Gaming Disasters: Outrun (Commodore 64) [Game Review]

Here’s another in my occasional series of personal gaming disasters – games I bought and soon wished I hadn’t…

This time up, it’s Outrun – easily my favourite arcade game when I was growing up. When the computer magazines of the time confirmed that the game was to get an inevitable conversion to the popular home computers of the time, I could scarcely contain my excitement.

Indeed, this sense of anticipation overcame my normal game-buying caution. I couldn’t afford many games as a kid so selected my purchases very carefully, scouring the pages of Zzap!64 to see what they recommended. In the case of Outrun, though, I just knew I had to have it and so the game went straight to the top of my Christmas list before any magazine had so much as printed a preview screenshot.

Christmas Day arrived and sure enough, amongst my presents was a brand new cassette copy of Outrun for my beloved Commodore 64. Aware that I only had a short time before I was whisked off to church for the usual Christmas Day service, I raced upstairs, switched on the computer and loaded up the game, anxious to squeeze at least one race in before I had to go. As the cassette whirred and beeped to itself, there was one very excited 14 year old sitting there.

Five minutes after that, there was one very disappointed 14 year old sitting there.

Initial impressions were pretty good. Title screen graphics were OK and, like the arcade game, you could select a tune to listen to whilst you were racing (although only two were available). This was going to be great!

Outrun tune selection
Magical Sound Shower, anyone?

Except it wasn’t.

As I began the actual race, it became clear that things had gone horribly wrong. The graphics looked hideous with murky, muddy graphics that lacked the colour and vibrancy of its arcade parent. The stunning roadside scenery from the arcade version (which helped create the illusion of speed) was almost completely absent, giving the game a very Spartan look. The road was made up of horrible looking grey stripes which looked like no road I’d ever seen and did nothing to create that all-important sense of speed. Worst of all the car – that fabulous red Ferrari – looked blocky and squat and was so badly animated when it was “turning” that I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Worse was still to come, since several elements of the game had got lost in the conversion. There was no road branching system, the undulating roads that made the arcade version such a great game were replaced with dull, flat surfaces and the other vehicles were as badly animated as your Ferrari and came in predictable patterns that made the game more seriously dull. Worst of all, there was absolutely no illusion of speed – the game seemed to run at a snail’s pace, robbing it of that sense of exhilaration.

Outrun road
Hmmm. The roads are quiet today…

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting an arcade perfect conversion, and I was fully aware that sacrifices would have to be made to cram Outrun into the Commodore, but how on earth had it all gone so badly wrong?

Deeply disillusioned, I switched off the machine and headed off for church, trying to convince myself that I’d only had a quick game and that once I’d had time to play it properly, I’d grow to like it.

Sadly, I never did. Further sessions only served to confirm my worst fears. Outrun on the Commodore 64 was a gaming disaster – and one I had wasted £10 of my money on (well, technically my parents’ money). The cassette was quietly consigned to a box and rarely saw the light of day again.

With hindsight, I don’t blame the coders – converting the arcade experience to the humble 64 was always going to be a difficult task and producer US Gold clearly rushed it out in time for the Christmas market. It wasn’t a completely awful game – it just wasn’t Outrun.

Fortunately, the story does have a slightly happy ending. Any sad memories of that Christmas Day were at least partly erased, when the superb Turbo Outrun revved onto the C64 and showed how it should be done.

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3 thoughts on “Gaming Disasters: Outrun (Commodore 64) [Game Review]

  1. I respect your opinion (that’s what many guys actually think about this game), but I have always enjoyed this game instead. Very far from the arcade, but not a disaster. Nice writing by the way, thanks!

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    • Thanks for your comments – it’s always good to hear a different point of view! Certainly one of the (many) issues I had with Outrun was that it was so unlike the arcade game, which I loved. I could probably have forgiven that if it had at least been a decent racing game, but I felt it lagged behind many existing titles (including the sublime Pitstop II) so sadly, it always went down as a definite miss as far as I was concerned.

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