Beyond winning every race you can, there is no story to Sega Rally Online Arcade. There are multiple game modes to participate in; Championship, Quick Race, Time Attack and Classic. The game features both local split-screen and online multiplayer. Youíll also find online leaderboards of the fastest times from around the world as well as your own best times.
In Championship you start in 22nd place and have three races to work your way into first place. Whatever position you finish the first race in is where youíll start the second race and the same for the third. Quick Race is just that; a one off race on the track and in the car of your choice. Classic mode pits you in a one-on-one race with just two cars to choose from - the Toyota Celica and the Lancia, both of which were available in the first Sega Rally title. Time Attack is an all out assault on the record books, as you strive to beat your best times on any given track. A neat feature here, which is becoming common in racing games, is the ability to download the ghost cars of the people with the fastest recorded times. Itís also possible to download your friendsí ghost cars, or those of slower times with whom youíre more likely to compete. Itís a neat feature and gives you the best chance of getting your own times up near the best in the world.
Once you decide which game mode you want to play itís on to your car selection. Initially there are six cars to choose from, though you can unlock five others. There are no ratings for the various cars, so I assume they all have identical stats, with no advantage between them. You can choose manual or automatic transmission and given how easy manual transmission is, pretty much everyone should use it. Changing gears is a matter of pushing circle or square, and once you reach top gear thereís almost no reason to switch down.
With the car and transmission picked itís on to the course selection. Initially you have three tracks to drive on; Tropical, Canyon and Alpine. Two others, Desert and Lakeside, can be unlocked by winning the Classic race with both cars, and winning the Championship. The tracks differ significantly in terms of their appearance, surface and difficulty. The Tropical track is remarkably straightforward with just the one medium turn. The Canyon track steps it up a notch with plenty of medium turns, as well as a few ninety degree turns. The Alpine track introduces hairpin turns as well as a couple of chicanes.
All of the cars handle well and are only too happy to slide around corners. The key to shaving seconds off your time appears to be mastering the power-slide, where you take your foot off the gas, angle the car into the turn and then power through it. A perfectly done power-slide will see you fly around all but the sharpest corners with next to no drop off in speed. Itís easy to slightly oversteer or take your foot of the gas for too long and doing either will see you drop 20km/h or more. You canít go off the track; getting close to the edge of the track will see you bounce off a wall and lose some speed. There is no damage, so thereís no need to worry about totaling your car.
The primary issue with Sega Rally Online Arcade is the lack of depth. Unlocking everything wonít take more than a few hours, and once that is done there isnít a whole lot to bring you back. You canít customize or upgrade your cars, so beyond shaving a few milliseconds off your best times thereís not much to do. The game doesnít provide you with much information either Ė thereís no tutorial (though to be honest you donít need it), multiplayer game modes are never explained, and the few tips the game does give you during loading screens often disappear before you can read them. The online leaderboards are bugged too Ė currently the top two times are less than one minute, and the next best is just under two and a half minutes. Time Attack, where you can load the ghosts of the best times is also bugged Ė when I downloaded one of the fastest times to race against, the ghost car never appeared.
The graphics are one area where Sega Rally Online Arcade excels. The high-definition graphics retain the same look as the arcade game, but may be even better on the PS3. Every colour is exceptionally bright, from the cars to the tracks themselves. The cars are accurately rendered and there is a whole lot going on in the background. The canyon has a dam built into the side of the track, and a jet goes flying overhead as you complete your first lap in the Championship. On the Alpine track you see rays of sunlight bursting between the pillars of a bridge as you drive underneath, and a train puffing out smoke goes past just before you reach the finish line. The Lakeside track has houses and boats aplenty, making the town youíre driving through look like a living, breathing town. The use of light on this track is impressive, with shadows covering half the track, only for the sun to break through in other sections.
Thereís not much to remark on as far as the sound goes. The music is upbeat and high tempo, which provides perfect accompaniment to the races. Engine sounds are what youíd expect, while gravel, mud and snow all make slushy sound as they are sprayed over the track by passing cars. The thud of cars crashing into each other, or hitting the barrier on each trackís edge donít have much substance to them and could use work, but this is a minor thing. You co-driver yells out directions as you make your way around the track, and heís mostly helpful. He does add the odd 'maybe' in there to keep you on your toes (i.e. 'long easy left... maybe') but overall he does a good job as co-driver.
Sega Rally Online Arcade is arcade racing down to a tee, and that comes with pros and cons. In terms of pros you have an excellent racing engine that makes the thrills of rally racing accessible to anyone thanks to straightforward controls. The graphics are also first-rate, particularly for a downloadable title. On the downside there is very little depth, and youíll have unlocked all there is to see after just a few hours of play. If youíre looking for a fast and fun online racing game then Sega Rally Online Arcade will be perfect for you. If you want something with a bit more substance there are plenty of quality racing titles out there for PS3 (Dirt 3 anyone?) that are more suitable.
Review By: Mike Allison