Sega Rally Online Arcade Review (PS3)

Hindsight in the world of retro remakes is a wonderful thing. Who’s to say whether your multi-million selling former glory won’t be absolutely terrible in the cold light of a HD makeover in 2011, and who among us isn’t at least a little sceptical of every subsequent ‘refresh’ that publishers fall over themselves to announce. Not that we’re complaining that the likes of Perfect Dark Zero or Beyond Good & Evil get to find another sliver of a long-overdue audience, but with Sega’s recent track record mishandling the likes of Crazy Taxi HD, consider our disappointment-radar well and truly pinged when we heard of an update to arcade classic Sega Rally.

We needn’t have worried though, primarily because Sega Rally Online Arcade isn’t really a re-imagining of the original at all, but more like a selection box of tracks and cars pulled from the 2007 reboot of the same title, cut together with a handling model ripped straight from the arcade-only Sega Rally Revo. It may be light on material nostalgia for those of you expecting a fancification of former glory then, but despite the lack of throwback courses and modes, it is still heavy on the same brand of handling and drift-heavy cornering that propped up the original. Turns out, that’s the crucial bit.

It all looks very 2007

If you’ve not encountered the series before, this 2011 Sega Rally is best described as a cross between the mud-cap sensibilities of DiRT and the bouncy, light-hearted multiplayer of a Mario Kart. It’s a game that’s shot through with bright colours, bombastic audio and a cheesy 90’s announcer, with tracks that keep you funnelling at high velocity towards the next corner - despite any efforts to crash through the invisible barriers that mark out your terrain. The cars bob and drift with the slightest tap of the brake and accelerator, and the real long-term draw comes with shaving seconds off lap times, climbing leaderboards and smashing your way to the top of your friends list.

Anybody that played either the 2007 version or the arcade title will know exactly what to expect, since the engine that’s delivering all the action is essentially the same. The cars speed along with a decent sense of inertia and snappy handling, whilst taking each of the track surfaces into account is crucial in the run-up to any of the tighter bends. Mud sends your vehicle flinging sideways, and snow even further; whilst dirt gives a little more traction and tarmac allows you to really stomp your right foot into even the tightest of hairpins. This really shouldn’t be as much of a novelty in 2011 as it was in 2007, but the fact that the courses combine several different types of surface is a wonderful method of increasing track variety, and goes a little way to countering the general lack of content elsewhere.

Indeed, there are only five tracks to be found within Sega Rally Online Arcade’s threadbare menu, with the majority of those culled from the previous titles. Four of them come from the previous two games, whilst the retro throwback desert course is available with classic cars and a one-off race as a nod to the original. Outside of the four-race championship mode, time trials and one-off races, that’s all your getting. A bunch of cars are available to unlock, but the handling model is consistently arcadey enough to make them all roughly similar to race with, rendering the whole thing a little pointless.

Environmental deformation is scaled back

Also fittingly for such a paucity of content, races on any of the five included tracks rarely last for longer than a few minutes. Competition is hectic against CPU opposition, but online - as with the multiplayer arcade versions - is where the true experience is to be found. Crashing on the last corner or fudging a powerslide as a friend overtakes on the final bend is delightfully wounding, rather than the crushing disappointment that represents the same experience on more sim-heavy experience. It’s a fantastic game when racing against anybody that had fun with the original or the more recent versions, which makes it all the more annoying that there are so few people actually playing at the moment. Whether that’s a result of Sega’s inevitably buggy online code (races frequently boot you back to the menu before even beginning), or mass apathy from the buying public is unclear.

For 800 points on XBLA and whatever it ends up as on freshly un-borked PSN though, Sega Rally Online Arcade still represents somewhat of a bargain. Even if you only break it out occasionally to play against a group of friends, it’s worth the entry fee for the smack-talk alone, and the five million re-matches that go along with those ‘quick sessions’ are a bonus. As long as you’re not in the market for a lengthy career mode and don’t mind your rallying beset with invisible walls and blue skies, it’s worth a punt for just about any arcade-loving racing junkie. Just please go fill those servers.

Best Game Moment: Finally finishing 1st in Championship mode

Game advertisements by <a href="" target="_blank">Game Advertising Online</a> require iframes.