a speedboat (3) and so it goes...
Out Run Europa: Introduction to Level Out Run Europa: Introduction to Level Out Run Europa: Introduction to Level

Out Run Europa: Level 1: England

Level One - England
Perhaps the most visually impressive of all the levels, the English section puts you on a fast motorbike in a race towards the docks of Dover. Starting out somewhere just north of London, you head towards the capital for a bit (Big Ben, St Pauls and so on clearly visible) then out into the home counties (Surrey presumably) which are made up of rolling hills, patchwork effect fields and the like. There's no denying it - this level does actually look like Britain, and the details like correct looking road signs (though shouldn't they be green, not blue?) add much to the effect. London taxis, orange Fords and Sierra police cars provide most of the moving obstacles.

Out Run Europa: Level 2: The English Channel

Level Two - The English Channel
The programmers have obviously seen the Channel alright - it's a horrible murky grey/green colour capped with the odd little white horses, and as such is spot on. I would question whether they've ever taken a ferry across it though - according to OutRun Europa the busies sea lane in the world is packed chock-full with lighthouses and rocks of all descriptions (not how I remember it) and buzzing with trawlers, yachts and the like, amongst which your tiny jet-ski has to weave like crazy to have any chance of getting anywhere at all. Add the silly Fire And Forget-style shoot-'em-up element and it's tricky believing in this level at all.

Out Run Europa: Level 3: France

Level Three - France
France doesn't manufacture any suitably fast cars for his bit, so you find yourself behind the wheel of a German Porsche 959 (about three times as snazzy as your normal Porsche) instead on a chase through the French countryside. You can tell it's France because of all the road-side pavement cafes and Renault 5s you keep overtaking - generally the countryside is a lot flatter and emptier than in England, pretty much as you'd expect it to be. Police cars are some sort of medium-sized Peugeots (or similar) while your rival agent crops up this time in a black Renault 5 Turbo.

Out Run Europa: Level 4: Spain

Level Three - Spain
Erm, this bit's just the same as France really, only you can see mountains in the background (the Pyrenees presumably). Cars are much more nondescript - a makeless police car, some Peugeot 205s and a jeep of some sort for the secret agent - and greenery is suitably sparse. Scenery-wise there's not much else to say really - it's all a bit too similar to France really for there to be anything else to comment on. (The massive opportunity to put lots of British holiday-makers in their Union Jack sorts and donkeys with straw hats on has gone sadly missed).

Out Run Europa: Level 5: The Mediterranean

Level Five - The Mediterranean
Very similar to the English Channel (packed with lighthouses, yachts and so on) if rather bluer colour-wise, the Med puts you in a yellow speedboat for a rather unrealistic dash from Spain all the way across to Italy! Similar yachts, coastguard boats and bomb-dropping helicopters (!) to the Channel level complicate matters, while the enemy agent in an annoying black speedboat keeps easy pace with you and gets to be a bit of pain. No topless sunbathers to be seen (boo!) which spoils it a bit, and generally it's just as impossible to play as the earlier water section.

Out Run Europa: Level 6: Italy

Level Six - Italy
Into an ultra-rare Ferrari F40 for a race north. Italy tends to look more like Arizona than anything (it's all yellow desert - only the cactuses are missing) but the Lancia (?) police cars, VW Beetles and agent's black Lotus Esprit you encounter liven things up a bit. It's a fair bet the programmers skipped a few geography lessons though...

Out Run Europa: Level 7: Germany

Level Seven - Germany
...becaue you manage to crash straight through from desert Italy into a very green, lush and Bavarian looking Germany - whatever happened to Austria, I wonder? (Maybe your Ferrari goes so fast that you whiz right through it without even noticing. Or something). This section is packed with red VW Golf's, assorted Fords (the office can't agree on whether they're Capris or Escorts) and a typically-annoying black Mercedes for our main bad guy. Slightly bizarre looking mountains in the background, but the lush autobahn look of the section is fairly effective for all that. This is one where the road suddenly forks quite a lot - always an effective play.


Out Run Europa logo

For perhaps the last time US Gold roll out their perennial money-maker Outrun. Despite major enhancements over its predecessors, though, it doesn't quite match up to them. Leaving the sunny American climes behind, your mission is to collect some vital documents while avoiding a secret agent who's on your tail.

One of the nice touches is that, unlike the previous Outrun games, you're not limited to one mode of transport. This time you get to wreck motorbikes, a Ferrari, a Porsche, a jet ski, and a motor boat. All the vehicles come with a limited number of turbo-boosts, which give the vehicle an unmatchable turn of speed. Additionally, boats and jet skis come armed with lasers and missiles respectively.

Europa's road scrolls convincingly, although hills obscure on-coming vehicles and bends, making accuracy difficult. The many roadside objects, such as buildings and suicidal pedestrians, are well drawn and are updated quickly.

Level one gets the game off to a good start with plenty of action and a good feeling of speed. The second level is just as fast, although hazards come at such arate there's no time for coordinated movement. From here the game is rather repetitive, with only the backdrop graphics changing. The roads seem identical on the driving stages, and the water levels are complete chaos throughout.

With the likes of Lotus 2 and Grand Prix on the market, Outrun Europa is hopelessly outclassed as a race game. The better elements keep the game from falling on its face, but the current competition leaves it stalled at the start line.

Out Run Europa logo

"Outrun Europe?" cried Lord Paul defiantly "That'll be easy. It's a huge continent you see, so it can't move." His hearing isn't getting any better, is it?

Outrun Europa, catching the mood of the moment, starts with two cases of 'removing a vehicle from the possession of its rightful owner'. The victim of the first crime is Simeon Kurtz who, despite sounding like a hairddresser with ambivalent sexual preferences, is in fact a 'senior operative from Unit 6'. It's not made clear what Unit 6 is but it's obviously jolly important, and a lot bigger and better than Units 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. Kurtz has had his Ferrari F40 (don't you hate him already?) half inched along with the secret documents he left on the back seat.

So he swipes a nearby motorbike and sets off in pursuit of the thieves but his problems are just the beginning. For starters his employees have taken full advantage of the Government's industrial relations legislation and decided to annihilate their careless employee. Added to that someone's rung up Sue Cook on Crimewatch and dobbed him to the filth. So the hapless Kurtz is being pursued by the law, the secret service and the guys who swiped the car.

What all of this boils down to is seven levels of chase action. Each level represents a different location but the same target - that flaming Ferrari. In reality you're actually racing against the clock. You can drive your little heart out but you'll never catch the Farrari, you simply have to complete the course before the timer runs out in order to get into the next section.

It's quite a travel itinerary, first a hack across sunny Kent on your bike, then a quick jet-ski across the channel, then pleasant motoring through France and Spain in a Porsche. There's barely time to pick up the latest Harold Robbins before it's time to power-boat across the med. Then at last you get your hands on a Ferrari 40 for a burn through Italy and Germany. It beats a Club 18-30 holiday any time.

Amiga review

Paul: Outrun eh? Now there's a title to strike terror, or at least mild boredom into the heart of the most hardened gaesplayer. It would be fair to say that previous Outrun games have been of the "file under really rather crap" category. Outrun Europa is an improvement on this but it doesn't exactly set the world on fire.

In its favour Outrun Europa has got variety, both with the locations and the vehicles. There's also plenty of activity going on. Although your main interest is the bloomin' car snaffler up ahead, you've also got to watch out for the world and his wife who are out to interfere with you (so to speak). This interference might simply be a case of getting in your way, forcing you to slow down or crash but it's equally likely to be a case of dropping an explosive device on your head. There are also bonuses/power-ups to pick up along the way.

That's the good side. The bad side is the speed. Having just come from playing Road Rash on the Mega Drive, the opening motorbike level seemed a tad slow. It had loads of scenery mind you, all those two-dimensional houses beloved of people who live beside computer race tracks. This adds a bit to the atmosphere but it doesn't really compensate for the loss of speed. The collision detection is also a bit ropey, particularly when it comes to picking up the bonuses.

Occasionally you can virtually ride over them without making a pick-up while at other times you only need to be in the same time zone in order to collect. However, the really (and I mean really) irritating thing is the links between the levels. It's never clear when you've successfully completed a level. Time and again I'd get to the White Cliffs of Dover and find the scenery going spookily backwards with the time ticking away with it.

At the end of the time I'd sometimes find myself in jail and other times clambering onto a jet-ski. For all the sense I could make of it, it might as well have been random.

So you've got all the good points and all the bad ones. Gather them together and you get a challenging and moderately addictive race/chase game. Not outstanding, but certainly the best Outrun game to date. Stop