Released for the Dreamcast in 2000, the original Sega GT was a grand touring game that clearly borrowed Gran Turismo's winning formula, albeit without meeting the same success as Sony's venerable racing franchise. The game had great graphics, a respectable number of licensed cars, as well as a variety of tracks, but some sloppy controls, a poor interface, and an unintuitive car-creation tool kept Sega GT from being more than just a run-of-the-mill driving game. Unphased by the cool reception, developer Wow Entertainment is taking another shot at racing glory with Sega GT 2002 for the Xbox, and the improvements are quite evident. The control is now precise, the interface is slick, and the inclusion of classic cars is a welcomed addition to this sequel. Sega GT 2002's only real issue is a relative lack of racetracks, but the game has enough depth to overcome that problem.
Like Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec, the basic premise of Sega GT 2002 is to compete in a number of races in order to earn prize money that you can use either to buy faster cars, or parts to improve the performance of your existing cars. In the game's career mode, you'll start out with a small wad of cash that you have to use to buy your first car with. Needless to say, even though Sega GT 2002 has a wide selection of high-performance machines from manufacturers like Honda, Mitsubishi, Mercedes-Benz, and Dodge, initially, you'll only be able to afford an econo-box that has more impressive mileage figures than 0-60 times. Unlike GT3, however, Sega GT 2002 has a very strong emphasis on the financial aspect of its gameplay, which, for one thing, means that you'll be stuck with that econo-box for a while. In fact, you'll spend almost as much time racing as you will balancing your budget. That's because Sega GT 2002 awards you smaller purses than you'll find in comparable games, and it forces you to spend that hard-earned money on repairing any damage that you might have sustained in a race, as well as maintaining parts of your car that are susceptible to wear and tear. What's more, the more expensive your car is, the more expensive the repair bill is going to be. Invariably, you'll find that it's more financially feasible to upgrade your existing car with parts like bigger brakes or a bolt-on turbo than it is to buy a faster car outright. Sega GT 2002 has a wide selection of such parts, including several stages of exhausts, air intakes, intake manifolds, lighter chassis, performance chips, shocks, brakes, tires, turbos, intercoolers, and gearboxes that you can purchase for almost any car.
In that respect, Sega GT 2002 is almost like a role-playing game. The money that you do earn is precious, and so you have to spend it wisely. The process of saving enough money to buy a car that you've had your eye on for a while is a methodical one, since you're always having to shell out money to repair damages or overhaul a part that's worn out. Bumping into a wall or other cars during a race will inflict damage to your car that is automatically repaired at the end of the race, whether you want it repaired it or not, and the more damage you've sustained, the higher the repair bill. This money is automatically deducted from any earnings that you manage to win, and in a particularly brutal race, your prize money can be cut by as much as in half by repair costs. Likewise, your tires, suspension, brakes, and engine block will eventually wear out over time, and in order to stay competitive with your opponents, you'll have to overhaul those components, or in the case of tires, buy new ones altogether.
Because Sega GT 2002 is constantly forcing you to dump money into your car, you'll develop a sense of ownership to it, especially since you won't be able to afford dozens of cars at once like you can in Gran Turismo 3. Instead, you'll find yourself treating each car that comes into your possession--no matter the make or model--with a sense of pride. And when it comes time to part with your pride and joy, you can set your own selling price that you feel is reflective of the hard work and upgrades that you've poured into it. As long as your price is reasonable, you'll eventually be able to find a buyer. You can also choose to sell to a dealer for a faster transaction, though there's no negotiating the price there. Sega GT 2002 has a certain personal touch not found in other racing games, and this personal touch is emphasized in the game's garage mode, which not surprisingly, is an actual garage. You can admire your cars here, sure, but you can also examine all the awards and trophies you've won, take a look at posters of your car that you create using the replay editor, or check on any car that you might have on sale on your driveway. You can even buy trivial items like guitars or potted plants to freshen up the garage's appearance, if you like.
When you're not fiddling around in your garage or balancing your finances, you'll spend most of your time in the game's career mode on the track. Sega GT 2002's career mode is split up into two forms of competition: official races and event races. Official races are grouped in series of three to four races, and while they don't earn you a lot of prize money, successful completion of a group of official races will unlock a license test. Every time you finish a license test, the next group of official events becomes available to you. Event races, on the other hand, are the substance of this game's career mode. This section is composed of 14 individual races, including a quarter-mile drag strip and a rally course, though not all of them are immediately available to you. Compared to official races, the purses in event races are much more lucrative, sometimes awarding you with tens of thousands of dollars or a brand new car if you place first. As you earn more advanced licenses in the official races, more event races will become unlocked, and existing races will yield more money, though they'll also field a tougher group of cars for you to race against.
Unfortunately, you'll often find yourself participating in the same handful of event races over and over in order to earn enough money for an upgrade or a new car. It's an artificial way of extending the game's life, since 14 events can ordinarily be completed in a matter of hours. What's more, the events themselves aren't that varied. Most of the time, you'll either be racing against cars comparable to yours, or exactly like yours. Some of the 14 events are also marked by specific car eras, though there aren't nearly enough of these themed races as you'll find in other racing games. This is made all the more frustrating by Sega GT 2002's lack of variety in its racetracks. The game has eight courses in all--some of which are just slight derivatives of each other--and you'll get to know each one intimately, whether you want to or not.
Thankfully, the act of racing itself is an enjoyable one in Sega GT 2002. Cars perform with the same level of precision that you'd expect to find in their real-world counterparts. That means that you'll have to struggle with the sluggish response of an economy car during the first few hours of gameplay, but the joy of tossing around a well-handling car like an NSX-R around sweeping corners is well worth the wait. The game does a good job of relaying your car's traction through slight vibrations in the Xbox's controller, and steering, throttle, and braking response is fluid and instant. More skilled drivers have the option of toggling traction control and spin control on and off for a slight boost in performance. You'll need it, because the AI won't cut you any slack. Even early in the game, opponents will veer to the inside of a turn in an attempt at blocking you in, or give you slight tap on your rear bumper when the roles are reversed. As you upgrade your car, you'll face tougher opponents as well, until you get to the point where it takes you the entire race to threaten first place. As long as you manage your car purchases and upgrades carefully, the AI will never become so fast as to be frustrating.
The sound is also very well done in Sega GT 2002, and the game really captures the cacophonic growl of some of the high-end cars that you'll come across. When in the first-person perspective, your engine noise and that of other cars is noticeably subdued, but when you switch to an external view, the sounds--particularly the exhaust notes--become noticeably louder. The game doesn't have a cockpit view, so you'll have to use one of the two third-person angles in order to see any part of your car while racing, which is a shame, because racing from these perspectives detracts from the game's otherwise superb sense of speed, which is slightly exaggerated by using a subtle streaking effect at the corners of the TV screen. The car models themselves are accurately modeled, and the textures in particular hold up very nicely at close range. Likewise, the environment boasts very impressive lighting that throws shadows and reflections off of car and track surfaces realistically. However, the tracks themselves are often modeled using a liberal dose of sprites to draw onlookers, trees, and other peripheral objects, and this detracts somewhat from the game's otherwise appealing visuals.
It's Sega GT 2002's career mode that will be most appealing to driving fans, but the game also has the now requisite quick race and time attack modes, wherein you have access to a limited selection of cars to race across all of the game's tracks. There's even an innovative chronicle mode that lets you race one of numerous vintage cars against cars from six distinct eras. Completing this mode all the way through will unlock 12 classic Japanese, American, and European cars. And like other Xbox racing games, Sega GT 2002 will let you create and listen to a custom soundtrack, so you don't have to suffer through the passable collection of beats that come standard with the game.
Even though these modes and features prevent Sega GT 2002 from being too repetitive, it would have been nice if the game had a handful more tracks. As it is, the variety of courses will start to wear thin after about ten hours with the game. Fortunately, the physics and control in the game make racing an enjoyable experience, and the selection of cars that are available to you will constantly push you down the career mode. Since its launch, the Xbox has had a number of great driving games in MotoGP, Rallisport Challenge, and Project Gotham Racing, and Sega GT 2002 stands up to the competition very well.