Some people are born car nuts. They pore over specifications, treat the arrival of a new model like Christmas, and watch car shows on TV almost as avidly as some people watch pornography. Not me. I decided to take a nerdier route during my youth.
It was one that included action figures, science-fiction, video games and social ostracization. However, there was one thing that could turn me into as big a fan of cars as the biggest motorhead, and that was a rally event. The potential for complete destruction, the mud, the jumps, and the handbrake turns caused me to sit in front of the TV until I grew roots. With no idea who any of the drivers even were (aside from Colin McRae, thanks to videogames), I still cheered each one on, with the evil side of my conscience hoping they would smash into something. Now, thanks to SEGA Rally Online Arcade, which is a remake of SEGA’s famous SEGA Rally by SEGA (no points for originality there), I get to plow my own car headlong into hairpins, other cars and a worryingly large number of barriers, all from the comfort of my living room. There’s just one question, does the game make me want to become Rally World Champion, or smash my head into trees instead?
Tropical Sunset - The SEGA Rally arcade cabinets that I remember never had the best graphics. I’m sure that, when they first came out, they looked like nothing you’ve ever seen before, but the dingy arcades of my youth always seemed to have machines that were usually a couple of years out of date anyway. SEGA Rally Online Arcade mixes this up by providing clean and crisp visuals. They won’t cause your jaw to drop, but still look pretty good. A nice touch included in this version is the build-up of mud and debris on your car, meaning that by the end of the race your car will look like its actually BEEN in a rally, a point consistently missed by certain other racing games (*cough cough* Gran Turismo). Tropical areas look lush, icy roads look dangerous and the deserts look like somewhere you wouldn’t want to crash and be stuck in, never mind the four-mile walk to the service station. Added to this are little flourishes, such as rockets taking off, fighter-jets flying overhead and trains shooting by. There’s enough here to keep your eyes busy, even if you refuse to watch the road.
Rally To Your Heart’s Content - If different game modes are your thing, then SEGA Rally Online Arcade has you covered. With Championship, Time Trial, Quick Race, Online and Head-To-Head all available from the start, there appears to be a plethora of things to do at first. Unfortunately, as explained later, this isn’t exactly the case. However, you do have a good number of licensed cars to unlock, as well as the ability to race using the classic cars from the Arcade Cabinet version of the game. The online works well, although there is no ranking system, and no matchmaking, which can create some fairly uneven racing experiences. When you do get a race that is truly competitive though, you’ll find yourself fighting tooth and nail over every inch of the course.
GAME OVER, YEEEEEEAH!
Is That It? - As mentioned above, SEGA Rally has a lot of game modes on its plate. The one thing it doesn’t have, however, and this is crucial in a racing game, is a decent selection of tracks. Sure, the tracks available encompass tropics, deserts, mountains, lakeshores, and canyons, but compared to the myriad numbers of tracks offered by newer racing games, it just doesn’t feel like a whole lot. The tracks are solid and fun to play, but a couple more would have been very welcome.
Shut Up, Already! - Arcade games are possibly some of the most annoying sounding games on the planet. Designed to draw you in with flashing lights and cheesy music, a fully stocked arcade can often sound like a dodgy dance party where everybody is listening to different music at full volume. SEGA Rally doesn’t disappoint in this category. From the first time you boot up the game, to the end of your final race, you are surrounded by a weird mixture of 90’s Euro pop and weird guitar solos. This annoyance is added to by an obnoxious race aide, whose voice will haunt your dreams after a few hours of playing. Although some sound effects and dialogue are lifted from the original games, which may provide some charm to fans, I was ready and willing to beat the announcer to death by the time I finished playing.
You Drive Like You’re In A Movie! - Sometimes, making the driving in a game feel like you’re watching a movie is a good thing, especially if you feel the sense of power and pure speed that can be evoked from an awesome car chase or racing scene. SEGA Rally feels like you’re watching a movie, but not a good one. Instead, it’s more like you’re watching one of those older movies where it’s obvious that the scenery behind the car is just a moving screen, and that the car is, in fact, stationary. It’s a weird feeling to have in a racing game, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it was happening, but instead of feeling like I was tearing through the races, it felt like my car was stationary and the scenery was racing past me. In addition, the attempt to simulate rally-like handling comes off as driving your car over ice, as if your car is floating an inch or two above the ground.
If you enjoyed SEGA Rally in the arcades, chances are you will Sega Rally Online Arcade on your console. The difficulty remains similar to the arcade game, which basically means that its designed to keep you popping in your quarters (more like dollars, these days). I felt that, for an arcade game, the difficulty can be quite forgiving, particularly when I was losing. If you’re a perfectionist, and prefer to be really good at a handful of tracks rather than above average on lots of tracks, then this game will suit you, as you perfect every turn and learn how each car handles. SEGA Rally Online Arcade is pretty much exactly how you remember it, with all of its benefits and faults. Racing fans will enjoy this game, especially as it costs a fairly reasonable 800 Microsoft Points.