Since its debut in arcade cabinets around the world in 1995, SEGA Rally has been one of the most popular racing game franchises around. Its fast-paced racing with an emphasis on drifting as much as possible, really struck a chord with fans who loved that it was much more lenient than other more technical racers. Which is why the series is still around today, having spawned arcade sequels as well as home console versions, including a 2007 retail outing and, much more recently, an XBOX Live Arcade and PlayStation Network release under the title, SEGA Rally Online Arcade. A title that is more reminiscent of previous games in the series that were made for arcade cabinets, than the more recent retail release, due to a limited amount of content with a high amount of addictive qualities. The core engine within runs well, but there are some hiccups you may want to get checked out before you begin your first race on the track.
Like its predecessors, SEGA Rally Online Arcade isn’t a game that puts a lot of focus on driving perfectly. You’re better off if you do, but accidents happen and the game knows that. Its physics allow for the odd bump and scrape – neither of which will really set you back too much on your push towards the front of the pack. The game’s thirteen drive-able rally cars bounce off the sides of the track when you crash, letting you get back into the action quickly, without much of a penalty.
Granted, the artificial intelligence and your online competition can be very tough (even on the casual difficulty option) so your best bet is to try to avoid any accidents, by drifting well using your brakes a bit when need be. Instigating a drift is quite easy in this one and can be done simply by letting your foot off the proverbial pedal while entering a corner, then slamming down on it shortly after you’re in its midst. Perfectly timed and aimed drifts can be the key to whether you win or lose certain races – especially on the unlockable Lakeside track, which features some pretty challenging corners that can be tough on other racers. Like they always say: practice makes perfect. With an addictive series like this, you’re likely to get a lot of practice.
The series’ trademarked racing structure is there, but it features some new mechanics in the form of upgraded driving physics. Each car handles in a similar fashion, so you won’t find players using only one car online because of its statistics. However, you can tell that they handle better than they have before, due to the new physics system. Steering, cornering and braking are all more precise and adaptive, making it a much more engaging and less frustrating experience. That’s not to say that the previous games in the series were frustrating or controlled poorly, though. There were just the odd times where you’d wish the controls and physics were more precise, after a questionable crash or spin-out. Those were predominantly eliminated this time around, though you’ll still spin out a bit of you hit a barrier at the edge of a track, while heading in at a bad angle.
When SEGA Rally REVO was released as a retail disc on the XBOX 360 and PlayStation 3, it featured quite a bit of content – more than its arcade cabinet parents. This time around though, as a 1.22 gigabyte XBLA and PSN download, the series goes back to its roots. It features thirteen cars, five tracks and five game modes, though most of the game types are quite similar.
Challenge mode is the game’s main game type, forcing you into a racing series that features three two lap races. Your goal is to go from twenty-second to first in the span of the three short events, with the reward being an unlockable duel track known as Lakeside. It may be short, but it’s also a lot of pulse-pounding (and challenging) fun. Adding some longevity to the experience along with that mode are a time attack challenge, with full leaderboard support, classic mode, duels that allow for the use of classic rally cars, and a quick race mode. Each one is fun and challenging, but none of them last very long at all. Quick race and classic mode are essentially just one-off races, while time attack features a plethora of ghosts for you to race against, making it addictive and challenging.
Though the aforementioned single player game types can be addictive and fun, despite being short, online is the main focus of this experience. SEGA’s goal was to create a racing experience that people would flock to online, allowing for some insanely tough online competition that would lead to quite a bit of addiction. The bones are there, but it was surprisingly tough to find people to race against sometimes, which is too bad, because it’s a fun experience. The game’s online mode allows you to go against several other racers in a no-holds, no complaints sprint to the finish line.
One wrong move could drop you from the front of the pack to its rear, without any chance of getting back into it, so you have to try to be careful and drift with intelligence. These races take place on any of the game’s five tracks, as determined by the host. Vehicles that players have unlocked are available for them to use within this mode, though no one vehicle is better than another, so you can’t blame someone’s vehicle for their victory. Races are won based on skill, not car stats, which is something that cannot be disputed here. The online mode is also very smooth, competitive and easy to use, so it’s quite welcoming for beginners, even though they should be warned that it’ll take a while to be good enough to compete against some of the tough competition that awaits.
Four of the five tracks found in this downloadable title are new, though they take place in the same environments that previous SEGA Rally titles have become known for using. The three main championship tracks include a lush jungle track complete with lots of mud, a drift-heavy desert track and a tight cornering alpine route. Complementing those are the aforementioned (and tough) unlockable Lakeside track which, like its name suggests, takes place in a seaside location, as well as a desert track from the series 1995 iteration.
All of the tracks are well-designed and have their own personalities, strengths and weaknesses. The one constant requirement within each is drifting, which is key. However, all of the tracks also have the ability to be deformed by the vehicles’ spinning tires, which grind up mud at shoot it upwards and outwards. This means that, as with SEGA Rally REVO in 2007, you will have to plan your route carefully to avoid bouncing over ruts in the road. Your vehicle will also be covered in mud by the time the race is over, but that is to be expected, right?
Visually, SEGA Rally Online Arcade is quite impressive. It looks really nice. The vehicles and track environments are both detailed and vibrant, featuring tons of colour that make the game pop. It still resembles its arcade predecessors, though there are a few extra coats of polish on this one. Ground up dirt and debris fly into the air in a relatively realistic fashion, which leads to a ton of mud splatter all over the vehicles, adding a realistic element to an arcade racer.
Though those aforementioned aspects are all very nice, the most impressive factor is that the game runs well without any frame rate issues, considering how fast-paced and chaotic it can be. Sure, the amount of cars on the tracks are low, but it’s still quite impressive given the game’s speed. Overall, it’s a very nice looking and shiny game, though there are design elements that can look a bit dated.
While its visuals are impressive, the game’s audio is a mixed bag. It has some nice quality to it, but there isn’t a lot to it. Generally, you’ll just be listening to the odd car noise, in addition to a forgettable techno soundtrack. Though it does a good job of ratcheting up the pressure, it’s something that you’ll eventually drone out after a while because it can become quite repetitive. The car noises and sound effects on the other hand, tend to sound quite realistic and feature some good audio quality. That’s the most important thing though – the vehicle sounds. Racing games require authentic vehicle sounds to engage their customers and this one is certainly on the right track in that regard.
If you’ve ever been a fan of the SEGA Rally series in the past, then you’ll want to check this one out. Though it doesn’t feature a ton of content, it’s addictive, fun and engaging – so much so that you will end up coming back to it more than once. Couple those factors with no-holds barred racing and pedal to the metal intensity, and you have a quality racing title that is pretty well-priced at ten dollars, the equivalent of eight hundred Microsoft Points.
Though those who prefer long-lasting career modes and tough achievements may want to look elsewhere, this is a quality download for most racing junkies. Start your engines and try not to look in the rear-view mirror. Keep your eyes on the corner ahead because this upcoming drift could be the determining factor as to whether you’re a rally champion, or just part of the decent competition.
Fast-paced, no holds barred gameplay makes SEGA Rally Online Arcade both addicting and engaging. If you're a racing fan, pick this one up.