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SEGA Rally X-Box 360 Review

In 2005 Sega formed a new British studio for one purpose and one purpose only – to create awesome racing titles. Sega Racing Studio has now unfortunately been disbanded and sold to Codemasters, however their short lifespan within Sega was far from unfruitful. Comprised of the finest Racing Game programmers and designers Britain had to offer, which means alot considering Britain has created such landmark titles as Metropolis Street Racer, Project Gothom Racing and even back to Lotus Turbo Challenge, SRS was a team who focussed hugely on bringing back the old style Sega Arcade Experience.

The focus by Guy Wilday (Project Director of the game) in staying true to the series’ roots was amazing. The whole team had a Freeplay Arcade machine of the original Sega Rally to truly get the feel of the original title and how best to form the new game to fit the series focus. This is also reflected in the fact that they wanted to take the series a step forwards, and the evolution of the Ground Deformation system they harped on about so much.

The first thing that nabs your attention is the graphics, like any game. One thing I love about the game is that the graphics are beautiful. While other games such as Forza, Gran Turismo and other such driving games focus on high intense realism, Sega have done the beast move and decided to go for beauty. The cars are even covered in a mirror effect to reflect the level as you drive through to add to the graphical flair. Also worth mentioning is the return of the Clear Blue Skies that makes the game an absolute wonder to behold.

Adding to the graphical flair is the pumping soundtrack. While not to everyone’s taste, the sound is pure rock, and the mixture of strings (by the City of Prague Orchestra) really gives it an urgent feeling that fits the tight gameplay style. Those who follow video game composers will recognise the name of Andrew Baranabas (Composed Swiv on the Commodore Amiga among many other titles), working with his musical partner Paul Arnold. Despite being an acquired taste, the soundtrack certainly fits excellently with the gameplay itself.

Gameplay wise, this game tends to be a love or hate title. However considering the current climate of video games there are many racing games on the market, but Sega Rally is aunique among all of them. Games like Gran Turismo and Forza focus on extreme physics and programming and remove all forms of fun from the games themselves, Project Gothom and GRiD both make valiant attempts at merging arcade racing with realistic physics with varied results. Sega Rally dares to be purely an arcade racer, and sometimes that’s been underestimated by the public.

So what does being purely arcade actually mean? It means it focusses on the feeling of driving over the reality of it. Much the same as Outrun before it, Sega Rally takes away the reality of running out of petrol, or having to slow down from 100mph to 20mph just to take each corner. It kicks reality out of the window in order to give you the feeling you want from a racing experience. In a real car, slowing down and doing these things is exciting because you are physically changing gears, spinning the wheels and feeling the grit spray from your rear-wheel powerhouse vehicle. In a game this is not possible, you press a button or at best have a force-feedback wheel which still only gives you half the sensations at best. A game should be built on pure fun, and while not realistic, Sega Rally delivers fun in spades.

The gameplay doesn’t stop there however. Sega Rally incorperates an old technology called Track Deformation and steps it up. In other games this system is used to leave tyre mark textures on the track, in Sega Rally it is a game mechanic all of it’s own. Most surfaces will have at least 3 grades, for example you will have loose soil, medium soil and hard soil. Driving over loose soil will leave trackmarks leading to medium soil, driving back over these marks will go down to hard soil. The harder the ground you drive across the more grip and more speed you will have. This adds a tactical element to the game as slipstreaming your opponents will lead to faster speeds and better handling, but gives the downside of bumping into the rear of them meaning you must time your exit from the slipstream for the best results.

As well as the tactical element, Sega Rally also features tension-packed gameplay. Guy Wilday has stated that one element from the original that they wanted to carry over was the fact that the races always felt very tight and close-run, but they didn’t want to bring in elastic-band physics (Seen in games such as Mario Kart 64 where opponents behind you travel faster than you can) to create this effect. As such you will be faced with 5 other vehicles all of which will be in a tight formation and usually represent a strainingly hard challenge to beat in every race. This helps add depth to the single player experience (which I will go into more depth in a moment).

The final major thing that shines in Sega Rally is it’s involved and in-depth programming and control system. When you first start playing you can pick any vehicle, roughly toss it into the walls of the track and with a bit of luck still strike first. Alot of people have played to this point and found the depth lacking, but then they have missed the point of the game, Sega’s trademark on their top titles. The strategy of a game that is “Easy to Play but Difficult to Master” certainly applies here, as the deeper you go into the game experience you start to notice all the differences with the cars especially if you start using Manual Transmission (Which becomes almost a must later on). For example the Audi in the Masters Class is practically unbeatable on clean roads but it’s clearly outclassed on dirt tracks, likewise the Ford in Masters is too clumsy in corners to be thrown around but with some discipline can reach some of the best top speeds. And I’ve never been so frightened by any game than on Sega Rally, better for it than a horror title thanks to the excellent programming on the Lancia Stratos. Anyone who’s ever been ina friend’s Ford Fiesta as they drove up a small town road at 80mph will know the sort of unnecessary fear I’m talking about. The pure sensation of speed in this game can be tremendous.

Moving on to the game’s lastability, you come to find it’s shortcomings and unfortunately it’s all things easily fixed in future releases or sequels (None of which will happen now due to SEGA closing SRS in 2008). The game’s Championship mode isn’t exactly the longest in the world, but I do like it’s set-up. The main issue for it being the relatively short number of levels in the game means that all you wind up with is every possible combination of 3 levels mixed up. More levels would have helped spice up the solo game a bit more, the Quick Race is slightly pointless as it’s just each level individually with the 5 cars from Championship, which could have been done with the Time Attack mode rather than make a new mode needlessly.

The Time Attack menu is hard to paw through, it’s set up is clumsy. The multiplayer is only 2 player on the same machine, and the unfortunate fact is it’s hard to find opponents online due to the unfortunate low sales of the game. However if you can convince a few friends to give it a go, it’s a blast to play. There aren’t many options, which are both a good and a bad thing. Bad because people are used to the over-the-top sea of confusion you get hit by in Forza meaning they consider the game as shallow and good because the simplicity means no matter where you go, you’re always hopping straight into the action. The menu is very amateurish, but what the menu lacks the gameplay easily makes up for, it just would have been some gameplay variation during the Championship or a few surprises now and then. The unlockables are awesome however, Lakeside is the perfect “SEGA” level and the hidden Sonic (Citroen C2 Super 1600 in Modified) and Shadow (Toyota Celica VVTi in Modified) skins really are awesome, and the connection with Hot Wheels is a nice touch (Placed in because Hot Wheels were making Sega vehicle toys at the time in Japan).

Overall Sega Rally is a game lacking some polish, the menus and Championship mode could have done with some more time to really make them fit the rest of the game quality but these are things that could have been fixed in a potential sequel if it were on the cards. However the game’s tactical and involved gameplay depth makes it something criminal to ignore, and the endless excitement the game delivers gives it a permanent place in my console. This is one of the few games I always find myself being drawn back to, you can spend hours perfecting your abilities or just half an hour jumping in and out of the game. I have to say that I personally love this game, and for it’s small downfalls, it really is one of the best racers this generation.


Written by Roareye Black on 19/01/09

Box Artwork


Instruction Manual


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