Rally racing at times feels like a dying sport in the videogame world, a hardcore racing style appreciated almost exclusively by hardcore racing gamers. When part of a larger racing game (a la Gran Turismo), rally does just fine; on its own, it’s a different story. Sega hoped to breathe new life into the genre with Sega Rally Revo, a game with a bit of arcade flair and a surprisingly cool new feature called “GeoDeformation.” But a few gameplay missteps and AI issues render the game less of a savior and more of a nail in the rally-racing coffin.
Sega Rally Revo offers plenty of rally-racing content. The meatiest of its five modes is Championship Mode, which is composed of standard point-based races in which players amass points during three-race rounds and advance to the next series based on their score. Each series is available to three different car classes (Premier, Modified and Masters), then broken down into three leagues (Amateur, Pro and Expert). Higher classes and cars are unlocked as players earn the required number of points in the preceding rounds, which is actually where the game starts to break down.
Normally unlocking new cars presents some handling differences, but the cars in Sega Rally Revo feel remarkably similar. Switching classes and leagues, of course, offers something new, but within each class and league, taking the wheel of a new car means little more than playing jockey for the same car with a new skin. The only time things really change is when players switch from off-road to street tires, which alters the handling and top speed. As a result, there’s really no incentive to unlock more cars, because the different models account for as much gameplay variation as unlocking the different liveries (paint jobs).
Unfortunately, the gameplay variation in Sega Rally Revo is also slim pickings. Sega introduced a new concept in Rally Revo called GeoDeformation, which is essentially a physics-based trick in which the tracks actually see persistent deformation (e.g. ruts in the road) as the race goes on. Whereas many rally games focus on point-to-point races, Sega Rally Revo uses circuit-based tracks comprised of multiple laps. The result are tracks that don’t just show damage, but actually take it, and the deeper the ruts get, the more the cars get pulled into them. Combine these handling-altering ruts with speed-altering puddles (yes, ruts can fill with water, too), and you’ve got what sounds like a great formula for white-knuckled racing. Except for one little problem: invisible walls.
Sega Rally Revo seldom elicits any tension or anxiety, because there’s never — ever — a risk of driving off the road. Even in last-gen games like Rallisport Challenge, a single jump taken too fast or corner turned at the wrong angle could send racers flying off the track. At times this was frustrating, but Sega Rally Revo overcompensates by literally not letting players leave the track. Small bushes can miraculously stop Subarus going 160mph. Standard construction cones can keep Citroens from hurtling off the tarmac. Heck, even transparent molecules can keep Modified Tauruses from careening out of the mud. With no consequence for misaligning a turn or going too fast, there’s nary a white-knuckled experience in Sega Rally Revo, regardless of the terrain. And really, extreme racing is what rally is, and should, be all about.
Speaking of Rallisport Challenge, that’s unfortunately what Sega Rally Revo looks like, even though Sega’s game is several years and one hardware generation beyond Microsoft’s Xbox title. The mud effects and reflections look absolutely amazing, but other than those two features, Sega Rally Revo looks decidedly “last gen.” Mud collects realistically and well, but it does so on cars whose models are quite basic in spite of their nicely detailed skins. Water reflects environmental features as it slowly pools in the ruts, but every non-mud portion of track looks disproportionately bland. Animals and spectators look fine from a distance, but their cardboard-cutout nature is disappointing up close.
The AI is also a bit disappointing, as it both ramps up quickly and seldom deviates from the pack mentality. Players start at a disadvantage, as the game starts you in last place regardless of how many points you have or your performance in the previous race, a fact of racing games that we thought we had outgrown in Pole Position. Once the race starts, the AI generally stays pretty clustered, so going from fifth to first place can often transpire within seconds, and gaining first place almost guarantees victory. That is, unless you bump a fellow racer. The AI in Sega Rally Revo never spins out, even when logic and bumping would say it should. You, however, can, which seems a bit cheap, especially when battling for position in a tight turn.
There’s some salvation here in the game’s online modes, which take the form of a Time Attack and head-to-head Multiplayer Mode. Of the two, Time Attack is the most compelling, as it lets players go up against the ghosts of players who are at the top of the online leaderboard, and if you perform well enough, a ghost of your run will be uploaded to the server.
But one good online mode can’t overcome the fact that Sega Rally Revo just struggles in too many areas where it really counts. The GeoDeformation is cool, but when invisible walls remove almost all tension from the race, the persistent damage loses some of its impact. Likewise, the ability to unlock new cars isn’t compelling when each car essentially handles the same as the next. If Sega Rally Revo were a “proof of concept” for GeoDeformation, they’d get very high marks. But one nice physics trick doesn’t necessarily make for a nice racing game, and unfortunately, that’s what Sega Rally Revo really needed to be.
– Jonas Allen