The OutRun series of arcade racers has a long and storied history, but all you really need to know going into OutRun Online Arcade is that this is a game in which you spend the majority of your time driving Ferraris really, really fast. A handful of different modes that pit you against traffic, other racers, and the whims of your in-car girlfriend serve to keep things interesting, while online leaderboards capture the attention of those with a competitive streak. OutRun Online Arcade doesn't do anything that other iterations haven't before it, but it looks better than its predecessors and, crucially, it's a reasonably priced XBLA download rather than a full retail product.
Regardless of whether or not you're familiar with the series, taking control of any of the 10 licensed Ferraris--all of which are available from the outset--could hardly be any easier. Performance differences between the models are so negligible that they're not even detailed on the selection screen, and one thing that all of the cars have in common is an amazing level of grip that lets you take some corners at around 300km/h. That means you can spend the majority of your time with your finger firmly down on the accelerator, and when the brakes come into play it's almost always because you want to start a drift around a corner, not because you want to slow down. If you opt for a manual gearbox, things get a little more challenging, but you can initiate drifts by downshifting, so the brakes might not come into play at all. OutRun Online Arcade is an easy game to get into, and it's also an easy game to "beat" if your only goal is to cross the finish line, but for those who get a kick out of high score tables, there's plenty of replay value here.
In addition to the single-player modes, OutRun Online Arcade supports online play for up to six people. Disappointingly, there are no rankings or leaderboards of any kind for multiplayer, but it's fun to pit your skills against other drivers regardless. Catch-up, collisions, and courses taken from the single-player game's branching track design (one start line, five possible finishes) are among the options available to the host, who, oddly, always gets to start in pole position. The slipstream mechanic that affords you a speed boost if you tuck in behind an opponent ensures that players on the front row of the starting grid don't get a major advantage, but it's unfortunate that sessions spanning multiple races don't base starting positions on previous results or that the grid isn't generated randomly. Other than opponents occasionally appearing to jump around the track a little, the online play is smooth, and it's all too easy to succumb to the "just one more race" mentality.
Bizarrely, the single-player game doesn't always run as smoothly as the online play. The regular OutRun mode is fine, and so is Time Attack, but for some reason the Heart Attack mode--in which your girlfriend challenges you to complete objectives, such as taking a certain line through a corner, collecting coins, or passing other cars--suffers from noticeable slowdown in some areas. However, it's not so bad that it has an impact on gameplay, which is fortunate because Heart Attack is a really fun mode that offers a much more varied challenge than the rest of the lineup.
Minor technical issues aside, OutRun Online Arcade is a good-looking game, even if it doesn't live up to modern visual standards. The car models are the only things that look even vaguely realistic, but the repeated-texture tarmac of the wide sweeping roads, the bold colors used throughout, and the caricatures of places like Las Vegas and San Francisco all have a pleasing arcade-game feel about them that will evoke any memories you might have of a youth misspent pumping quarters into Sega racing cabinets. Similarly, the audio is quite primitive by today's standards, but because the quality is consistent, it's never jarring. The high-pitched engines and squealing tires give you all of the feedback you need when stringing together lengthy drifts around multiple corners; the ambient sounds associated with each locale are appropriate; and the seven music tracks are pleasing versions of series staples like "Splash Wave" and "Passing Breeze."
OutRun Online Arcade doesn't bring anything new to the OutRun series, and in many respects it's really just a stripped-down version of OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast. There's a lot of fun to be had here for 800 Microsoft points though, and even if you're a fan of more realistic racers, you might find this game's high-speed thrills and insane drifts to be pleasantly refreshing.