Sega Master System / Mark III / Game Gear
I have to be honest: I miss the out-and-out fun of the coin-op. The new secret-agent plotline — you play Simeon Kurtz — makes it a bit too much like any other game for my tastes. I mean leaving secret documents in your F-40 only to find it nicked, then your lovable bosses putting out a warrant for your arrest as a presumed double agent isn’t a feel-good sort of trip. On the other hand 2 Megabits really isn’t enough for the epic sonics and graphics needed for the classic OutRun experience.
Master System Europa is an intriguing development of the home computer game by US Gold. To fit 256K some graphics have been dropped, but by way of compensation far more combat action’s been added.
Your journey begins in the UK, leaping onto a motorbike and giving chase to your beloved F-40, not that you see its exhaust trail until the final level! As you’d expect the roads are filled with madmen, all eager to knock you off. It’s just as well US Gold have fitted your Triumph with a force-field! This saves them animating a crash sequence — if your shield wears out you simply explode and it’s game over. Shield power is replenished by racing over shield packs which, naturally enough, are scattered all across the road to the Dover — along with turtx) boosts and ammunition clips.
Ammo isn’t needed on the first level as Mr Kurtz deals with enemy bikes by punching them! This definitely isn’t recommended on police cars — they have the sneaky habit of winding down the window and snapping on the old handcuffs. Dealing with the fuzz is best done by putting your foot down and do a turbo fart in their faces!
Well, at least you’ve got some chance on a Triumph superbike rather than a Metro 0.1 and before you know it you arrive at Dover, just in time to see the villains sail away on a ferry. Being a typical member of Her Majesty’s law enforcement agencies, charged with upholding the law etc, you simply nick a jetski and give chase.
Jetskiin’ ain’t simply motorbikin’ with different graphics; there’s buoys to avoid, motorboats to ram and a helicopter bombing you. Thankfully our hero doesn’t try to headbutt this! — no, he finally reaches for the old oozy nine-millimetre and shoots back. Otherwise it’s a beautiful day for a cruise with a nice ocean effect, but the arcade action’s a little hampered by there only ever being one enemy onscreen at a time.
Next stop’s Calais. Exchange the jetski for a Porsche 911, and it’s time to hit the road again for a tougher version of Level One. Graphic restrictions show up with dull French scenery, but the Porsche looks okay.
At Barcelona it’s time to hotwire a powerboat. This level’s much the same as the jetski with more obstacles to dodge in a bigger vehicle. Once you arrive in Germany the F-40 is finally in sight and you’ve gotta run your beloved car off the road to recover those precious documents. Snappy gunplay and dodge-’em-style driving should win the day.
As for the game itself, all these added elements, the combat and the various different vehicles certainly help compensate for the lack of great visual variety. There’s not much difference between a 911 and a F-40 in gameplay terms, but the bike has its own feel and getting a new toy to try out is always fun. Especially as the levels are so tough, each having several sub-sections to complete inside tight time-limits — take a wrong turning and they seem all but impossible!
The police cars and boats are also good fun: if you haven’t got a turbo, avoiding arrest requires very skilful driving. Then there’s all the objects to collect, so simply keeping on the tarmac and avoiding other traffic isn’t enough; there’s always something happening to keep you sweating. There’s only ever one object or vehicle on the road at a time, but the speed they appear at combined with some very tight corners means you don’t realty notice this limitation.
Graphics are the game’s other main selling point: colourful, fast and packed with detail. There’s no flicker and the speed’s terrific. Predictably sound isn’t quite as good, but there’s a decent title tune and bearable in-game music.
Europa lacks the California blondes, laid-back feel of the coin-op but the variety of action and intense combat more than compensate. The plot is carried forward at each new level by some small but well-done pics, plus text, and you really get involved with it all. If you fancy a trip round Europe with plenty of speed and action, buy Outrun Europa and forget the Highway Code!
Driving games tend to be plot- less and samey, but Europa’s in a class of its own. Graphics are outstanding, animating well without a hint of jerkiness, and intelligent use of colour really gives the impression of being there.
A couple of criticisms. When you let go of the joystick, your vehicle grinds to a halt. This is fairly standard in driving games, but still very hard on the thumb, especially if you’re using a joypad. When will designers create a game that actually uses the bog-standard pull-down-to-brake control, and let you cruise with the joystick in neutral? Also, there are no continue-plays, which is a bit of a pain.
Quibbling aside, Europa is a corking game that just oozes character and variety. US Gold have given a new lease of life to a very stale concept, and created a game destined to become an all-time classic.
A real high-speed thriller