Aug 22 2009

Sega Rally Championship

zorro @ 4:12 pm

Get behind the wheel of a Sega driving game and you’re guaranteed to have fun. Through the ages, Sega have made some of the most successful and enjoyable arcade driving games. Outrun, Virtua RacingDaytona USA, Scud Race, Crazy Taxi as well as motorbike games like Super Hang-On and Manx TT have all come from the famous Japanese, videogame powerhouse.

Sega Rally is probably the most polished, balanced and accessible game of the lot. Everything is in perfect balance, from the tracks to the cars. Sega seem to remember at all times that this is not a simulator, it is a game and the short bursts of rallying adrenaline are testament to Sega’s adherence to this game design principle.

Originally a Model 1 game, this was near completion when Sega stopped making Model 1 boards, so production was shifted to Model 2 and the artwork was redone.

Up to 16 cabinets could be linked together, though most smaller arcades had only two. Like the more basic version, the deluxe (above), had a steering wheel with force-feedback, a four gear shifter and two pedals.

To the game itself then.

Two Rally cars race each other on three tracks: Sand (easy), Forest (medium), Hills (hard) and Lakeside (bonus). Pass the checkpoints within the time limit. Compete against another player or against the computer opponent.

The unique selling point of Sega Rally was the ability to drive on different surfaces (including asphalt, gravel and mud), with different friction properties, with the car’s handling changing accordingly.

Three cars are featured in the game: the Toyota Celica GT-Four, the Lancia Delta HF Integrale and Lancia Stratos. The Stratos is only unlocked if the extra Lakeside track is completed in first place.

There are two modes: Practice and Championship. In Practice mode, you race against one car (the computer) by selecting one of three tracks and racing a number of laps. In Championship mode you race an equal number of laps per course and each successive track becomes more difficult.

You compete against 14 other cars that are either computer or player controlled. As in Virtua Racing, the view can be changed on the fly, though Sega Rally has only two perspectives: behind the car and inside.

Sega Rally is at its best on the 50th go and the 100th.

Sega’s powersliding penchant is prevalent in this game and the tracks are designed accordingly. “Long easy right” is a trigger to launch into a sweeping slide on any surface but particularly effective in the mud. The back-end of the car swings around lazily, making the third-person view invaluable for avoiding walls. There’s no car damage in the game but it does drop your speed a little.

As usual with Sega’s driving games, complete mastery is difficult to achieve but incremental improvements in lap-time with practice is the motivator to play again. And again.

The cars themselves, a Lancia Delta and a Toyota Celica, are pretty much identical in terms of handling. The Celica is ever so slightly sloppier but it is balanced out by the different challenges set by the tracks. There are straights, jumps, hair-pins, water-traps and changing surfaces, all of them require entry and exit points to be memorised and taken perfectly for the elusive finish.

Everything is in perfect balance, from the tracks to the cars.

The player races the three tracks in order and in real-time, that is position and time in the previous race directly affect position and time in subsequent races. 1st in Hills is the desired goal but a consistent effort across all three tracks is required and this serves to extend the game’s replay value greatly.

Sega Rally is at its best on the 50th go and the 100th. Driving perfection is the player’s only goal, each corner becomes an individual challenge, every last hundredth of a second squeezed from it.

It’s an odd video-gaming virtue that Sega Rally exhibits, which isn’t found in magazine rankings; it’s a gameplay combination of precision, fluidity and speed. Sega Rally is graceful.

Sega Rally has been released on a wide variety of formats and was followed by a sequel in the arcades, superbly converted to Dreamcast.

The Blurb (Saturn version)

At an incredible 30 frames a second AM#3 delivers the most gruelling driving experience yet! Skill and technique are essential as one or two players navigate their way around four courses of the most arduous terrain ever to soil your living room carpet!

The first home version, the Sega Saturn captured the speed of the arcade but not its looks. Blocky and plagued with pop-up, it at least offered a two-player mode.

Gameboy Advance

The PC (Win) version was produced a few years after the arcade (1998) and looked pretty average compared to other racers at the time. With no hardware acceleration available, gamers had to make do with 320×240 or 640×480 graphics modes.

Nokia N-Gage

Playstation 2 update, including the original (which is better).

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