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Sega Rally

For: PSP   Also on: Mobile

Loving the revolution

Product: Sega Rally | Developer: Bugbear Entertainment | Publisher: Sega | Format: PSP | Genre: Racing | Players: 1-4 | Version: Europe
Sega Rally PSP, thumbnail 1
Just because we enjoy Ingmar Bergman films and fine food doesn't stop us occasionally sitting through a Bruckheimer production while munching on a burger.

Similarly, while we love the challenge of a more sim-like racing game, there's nothing to stop us getting our high-octane fix from more arcade-based efforts. It's why we happily hop between the driving seats of, say, TOCA Race Driver 3 Challenge and OutRun 2006: Coast to Coast.

It's also why Sega Rally Championship, first released in 1995 and one of the most outrageously arcade-like handling virtual racing experiences ever conceived, remains one of our favourite coin-op racers of all time. So to have this new updated version power its way onto PSP is exciting stuff.

It shouldn't blow your piston valves to learn this isn't a direct update of the original Sega Rally. Rather, it's an entirely new game created in the spirit of its great predecessor and as such it attempts to recapture the same level of accessibility while never losing sight of the overall fun factor.

Does it succeed? Certainly. The reservations with regards to the handling we had with the preview code we tried out back in August – namely that instigating and maintaining powerslides was neither a progressive nor particularly satisfying affair – have been obliterated. You now have a selection of tail-happy vehicles that thrive on being thrown sideways into corners.

Sure, you'll notice the difference the extra power of the Masters class (think Lancia Delta HF Integrale, Audi Quattro A2 and Ford Escort RS Cosworth, to name three) makes compared to the standard Premier tier (your usual Imprezas, Lancers, Xsaras, Fabias and Focuses) – or even the intermediate Modified option (Peugeot 207 Super 2000, Grande Punto Rally) – in relation to the willingness of the car's rear end to overtake its front. But the point is breaking traction is still excellent fun even when you're at the wheel of the lower-powered machinery.

Of course, thrilling as it is, you won't be looking to take every bend sideways – not unless you're not looking for the fastest laps around the cleverly designed tracks. (Besides, the rest of the handling model deserves the time to be appreciated.) True, Premier, the first class of the Championship mode (which further divides each class into Amateur, Professional and Expert events, before throwing in a Final – all of which are unlocked progressively through points earned in events), doesn't require much concentration, meaning you can have your fun and still come in ahead of the pack.

Even most rounds of Modified, the middle Championship offering, don't pose a great threat to seasoned virtual racers. The pace steps up when you get to Masters, however, which is when you'll find the challenge is further enhanced by the behaviour of your AI opponents, who occasionally display complete disregard for your position on the road. And care to guess who comes off worse in such panel-bashing encounters? It's a niggle, definitely, and one that can prove substantially frustrating when you lose a championship as a result of being shunted out of contention.

It's not as infuriating you'll find human opponents can be online, though. We've had some excellent encounters via the game's four-player infrastructure support but we've also met individuals who must have acquired their driving skills at the local bumper car ride. Obviously that's true of many online gaming experiences, and we're certainly not going to chastise Sega Rally for it, but it does pay to select the crowd you'll be going up against.

You can do that most easily by sticking to ad-hoc play, of course, but should your friends not possess the UMD, then one of them can at least enjoy pitting one of three cars on one of three tracks against you via gamesharing.

Good as the multiplayer aspects are, we shouldn't lose focus of the solo experience, which offers some of the best racing on PSP. The Championship structure is such that you unlock both tracks and cars as you go along, which does much to keep interest high, but it's the little touches that really enhance the ride.

For instance, the choice of tyre from the three available (road, rally and all-terrain) offers the opportunity for strategic decisions given that every track offers a variety of surface – it's up to you, based on your driving style and knowledge of the courses to establish which rubber compound is likely to give you the advantage.

Equally tactical is your positioning on the track. Remarkably, the surface alters throughout a race, meaning that as cars pass over it, once snow-covered sections eventually reveal their tarmac underlay. And the effect is more than purely cosmetic – you'll notice different levels of grip as a result of these alterations, which in turn dictate your racing line.

It's an ingenious use of technology, but then, Sega Rally hasn't exactly been put together by two amateur coders tinkering away under its bonnet in the garage. This is a first-class production, with an excellent sense of speed maintained regardless which of the game's four views you opt for, convincing sound effects (although we have reservations about the music), and some of the most solid tracks we've yet seen on PSP.

Not to mention some of the prettiest, too. Racing through the relentlessly detailed and vibrant nature of the game's Safari, Alpine, Tropical, Canyon and Arctic courses is an assault on the senses.

Combine it with an expertly implemented handling model, a carefully selected vehicle menu and an unashamed desire to provide a glorious, thrill-a-second arcade experience and you have a near-essential purchase that's marred only by the occasional infuriating behaviour of your AI opponents. But when it's firing on all cylinders – which is often – Sega Rally is an exceptional example of how arcade driving titles can provide all the substance you need.
Sega Rally
Reviewer photo
Joao Diniz Sanches | 2 November 2007
An excellent, thrilling and fearlessly arcade driving affair that matches its technical brilliance with delightful game mechanic touches
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