SEGA Rally has always been considered by many as the definitive arcade rally game considering it appeared in the actual arcades in the 90’s as well as appearing on various home consoles such as the SEGA Saturn or Genesis, depending on which side of the pond you live. With its non simulation approach and favourable gameplay, it offered a contrast to the likes of Outrun and Daytona USA back in times past. Well today in 2007 SEGA have made a next generation version of the game and whilst the name is shared with previous iterations, the game is in fact new and features new gameplay mechanics.
SEGA Rally features several modes of play which are presented using a simplistic but effective menu. Players can choose to jump right into the action in Quick Race or embark on the main Championship mode. Other modes include Time Attack and of course Multiplayer where you can either go head to head with racers over the Live network or a little closer to home with a friend in head to head via split screen. The Championship mode is probably the best place to start although purists might find that practice in the Time Attack would be a better option so at least you have some knowledge of the all new tracks before you start racing proper.
The Championship mode has various events and of course these are divided into difficulties such as Amateur, Premier, Expert and Final. What is more there are several vehicle classes to wade through as well, starting with standard cars working up to modified and finally masters. Choosing a car is rather subtle at first as there are no indications as to which cars are better unlike some other games which provide stats to help gamers out. The only real method of choosing a car is common sense and by actually racing them. It’s actually fairly intuitive once you figure this out, as there are various factors you have to consider when racing. Things like cornering will be easier in say the smaller vehicles such as the Peugeot 206, whereas top speed will be greater in cars such as the Toyota Celica. What is more, players have to also consider the car’s weight, not only for zipping around tight bends but also how other cars on the track will impact should you collide (yes you are going to be colliding with the other 5 cars on the track often – whether you can help it or not). The game allows you to choose two predetermined race set ups which are off road and road; with these affecting grip or top speed and acceleration. There are also various liveries you can unlock and use, although there are only 3 per vehicle. Other than these, there are no further customization options. There’s a decent selection of real world cars both past and present and so with some experimentation players will get to grips with the cars that suit their play style. In my extensive play of the game, there really is no one car that dominates the others that drastically (in Championship mode at least) despite there being unlockable cars as you earn points and open up more events and tracks.
Looking at the actual circuits for a moment and yes I said circuits as rather than have point to point races, the tracks are actual circuits where players undertake 3 laps per race. There’s a very good reason for this and one that is perhaps an inventive feature that is unique to this game. Unlike other rally games, SEGA Rally has a track deformation feature, which in a nutshell means that tires have a distinct impact on the road surface and thus on subsequent laps can affect the handling and speed of the cars. The circuits take place in four varied environments which include Safari (dusty dry tracks), Alpine (wet/dry tarmac with some ice thrown in for good measure), Tropical (wet or muddy circuits) and finally Arctic (ice/snow). The track deformation plays a big part on the various surfaces as you have two options available. You can either carve out your own racing line on the first lap and then try and stick to it on subsequent laps – remembering that driving on flattened surfaces offer better traction. Or you can try and follow the carved out racing line that the AI is so intent on following. I think it’s damn neat and a great addition to the game especially as there are other elements to consider such as water puddles and skid marks on tarmac that also affect grip.
Grip is an important feature for any racing game but due to the nature of the types of surface in rally driving, you really have to pay attention to the road ahead and slide your vehicle around corners rather than brake hard and then power out of corners (although the latter can work on occasion). One thing I have to mention and is something that I can’t stress enough is the game’s camera modes have a distinct effect on the vehicle handling. For some reason using the outside view where your car can be seen in full, the handling seems to be way oversensitive with your car sliding all over the place to the point of being barely controllable (well for me anyways). The handling using the bumper camera type views is much more solid and feels pretty much like any other racer you might have played. I don’t really get why the game has this approach and perhaps with practise you might be able to drive comfortably using outside viewpoints? On a negative, players who first dip into the game using the outside view or are used to these viewpoints in racing games are going to get a huge shock and might even be put off by the game, which is a shame.
Looking at the AI in the game, the first thing most gamers are going to notice once they have chosen a vehicle is it’s pretty challenging, even in the Amateur leagues. SEGA Rally takes some practice where seemingly impossible to beat opponents can become a breeze to overtake once the game’s nuances have been mastered. As mentioned earlier, the AI cars do try and stick to the optimal racing line as much as they can but also they do tend to bump into you often, sometimes slowing you down and other times giving you a boost or aid around a corner. At times though I did feel the AI would cheat by having the cars at the back of the pack deliberately try and slow you down to allow the leading AI car an improved chance of gaining a huge lead. At first this might be frustrating and perhaps could cause much swearing; however the art of good racing in any game is being able to time your overtaking without losing your pace.
SEGA Rally looks really nice and with the various environments all featuring different track side detail such as giraffes and elephants in the Safari courses to people and buildings in the Alpine courses; it really does have a pleasant colourful feel to it. Everything is vibrant especially as palm trees sway in the wind and even small shrubs and weeds move as you race past them. The real star of the show are not the cars which look very authentic, but the mud and track deformation itself. The mud on cars in particular is amazing and it’s great to see a game which finally shows that cars don’t look like polished showroom pieces after racing around circuits. If you watch the replays you can actually see the individual pieces of mud flying off the wheels and onto the side panels of the cars – tremendous! The track deformation is equally as impressive especially as you will be paying close attention to this during races (well you should be at least). The different surfaces such as muddy snow, mud and icy snow look very convincing and with the tire marks carving it up really does seal the deal.
The game runs really smoothly and although it’s apparently not running at a full 60 frames per second, I doubt anyone is going to notice this at all especially as there is a good sense of speed and no slowdown. The draw distance is also very good although if you really are focusing heavily on what is going on, off the track you might notice some distant objects being rendered as you approach them. Technically there really isn’t anything to complain about with the game’s graphics other than perhaps things might be a little too colourful – but that’s certainly not a bad thing considering the game isn’t a simulation.
The sound is a mixed bag for me, as I really hated the in game music to the extent where it had to be muted early on in my play time. It’s distracting and somewhat annoying as far as I am concerned. The other sound which got on my nerves was the electro sounding co-driver, who sounded camp and generally way too over enthusiastic for my tastes. Sadly I felt his imputus was too helpful to mute him as I’m sure you will also. The real deal with the sound is the actual car engines and the impact the car has on the track surfaces. It’s obvious the sound guys spent a lot of time getting those effects just right and I am pleased they did as it really adds to the overall experience.
The single player portion of the game is maybe not as extensive as other racers such as Forza, but there are enough events here to keep you busy for quite some time. The way events are set up also means that you really need to be good to max out all of the scores for each one. This I assume will take quite some time especially as you might do well in two of three events only to screw up on the last one and have to restart again (and by restart I mean all three events). The Master series of events is damn tough and therefore will take some nifty skills and perhaps a little luck thrown in to get all the available points. The game’s achievements seem fairly balanced and again to get them all is going to require some lengthy playtime – depending on how well you master the game.
The online mode is pretty fun and allows you to participate in ranked and un-ranked matches against one or five online competitors. For un-ranked games you can even add AI cars into the mix if you are short on numbers. I found the online play to be very similar to racing AI as some players would hold you back should you be unfortunate enough to start at the back of the pack on the starting grid. The quality of driving is varied and with options to select which class of cars people can use means you can have a fair playing field if you choose.
The Time Attack mode is interesting also as you are able to upload your ghost cars for others to download. There are also leader boards for this and general online play.
SEGA Rally Revo is a great rally experience if you like the more arcade side of things as opposed to the simulation aspect of gaming. The handling might seem a little off to players used to more rigid surfaces and the weird uncontrollable out of car view seems mightily strange to include in an game of this type. There’s certainly plenty of fun to be had here, although there is also a fair amount of frustration. If you can overlook this with a cool a calm demeanor then most certainly the game should remain a favourite to drop in and out of from time to time. SEGA Rally isn’t the best driving game out there but it has enough charms of its own to cement itself as another rally classic just like its predecessors.