For all of us who were teenagers in the 1990s, the arcade parlour was where it was at. All the cool kids, or those without social lives, used to spend hours throwing their parent's hard-earned cash into glowing metallic machines. One of the more memorable arcade cabinets was SEGA Rally. Probably due to the fact that these huge enclosed car-seat cabinets took up half the arcade parlour. But more so because SEGA Rally was fun, accessible and challenging. Now in 2011, SEGA Rally Online Arcade, a download only title, brings all of the action into your living room (and you only have to throw money at it once).
My last rally car video game experience was DiRT 3 and although this was highly enjoyable, the slick stress-free arcade experience of SEGA Rally had more appeal to me personally. There was no need to memorise every fine detail of the intricate tracks, no complex techniques and pin-point accurate cornering required. Fans of the old-school arcade game will be pleased to hear that SEGA have managed to maintain that perfect mix of simplicity and skill that made the franchise so popular.
The controls, even with the standard PS3 controllers, are easy to come to grips with and even a non-driving game fan will have no problem crossing the finish line. Like the arcade version, cornering usually results in an automatic slide or drift, requiring you to simply adjust the angle and speed to suit. Basically it makes you look like a professional rally driver even if you can’t reverse into your mum's drive-way in real-life. A lot of dedicated racing fans will write the game off for this, but not having to worry about caressing your throttle and judging your drift when cornering lets you focus on what really matters. Your opponents.
Anyone who's played SEGA Rally knows that getting past the car in front of you is where the love is. If you're playing single-player, the AI difficulty adjusts to suit your abilities to ensure you have a heart-pounding, foot-flooring finish 90% of the time. For example, if you fall far behind the pack, you'll notice that it's never too difficult to catch up with the last car. However those who are in second place will have a real panel-scrapping jostle for the checkered flag. There are four different gameplay modes in the single-player section, Championship, Quick Race, Time Attack, and Arcade Classic, with the latter being a homage to the original.
Just like the retro arcade racer, there are only a few different tracks to come to grips with and this "less is more" approach works nicely. Each one is intelligently designed to force players to drive strategically depending on the terrain or the cornering difficulty. They include treacherous snow covered mountains, lush, muddy jungles, and good ole reliable asphalt. Each one is a lapped-based circuit track as a further homage to the arcade original (as opposed to modern rally titles that use trail-runs & stages).
What has been completely overhauled though are the cars and graphics themselves. Although hardly cutting edge, all of the models and textures have been updated dramatically since the game's original rough polygon conception. Instead the game looks a lot closer to 2007's SEGA Rally and is very easy on the eyes. The range of rally cars has been massively increased as well, but these are purely cosmetic as keeping in line with its arcade roots, each vehicle sounds and handles almost identically. The only advantage to unlocking new cars is their top speed and acceleration improves as you progress through the game.
Considering the title, you'd be right in expecting this PSN game to be all about the multiplayer. SEGA Rally Online Arcade features offline split-screen goodness and a smooth, well designed online component packed full of customisations. The online community is steadily growing and already competitive leaderboard times are being clocked up around the globe. In fact the only shortfall with the multiplayer is that it only allows for a maximum of 6 players to take part in the same race.
As mentioned, the traditional PS3 controllers work perfectly with SEGA Rally Online Arcade. But for a true, arcade-esque experience I recommend using a wheel. I setup my Logitech G27 racing wheel and made a comfy seat out of a beanbag and three pillows. To truly capture a 1990’s arcade parlour I didn’t wash for a week before hand, smeared sticky stuff all over the steering wheel and had the Street Fighter theme playing in the background.
For those who don’t own a wheel, SEGA Rally Online Arcade has PlayStation Move support… although, it’s far from a substitute. Instead steering your car with the Move wand requires you to twist the controller left or right like a door knob. As you can imagine, making left turns is easy, but trying to twist your wrist around in the other direction is as about as comfortable as Pink Batts underwear. I’m sure it’s designed for a steering wheel accessory for the Move wand to sit in, but so far we’ve only seen dodgy third-party peripherals like this.
But if you leave your Move controllers alone, we guarantee you’ll enjoy some nostalgic arcade racing goodness. And if you’re too young to remember what a Netscape Navigator or a Bryan Adams was, still play this game to see what you missed out on.
SEGA Rally Online Arcade is 800 Microsoft points or $15.50 via the PSN network and clocks in at just over a 1 GB download depending on what platform.