However, while Sega Rally is very much a purist arcade racer, it’s not afraid to take what it can from the simulation school. For a start, it has a strong selection of real cars to choose from, including favourite rally models (the Subaru Impreza, the Mitsubishi Lancer), old classics (the old-school Ford Focus, The Lancia Stratos), new or strange contenders (Mitsubishi Concept-X, McRae Enduro, Hummer H3) and modified production models (VW Golf, Toyota Celica VVTi, Fiat Grande Punto Rally). Many of these need to be unlocked in the main championship mode before you can drive them, but you certainly can’t complain that you’re not getting your money’s worth of vehicles. More importantly, each one handles in a reasonably recognisable fashion. Sega Rally might not do realistic vehicle simulation, but once you get used to the slightly idiosyncratic way it plays, then you’ll find that the differences between, say, the Impreza and the Skoda Fabia Rally play out roughly as you might expect.
Oh, yes, erm, well, the handling. Speaking as a fan, it still must be said that Sega Rally takes a little getting used to. At first, the cars seem to slide around everywhere, and merely keeping them going in a straight direction feels like a bit of a challenge. After a few miserable races where the idea of winning seems utterly implausible, three things become apparent. First, you need to be gentle; tugging the analogue stick hard left and hard right is not going to get you very far at all. Second, the side of the track is not your enemy, but your friend. Without any car damage to worry about, sliding the back of the car into the barrier (or a rival racer) isn’t going to slow you down too much, and it can actually save your bacon on some corners. Finally, this isn’t a game of stopping distances and carefully mapped out corners; it’s a game of shameless, super-charged, seat of the pants racing. Brake when it’s not absolutely necessary, and you’ll lose your position. Wuss-out on the hairpins or neglect to keep your finger down on the accelerator until the very last minute, and your chances of winning a race are almost nil. If you’re not prepared to drive like a demon, the race will be won by someone else who is.
After years of racing castrated computer-controlled opponents, the AI here seems surprisingly aggressive. In some recent racers I’ve been able to grab pole position on the first lap – at least during the early stages – and, providing I don’t make any mistakes, cruise my way to victory every time. In Sega Rally, I’ve found myself fighting tooth and nail for fifth place on more than one occasion, and getting a first place in the intermediate and expert championship races really is a victory to savour. Often, you have to work your way steadily through the places, making the most of each overtaking opportunity then hoping you can maintain enough speed to keep your rivals stuck behind you. It’s tough, but it’s also fair, and when you do come a-cropper and fall from second to fourth, there’s usually nobody to blame but yourself.
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