In 1997, Sony redefined the way racing games should be made with the release of the critically acclaimed Gran Turismo. The game not only offers a wide selection of cars, but it also manages to keep a somewhat realistic physics model that is accessible to even the most amateurish racing fan. Since then, competing game developers have been clamoring to release their own versions of Sony's influential racer, but so far few, if any, have succeeded. Sega GT attempts to capture some of Gran Turismo's formula for the Dreamcast, but it ultimately falls short due to poor control and an unintuitive interface.
Sega GT follows a gameplay structure that's becoming more and more prevalent in console racing games. Through some rigorous license tests, you progress through one of four car classes, which are regulated by engine displacement. While you can obtain all four driving licenses right away, since you're initially only given $10,000, you'll only be able to afford a beginner's car and race vehicles comparable to your own in performance. As you win races, you receive prize money, which you can use to upgrade your existing car with parts like shocks, springs, and larger turbos. You can also opt to save up money for a faster car altogether. With some finesse around the tracks, you'll be able to move up to the three higher classes and gain access to new courses and faster cars.
The tracks, while not modeled after real-world locations, vary in size and location - even different times of the day are available from one track to the next. Technical tracks as well as high-speed ovals are represented in Sega GT, so driving fans will enjoy the wide range of racing available in the game. But the aspect of Sega GT that will really satisfy racing enthusiasts is its vast library of licensed cars. While there aren't as many cars in Sega GT as there are in Gran Turismo 2, the cars that are featured in Sega GT are certainly more recognizable than some of the obscure selections that Sony chose to include in last year's PlayStation game. Classic favorites like the Supra, RX-7, and Skyline are all in Sega GT, as are brand-new releases like the Toyota Celica GT-S and the Honda S2000. Even the prototype Dodge Viper GTS-R is available to the really seasoned drivers. For those who don't have the patience to climb through the championship mode, most of the cars and tracks in Sega GT are instantly accessible through the quick race and head-to-head modes of play.
All of the graphics in Sega GT are noteworthy, some for the wrong reasons. Even though it's impossible to accurately measure, it's obvious that the game zips along at a respectable frame rate - somewhere between a constant 30 and 45fps. The car models are all accurately modeled, and there are several camera angles to give you the proper angle to ogle your vehicle while keeping an eye on the track. The game also uses some nice visual effects - like motion blur - to streak the cars' taillights, and the 3D engine is powerful enough to limit visible pop-up to an absolute minimum. However, there are some graphics problems that gamers will take exception to. A lot of the textures in Sega GT, especially some of the more untraditional driving surfaces - cobblestone, for instance - appear extremely pixelated and dance across the screen. Likewise, the sound effects of most of the engines in the game seem a little deeper and more droning than they should, causing most of the cars to drown out the rock/techno soundtrack in Sega GT.
This game's problems run deeper than some graphics glitches and repetitive sound effects, though. The biggest hurdle to enjoying what would have otherwise been a great game is Sega GT's sloppy control. The digital control pad is worthless, and the analog stick is completely unresponsive, leading to cars that feel like they're driving in Jell-O. Steering takes too long to engage, and once the car commits to a turn, it takes a great deal of thumb work to get it facing forward again. It also seems that, instead of addressing the issue of control in the Japanese version, Sega of America simply compensated for it by making the physics model overly forgiving. There is no damage whatsoever, and slamming into a wall will only cause you to bounce back onto track with nearly no lost momentum. The interface also needs help. In the championship mode, there's no clear indication of what you're supposed to do first. Car selection is also cumbersome, as you're forced to go back and forth between two different menu screens if you don't know what the car you're choosing looks like.
It's too bad that these problems haunt the game, as they're nothing that a few extra weeks of development couldn't have cured. In the end, Sega GT does a good job of emulating the general look and feel of Gran Turismo, but the lack of any innovation coupled with some specific control and interface problems keeps this game from garnering a higher score.