SEGA's oft-neglected racing series stages a comeback on Xbox Live Arcade. And it's fantastic.

User Rating: 9 | SEGA Rally Online Arcade X360
It's BACK!

SEGA Rally Online Arcade is here! And as a downloadable title for PSN and XBLA, no less!

As a big fan of the original SEGA Rally Championship, I have been looking forward to SROA for a while now. And by the Powers of Greyskull, it rocks!

Contrary to popular -and wrong- opinion, SEGA Rally Online Arcade (SROA from here on in) is NOT a scaled back, dumbed-down version of 2007's SEGA Rally Revo. It may share the same menu system, some music and track design, but fortunately, that's where the similarities end. SROA is in fact a sterling port of the arcade-only SEGA Rally 3; a game created side-by-side with SEGA Rally Revo, but with some drastic gameplay differences.

That's all well and good, but what exactly do you get for your 800 Microsoft Points?

Glad you asked.

SROA has your basic set of modes and difficulties. You've got 2 difficulty settings to choose from... 'casual' or 'arcade'. Neither are overly challenging, and the AI is pretty slow, but this is not an area where the series has ever really excelled. Championship Mode is your standard racing fare. You start in 22nd place, and over the course of 3 Races -4 if you do well enough- you battle it out for first position. Quick race is just that; pick a vehicle and race against the pack on your course of choice. Time Attack lets you perfect your runs, again as per the norm. And finally, we have Classic Race- and it's a real treat! Featuring a stunning remake of the Desert course from the original SEGA Rally Championship, you pick either of the original vehicles from that game, and fang it like its 1995 again. And as we all know... 1995 was awesome. Unless you didn't exist in 1995- in which case it sucks to be you.

With a title like 'SEGA Rally Online Arcade', you'd be right to expect some online multiplayer goodness. You know, since it's an Arcade game and all. Well, it's in there. And while it can be a fair bit of fun, the multiplayer here is pretty bare bones. Getting started couldn't be easier. It's as simple as finding a match in progress, and joining the party. You can of course host your own races, with your choice of courses, vehicles, AI players and difficulty settings. It's neat and all -and required to obtain one of the achievements- but it's fairly bland all the same. Something I really wish Sumo Digital would do with their 'Online Arcade' series, is integrate Kinect or the Xbox LIVE Vision Camera into the game. Consider this; how great would it be to see your opponents face as you knock them into a wall just before they cross the finish line? I'd be totally up for it. But as it is, there's nothing really remarkable about racing other players online. It's fun, but overall it's a little bland. Better is the 2 player head-to-head mode. This is classic split-screen gaming, just like they used to make em', and just as fun.

However, the true strength of the SEGA Rally series has always been in its track design and vehicle handling. When these 2 elements are in unison, that addictive, almost primal need to race around in an endless loop, surfaces. The compulsion to shave that fraction of a second off your personal best is a compulsion best given in to. And I can truly say that in SROA, these elements are more in sync here than they have been since the original game. All the courses are designed to absolute perfection. There may be only 5 of them, but they are 5 of the greatest courses in a rally game that I have had the pleasure of driving. All are gorgeous, and all are great fun. The Tropical, Canyon and Alpine courses are heavily modified versions of their Revo counterparts, and Lakeside is taken wholesale from SEGA Rally 3. Desert 95' is, as I mentioned earlier, a classic. All in all, the selection is great. Ditto for the vehicles. All handle pretty much the same. Sure, there are subtle differences between all the racers (and you'll definitely find a favourite), but if you can drive one, you most definitely can drive them all. Which is fine by me. With mechanics this easy to pick up, and this satisfying, the fact they all offer a similar drive is a moot point; this game is FUN!

SROA has gameplay mechanics unique in and of itself. Gone is the weighty, slow handling that Revo was known for. In its place is a control scheme that's quick, tight and immensely satisfying. All you really need to do is plant the gas down, and go. I also suggest giving the game a go using the manual transmission options. Up until this point in time, I have never used manual gears in a racer. Ever. I've feared the big 'MT' on the screen for years, and had, till now, avoided it. But in an effort to try and wring every last ounce of speed from my vehicle, I decided to give the dreaded manual gears a go. And I'm thankful I did, because I am never going back. At least in this game. My lap times went from very average to awesome in the space of couple of laps, and corners I tended to struggle with instantly transformed into a things of beauty. I had even shaved, in some cases, over 10 seconds off my previous total course times in a matter of a few laps. So manual is the way to go, then.

And I cannot finish this review without mentioning the graphics. They are gorgeous, and this is where the SEGA Rally Revo influence is felt the most. And whilst the courses and vehicles aren't quite as detailed as those in Revo, I would argue that the change to ever-so slightly simpler textures and a brighter, more welcoming colour palette serves the overall aesthetics better. With the touted 2xMSAA that SROA boasts (and all at a native 720p), the game is a feast for the eyes. Sadly, I have seen some online circles whining about the fact that the game 'only' runs at 30 frames per second. Sure it would have been nice to see a 60 fps option, but in all seriousness, this is perhaps the smoothest 30 fps that I've ever witnessed. Not once do the graphics in SROA slow down during gameplay – the frame rate is rock solid and never falters. This is one stunning LiveArcade title. As for the sound, it's all rather good. Almost everything is as it should be, with strong sound design & great effects. The infamous 'Game Over YEAH!' tune is back in all it's glory, and the rest of the music is lifted straight from Revo (but unfortunately rather average). The new arrangement of 'Conditioned Reflex', the background tune for the Desert 95' track, is a perverse highlight though.

So, if for some reason you're still on the fence and wondering if SEGA Rally Online Arcade is for you, then let me sum it up for you:

If you're after a meaty, Championship driven experience with oodles of average courses and millions of cars that you'll likely never use, then no. You won't find it here.

But if you're perhaps after something replayable, with great course design and a brilliant old-school mentality with a modern sheen, then you're in luck!

If that's what you're after, then SEGA Rally Online Arcade is a fine, fine arcade racing experience that will not disappoint.