Remember seeing those giant car-like arcade machines lined up at your local arcade? If so, you've likely already played or witnessed this game in action. Taken from the extremely popular SEGA Rally series of arcade machines, SEGA Rally Online Arcade brings the thrill and action of arcade style racing to your home.
For those not familiar with rally racing, it involves high powered cars, long intricate tracks with varying road surfaces, and some of the best drivers in history. Using complex cornering techniques, drivers power-slide and drift their way around corners at extremely high speeds. Each driver is also accompanied by a co-driver who gives race notes explaining the track turn by turn.
Sound complicated? The good news is SEGA has created a rally game that is neither complicated nor too simplified by leaving many of the aspects of driving intact but limiting the difficulty navigating around a corner. Each of the cars will automatically go into slides around most corners and require little control to maintain stable slides and speed; what takes professional drivers years to master can be learned in just a few minutes in SEGA Rally. The AI difficulty will also adjust to the player’s current position allowing newer players and older fans alike to experience a challenge while going sideways at 100mph around a corner. If the last player falls too far behind, they will often notice it's relatively simple to catch up to the next racer, whereas the second place racer might have to put up a real fight in order to overtake for first place.
While you'll only be sliding around on a few different tracks, each is designed well to force players to develop skill at more than just one type of corner or terrain. Locations will range from snowy mountains to lush jungles and each track will be set as a two or three lap loop instead of a staged trail like most traditional rally races.
With a wide range of officially licensed classic and modern cars, SEGA is sure to please just about any casual or hardcore rally fan. Each car handles and feels about the same with extremely minor differences in speed or sound. While the detail put into the physical model is excellent, each car sounds the same for the most part and lacks the true defining characteristics that help define a real rally car. Each car can be driven with either automatic or manual six speed transmissions with balanced stats: some cars will corner poorly but accelerate quickly while others might whip around corners and chug along on the straights.
In a game heavily rooted in the arcade genre, a smooth multiplayer experience is crucial. Whether it's offline split screen or online, multiplayer works great with just about any type of customisation you would need. The ability to take it to the track with up to five players from the comfort of your home is a great alternative to taking a trip out to the arcade, though the biggest pitfall of online play is simply the amount of players currently as it was not uncommon to wait up to ten minutes to find someone to play with.
Leaderboards are also included, and as any rally enthusiast knows it's not about being in front or behind of anyone, it is just the split times that matter. Being able to compare yourself to the world is much for satisfying than looking at a scoreboard of local players at the arcade.
While it won’t exactly push your PS3 to anywhere near its limit, it does a good job maintaining the classic look and sounds of the old arcade cabinets while still managing to improve frame-rate, resolution, and overall textures. The catchy music and car audio run together many times making it difficult to enjoy the sounds of these turbo charged beasts as well as understand the co-driver. While missing a direction from the co-drive seemed rare and unimportant, you might be catching yourself asking "what did he just say?" from time to time.
SEGA did not skimp out on controller support for this game at all. With standard DualShock 3, PlayStation Move and Logitech racing wheel support, there's something for everyone's peripheral needs; however, the amount you'll enjoy this game will primarily depend on which device you plan on taking to the track.
With a racing wheel and good wheel/pedal positioning, this game feels exactly like the arcade games did: fast, fun and exciting. Compatibility with the higher end wheels like the Logitech G25 and G27 is slightly limited, but the ability to throw these cars into a corner and hold a slide using a wheel is amazing and will make you realise just how much you miss the arcades. The only downside to adding wheel support was in overall fairness online, because players using a racing wheel setup will have a noticeable advantage over those using other devices.
Using the standard DualShock 3 controller, controls are smooth and easily to get a feel for but the overall feel for the game lacks where the racing wheels excel. After a few hours of play, races start to feel monotonous turn after turn. Without having the precision of a floor pedal, it's often difficult to adjust the throttle or brakes when needed.
Move support is where the game hits the crash barrier. In order to steer the car, one must rotate the Move controller as if they were turning a door knob. This makes left turns fairly easy, but often turning right is difficult and uncomfortable. The precision that Move boasts felt neglected as it's often extremely difficult to get the cars to turn when needed. Using either the wheel or DS3, it's fairly easy to rank in first or second place, but even after hours of use, it can be a struggle to pull out a third place finish with Move. You'll also have the option to use a Navigation controller, but the only functionality that you'll gain is easier navigation through menus; during the race the Navigation controller only allows quicker camera changes.
If you're a big fan of the original SEGA Rally arcade games or own a race wheel, this game is worth checking out. For anyone else looking for traction, it might be best to wait for a sale or for the price to drop a gear. It's great to see an attempt to create a racing game with Move controls, but lack of customisation or intuitive design prove that this idea needs to head back to the garage.