When most console gamers take a look at Sega Rally Online Arcade, first impressions are likely to result in comparison to Sega Rally Revo. While this isn't completely unfounded due to the two games sharing an engine, it's also not entirely accurate. Anyone who has stepped foot into an arcade over the past few years will immediately recognize Sega Rally Online Arcade by its "other" name, Sega Rally 3. Yes, the latest version of the arcade classic is finally making its way home, albeit with a name change.
Developed in parallel, Sega Rally Revo and Sega Rally 3 share a similar look and feel, though there are some core differences. For one, the physics model in Sega Rally 3 is heavily tilted toward a bouncy arcade model, whereas Revo toyed with a bit of realism. Being an arcade game, Sega Rally 3 also featured a limited selection of tracks, with only five on offer. Eagle-eyed players will notice some similar design elements crossing over between the two games, such as the long, easy right at the top of the dam on the Canyon track, but the overall tracks are specific to each title. There is no direct repetition between the two.
Aside from losing the Sega Rally 3 name, the only major losses between Sega Rally Online Arcade and its arcade brother are the 60 fps frame rate and the full car selection. Sega Rally Online Arcade runs at 30 fps (just like Revo) and doesn't have some of the newer cars available in Sega Rally 3. When it comes to gameplay, though, the game doesn't miss a gear.
Designed with an arcade-style physics model, Sega Rally Online Arcade is easy to pick up and play. The learning curve is short and sweet, with a heavy emphasis on stylized driving and an overreliance on the power slide — think Ridge Racer physics, but on dirt and mud instead of pavement. A skilled player will quickly find the fastest way through a turn is sideways. Do it right, and you'll lose little to no speed as you power through the curve and take off again on the straight.
The core of Sega Rally Online Arcade is the championship mode, which features the three courses from Sega Rally 3: Alpine, Canyon and Tropical. Finish in first place, and you'll get the option to race the bonus Lakeside course. Over the first three tracks, your goal is to make your way from 22nd place to first. Here the competition drives a fairly straight line and doesn't offer much in the way of resistance. If you know how to steer and smash on an accelerator, you'll do fine. Once you hit Lakeside, the difficulty notches up a bit and offers you a taste of your first real challenge as you go one-on-one with the AI.
It is the difficulty level that is perhaps the biggest issue with Sega Rally Online Arcade, as it is tuned for a wheel, not a controller. To be frank, using a controller gives you so much of an advantage that it is almost akin to cheating. Besting the AI is only a minor accomplishment with an analog stick in your hand. It's enough to make it feel like a hollow victory, though the Achievement hounds out there are sure to love it.
To really experience the game at its fullest, the Xbox Wireless Racing Wheel is a must-have. With full force feedback support, paddle shifting and pedals for gas and brake, Sega Rally Online Arcade absolutely nails that arcade feel at home. The only things missing are the flashing light every time you overtake another driver. Racing with the wheel in hand also offers up just the right amount of challenge. You aren't blown out of the water by the AI, but winning is also no longer the same cakewalk that it was with the stock controller. With the wheel, you actually have to earn your victories, so they are that much sweeter.
In addition to the four championship tracks, Sega Rally Online Arcade also offers up the previously arcade-exclusive Desert track remake. Available in classic mode for a one-on-one competition, Desert is a full remake of the first track from the original 1995 version of Sega Rally. The designers have made a few tweaks, such as widening the track slightly in places, but it is otherwise identical to what you would have played a decade-and-a-half ago. From a visual perspective, it puts the old-school game to shame.
Rounding out the options are quick race, online multiplayer and time trial. Quick race gives you the option of playing any unlocked course in a single race, while time trial pits you against the clock. You can race purely against your own times or download a ghost car from the leaderboards to see how the best of the best do it.
Online multiplayer is a mixed bag due to the absence of a proper ranking system. When you go online, the game simply matches you up with other open players regardless of skill level. If you happen to land in a race where everyone is relatively even in terms of ability, tearing up the track is just as much fun as in the arcade. Wander into a competition with a bunch of experts as a newbie, though, and it's not quite as much fun. If Sega Rally Online Arcade had a better matchmaking system, it would have knocked it out of the park.
If you want to take home one of the best arcade racers out there, Sega Rally Online Arcade is hard to beat. It doesn't have the depth of a full console game, but at 800 MSP ($10 USD) for an accurate arcade port, it's a great value — doubly so if you already own a proper racing wheel. Shift into overdrive and snag this one before the checkered flag drops.
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