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Sega Rally – a road to nowhere January 14, 2008

Posted by Rob in Console, Games, Reviews.
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Imagine owning a car where all you had to do was hold down the accelerator and it would drive itself. It’s one of those ideas that sounds great in real life, but doesn’t translate very well to the world of video games – aside from beating the clock, the racing genre is marked by the challenge of navigating courses and mastering corners. A game in which your car turns for you doesn’t sound too appealing and whilst it’s over-exaggerating matters to suggest Sega Rally is that game, it’s far too close for its own good.

It’s perfectly possible to complete whole courses without turning. Of course, you’ll collide with the sides on a regular basis (particularly with the loose handling, with which there’s plenty of slipping and sliding) but it’s almost impossible to crash with any real consequence in Sega Rally and for the most part, you’ll be politely nudged back onto the track, like barriers at a bowling alley. This, of course, takes all the danger and excitement out of cornering – if you’re in first place with one corner to go, and there’s a couple of opponents breathing down your exhausts, it’s not nearly as tense as it should be. Even if you collide with the barriers, you’ll probably end up back on the middle of the track, rather than catastrophically spinning out and weeping as your position slips from first to sixth.

Moving away from this fairly serious flaw, it’ll come as no surprise to learn that Sega Rally wears its arcade heritage on its bonnet. It’s typically bright and bold, with tracks peppered with vivid colours and embellishments, such as steaming geysers and low-flying aeroplanes. It’s usual Sega fare, although in places it’s curiously flat and without detail. The offset of this is the smoothest of frame rates, which helps create an admirable sense of high speed, and the almost offensively forgiving cornering is counterbalanced by some tenacious computer-controlled drivers who’ll attempt to nudge and ram you out of their way, even in the early stages of the game’s centrepiece Championship mode. Progress in this mode unlocks various new cars, tracks and paintjobs, although there’s little tangible difference between any two cars in any class.

The back of the game’s box boasts of “unique track deformation technology”, and cars can churn up tracks with the results affecting the course for the rest of the race. For the most part, it’s successful, as lap times can be improved considerably by following the tyre marks in the mud left by cars on a previous lap. There are, however, some graphical flaws at work where mud seems to churn up before your car has driven over it, creating the rather odd illusion of a mole permanently burrowing furiously in front of your vehicle.

Whilst Sega Rally is undoubtedly fun for short periods, it’s hard to recommend a game where the steering is almost done for you – it’s quite apt that despite the aural presence of a co-driver, he is nowhere to be seen in the actual car, obviously after having been deemed surplus to requirements. Even allowing for its immediate, arcade nature, it’s oversimplified and outdated, so much so that it’s a surprise that your opponents don’t roar off at 200 miles per hour at the beginning of every race.

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